Who Invented the Humble Noodle?
Spaghetti, Soba, Udon, Buckwheat and Macaroni …
We all eat noodles–Mongolian beef over crunchy noodles, gooey Velveeta cheese soaking into macaroni, tossed vegetables and teriyaki sauce on buckwheat strands, spaghetti drowned in marinara sauce–pasta is a staple in cultures all over the world. But who invented the first noodle? And better yet… HOW?
Think about your basic grain. Rice, wheat, oats, millet … In their natural state they are dry, hard, little particles that threaten to break your teeth. What would inspire someone to grind grain, mix it with water, knead it until your arms ache, then cut, roll or squish it into long skinny strands that are likely to stick to each other again just as soon as they touch, unless kept separated till dry?
Even if early humans happened to have a Play Doh Fun Factory, raw grain would perform in it about as well as pebbles or sand. So how in the heck did humans make the leap from hard wheat berries to luscious cannelloni?
Early Noodle Cultures
The truth is that we don’t know, but at least three ancient cultures have been proposed as originators of the process: Italian, Arabic and Chinese. It is possible that the manufacturing process was developed independently in several different locations, but there were many discoveries that passed back and forth over time between Asia and Europe, notably the method of growing grain itself. These three cultures have all tried to claim credit, but recent research tips the balance. According to the National Geographic magazine, the earliest written mention of noodles ever found was in a book from China’s East Han Dynasty between A.D. 25 and 220.
The Great Noodle Discovery…
An even more exciting discovery occurred in Northwest China in 2010: archeologists discovered the oldest Chow Mein take-out order in existence. They found a sealed bowl of long, thin, yellow noodles that was estimated to be 4,000 years old! On the other side of the village they found a skeleton with its hands on its hips who was surmised to be the patiently waiting customer. Analysis showed that those ancient noodles were made of two varieties of millet, the same type of millet used to make noodles in rural China today.
And while research is still being conducted, right now science points to spaghetti possibly being the great, great, great grandchild of Chinese Chow Mein.
So pass your favoriate sauce, it’s noodle time!