Who Invented the Humble Noodle?
Spaghetti, Soba, Udon, Buckwheat and Macaroni …
We all eat noodles — Mongolian beef over crunchy noodles, gooey with Velveeta cheese soaking into macaroni, tossed vegetables and teriyaki sauce on buckwheat strands, marinara drowned spaghetti – 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. I mean what would inspire you to grind the grain, mix it with water, knead it until your arms ache, before cutting it, rolling it or squishing it into long skinny strands that are likely to stick to each other again just as soon as they touch?
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 wheat berries to cannelloni?
Early Noodle Cultures
The truth is that we don’t know, but at least three ancient cultures have been proposed as the originators of the process: Italian, Arabic and Chinese. It’s possible that the manufacturing process was developed independently in several different locations, but there were many other discoveries and inventions that passed back and forth between Asia and Europe, notably the method to grow grain itself.
So the three modern 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 as 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 2010 in Northwest China. In 2010, archeologists discovered the oldest Chow Mein take-out order yet. 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 waiting customer. (!)
Those ancient noodles were made of 2 varieties of millet, the same type of millet used to make noodles in rural China today.
So while research is still being analyzed, the science points to spaghetti being the great, great, great grandchild of Chinese Chow Mein.
Pass the soy sauce!