Soba is Japanese for buckwheat, which is a nutritious, grain-like seed that’s gluten-free and — despite its name — unrelated to wheat.
Soba noodles can be made solely of buckwheat flour and water, but more commonly also contain wheat flour and sometimes added salt.
Due to these variations, determining if soba noodles are healthy or not requires taking a closer look at what’s in them.
This article covers the essential things you should know about soba noodles.
What Are Soba Noodles?
You can find a range of brands and types of soba noodles in stores and online, and there are some important differences between them.
The most authentic kind — sometimes called juwari soba — are noodles made with only buckwheat flour and water, the former being the only ingredient listed on the label.
However, many soba noodles are made with refined wheat flour in addition to buckwheat. Noodles made with 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat flour are sometimes called hachiwari.
Additionally, some so-called soba noodles contain more wheat flour than buckwheat. This is the case when wheat flour is listed as the first and, therefore, predominant ingredient.
One reason why wheat flour is often added to buckwheat flour to make soba noodles is that buckwheat by itself can be challenging to work with and may result in fragile noodles.
Adding wheat flour, which contains the protein gluten, makes the noodles more durable, as well as less expensive to produce.
Also note that a few packaged noodles are labeled soba though they contain little or no buckwheat flour but flavorings, salt and other additives. These are often very unhealthy.
Soba noodles may be made entirely of buckwheat flour or a combination of buckwheat and refined wheat flour. Check the ingredients to be certain. The healthiest option is 100% buckwheat soba noodles.
Soba Noodle Nutrition and Comparison to Spaghetti
To be certain of the nutritional content of soba noodles, check the label of the specific brand you’re buying. Depending on how they’re made, some soba noodles are healthier than others.
|Soba Noodles, 100% Buckwheat||Spaghetti, 100% Whole Wheat|
|Protein||8 grams||8 grams|
|Carbohydrates||42 grams||43 grams|
|Fiber||3 grams||5 grams|
|Fat||0 grams||0.5 grams|
|Thiamine||18% of the RDI||19% of the RDI|
|Niacin||9% of the RDI||15% of the RDI|
|Iron||9% of the RDI||11% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||14% of the RDI||20% of the RDI|
|Sodium||0% of the RDI||0% of the RDI|
|Copper||7% of the RDI||13% of the RDI|
|Manganese||37% of the RDI||87% of the RDI|
|Selenium||Value not available||59% of the RDI|
In comparison, the nutritional value of 100% buckwheat noodles is very similar to 100% whole-wheat spaghetti — either is a good choice.
Buckwheat is especially known for its high levels of the amino acid lysine, which other plant protein sources, such as wheat, corn and nuts, are relatively low in. That makes buckwheat especially good to include in diets that exclude animal foods (
A serving of 100% buckwheat soba noodles is similar in nutrition to whole-wheat spaghetti, but with higher protein quality.
Soba Noodles Contain Potent Plant Compounds That Have Health Benefits
Eating buckwheat has been shown to benefit blood sugar, heart health, inflammation and cancer prevention. This may be partly due to the seed’s plant compounds, including rutin and other antioxidants, as well as fiber (
According to a review of 15 studies, healthy people and people at increased heart disease risk who ate at least 40 grams of buckwheat daily for up to 12 weeks had an average 19 mg/dL decrease in total cholesterol and 22 mg/dL decrease in triglycerides (
Buckwheat has a lower glycemic index (GI) than some other carbohydrate-rich foods, meaning that it may affect your blood sugar less. This may especially be of benefit if you have blood sugar concerns or diabetes (
In one Japanese study, a 50-gram serving of soba noodles had a GI of 56, compared to a GI of 100 for white rice, the high-GI comparison food (
Eating buckwheat has been shown to have benefits for blood sugar, heart health, inflammation and cancer prevention. This may be due to buckwheat’s fiber and plant compounds, including rutin.
Who Should Consider Eating Soba Noodles?
Authentic, 100% buckwheat soba noodles are a healthy food anyone can enjoy, but they may be especially helpful to people sensitive to gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye.
If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, buckwheat is a good option for noodles since it doesn’t contain gluten and is more nutritious than some other gluten-free options like rice noodles (
However, as mentioned earlier, buckwheat flour is often mixed with wheat flour to make soba noodles.
Therefore, it’s important to check that the noodles are truly gluten-free and that the manufacturer has avoided cross-contamination from gluten-containing grains (
If you’re not sure you’ve ever eaten buckwheat, note that it’s possible to be allergic to this seed. It’s a major food allergen in Japan and Korea, where buckwheat is more commonly eaten (
Pure, 100% buckwheat soba noodles are a healthy food anyone can enjoy. They’re naturally gluten-free if made solely with uncontaminated buckwheat flour. Be aware that an allergy to buckwheat is possible.
Where to Buy and How to Cook and Use Soba Noodles
You can generally buy soba noodles in ethnic sections of supermarkets, Asian grocery stores, health food stores and online.
Pure buckwheat soba noodles have an earthy, somewhat nutty flavor and can be served hot or cold.
The best way to cook dried, packaged soba noodles can vary by brand, so follow the instructions on the package.
Soba noodles generally cook in about 7 minutes in boiling water. Stir them occasionally during cooking to prevent them from sticking together. Cook them so they’re al dente, which means tender but still firm and chewy.
After cooking, pour them into a colander and rinse them under cold running water to stop the cooking process, even if you plan on serving them in a hot dish.
Soba noodles are commonly served chilled with dipping sauce, as well as in broths, soups, stir-fries and salads tossed with vegetables and sesame dressing, for example.
In Japan, it’s customary to serve the noodles’ cooking water, called sobayu, at the end of a meal. It’s mixed with a leftover dipping sauce called tsuyu to drink as a tea. This way you don’t miss out on nutrients that leach into the cooking water, such as B vitamins.
Soba noodles are generally sold in supermarkets, Asian grocery stores, health food stores and online. They should be cooked until tender but still firm and rinsed with cold water. Serve them in Asian dishes or flavored with tomatoes and basil.
The Bottom Line
Soba noodles are made entirely or in part with gluten-free buckwheat flour.
They’re similar in nutrition to whole-wheat spaghetti and a good plant-based protein source. Soba noodles made mostly with refined wheat flour are less nutritious.
Buckwheat has been linked to improved heart health, blood sugar, inflammation and cancer prevention.
If you’re looking to change up your regular spaghetti or noodle dish, soba noodles are definitely worth a try.