History of Noodles

How did noodles come to be?

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How did noodles come to be?

Among rice, bread, and other carbs, noodles undeniably reign supreme on many people’s tier lists. Knowing this, how did the traditionally pulled wheat, rice, or even plant-based culinary favorite come to be?

In the article “The History of Noodles: How a Simple Food Became a Worldwide Staple,” author Jen Lin-Liu embarked on a journey to find the true origins of the beloved culinary item. Their mission was to track down the roots of this iconic dish and trace back how, exactly, its popularity spread. When asked the question, “Both the Italians and Chinese lay claim to have invented the noodle. According to your research, where did noodles come from?” Lin-Liu responded with her findings of the earliest mention of noodles, found in a dictionary from the third-century A.D. in Ancient China. However, with this finding came an interesting piece of information. The traditional strands of dough that are common today were not, in fact, what Lin-Liu discovered in that old dictionary. She found a common dish still eaten today in China called mian pian; bread dough shaped into little bits and thrown into a wok of boiling water. Using these findings, it’s possible to say the answer is probably China in the third century A.D. However, it’s a bit difficult to put a pin on the exact location of this dish’s origin due to the fact that they relied on the innovation of the cook, such as many other non-culinary inventions. 

Of course, China was not the only country in which noodles were discovered. Another finding by Lin-Liu is traced back to the fifth century A.D. in Jerusalem Talmud. Then, “noodles” were called itrium. Centuries later, Syrian physicians described “a string-like pasta called itrium made of semolina and dried before cooking.” It is also believed by some historians that Marco Polo, a Venetian-Italian merchant, carried the origins of noodles from China and spread the popularity to the west through his voyages. However, the most plausible claim is that noodles originate “in the Near East, where durum wheat was first cultivated and spread both east and west along with different timelines and trajectories.” Even if noodles did not truly originate in the region of Eastern Asia, this dish has truly become an integral part of the diet and food that is endlessly versatile/adaptable. Noodles spread from China to Japan as early as the ninth century A.D., with noodles spreading to Korea as early as the fourteenth century A.D. This was near the time the very documentation of pasta was in Italy. 

If one is wondering about how early noodles were discovered, there was an archaeological finding that blasts this question far beyond one’s expectations! Around October of 2005, a bowl of noodles – not 2,000, not 3,000, but 4,000 years old – was unearthed in China at the Lajia archaeological site in NorthWestern China. Exquisitely preserved, long, thin yellow noodles found inside an overturned seal bowl, buried 10 feet (around 3 meters) under sediment. After further investigation, scientists determined the noodles were made from 2 kids of millet, which is a grain widely found in China and was cultivated in great numbers there around 7,000 years ago. This truly goes to show how old and how long this iconic dish has been on this planet, with noodles being a staple food for at least 2,000 years. 

With noodles undoubtedly being one of the top challenges to no-carb diets, there is more to this dish than just a delicious taste. Origins spanning from the Arabian Peninsula to Italy to all the way in China, this iconic culinary delight was truly made its own little stringy place in humanity’s hearts.