Looking deeper into ramen noodle ingredients – wheat flour
To make ramen noodles that are better than others, use of proper ingredients for the type of your noodle is very important. Among these ingredients, wheat flour is the most important component because flour takes the largest proportion among raw materials used for ramen noodles.
The elements of wheat flour are mainly composed of protein, starch and moisture, and in Japan, wheat is classified into strong-flour (bread flour), semi-strong flour (semi-bread), medium flour (all-purpose), soft flour (cake, pastry) depending on the protein content. Flour commonly used for ramen is called semi-strong flour and strong flour with protein content of about 10 to 13%. Recently, 8 to 9% protein of flour (medium flour, or udon flour) has been used in certain types of ramen noodles like tsukemen.
The quality of fresh noodles is determined by the protein content of the wheat flour, the water addition rate (how much water/solution is added against the weight of flour in mixing), noodle size (thickness x width), and also whether noodles are straight or curly.
The correlation chart here describes different types of noodles under these criteria. Basically, the higher the protein content of flour used to make noodles, the harder the noodle texture. And, ss shown in the chart, generally, strong-flour with high protein is suitable for hard and small-sized noodles. Medium-flour with lower protein content is suitable for large-sized and soft high water content noodles.
And, what roles protein and starch of wheat flour play in noodle making?
- Protein makes hardness and strength of noodles
The protein (glutenin, gluazine) combines with water to become 'gluten', forming a network-like structure. You can make noodles with better texture by developing gluten in an appropriate way. However, too much protein just makes hard noodles, so it would not mean that with the higher the protein, the more delicious noodles you can make.
Starch makes elastic and mochi-like-texture.
By adding water to starch (amylose, amylopectin) and heating it, it becomes pasty and gluey. Because the strength of stickiness varies depending on the quality of starch, it is important to pick flour with stronger starch.
When comparing the structure of noodles to buildings, gluten (protein) plays the role of reinforcing bars (making the hardness in noodles), and starch plays the role of concrete (elastic, chewy, and mochi-like texture).
In addition to the above, there is something called, "ash" as an important indicator of the quality of wheat flour. In many brochures of wheat flour, protein and ash contents are indicated. These two values are essential when selecting proper wheat flour for your noodles.
Ash is minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron contained in wheat flour. In general, wheat flour with a little ash content is clear and beautiful in color, but as ash content increases, the color turns dull, grayish color. And, too much of it makes poor noodle texture. Flour with high ash content means nutritious with lots of minerals but, wheat flour with less ash is preferred for the reasons mentioned above. Because of that, wheat flour with less ash is ranked higher in grade, and flour with larger ash content is graded lower.
The ash content increases as it approaches the epidermal part of the wheat, and the ash content of the epidermal part is more than 10 times that of the center part. In other words, flour milled from closer to the center of wheat is higher grade.
In this article, we talked about role and effect each component of wheat flour plays, but these are only a few of the indicators in selecting the wheat flours appropriate for type of noodles you want to make. Even if the values of protein and ash are the same, if the original wheat is different, the quality of noodles may be different.
So, what we recommend is to actually make and try noodles from these flours you’re evaluating. Or, we can help you make a sample for you to try.
So, we understand the most important ingredient in ramen noodle. Then, we should talk about other ingredients, water, kansui, and others in another article.
Please feel free to ask me any questions about what’d discussed in this article.
Ramen Chef/Instructor Jason
Over a decade, he’s worked as a ramen shop owner, chef, consultant and over the past few years, he’s been teaching ramen and udon at Yamato Ramen School in Singapore. He shares his expertise on noodle making and operational aspects of noodle restaurants.