One of the hardest changes to make when you are transitioning your diet to gluten and grain-free, Keto, Paleo, what-have-you is giving up NOODLES, in my personal opinion. Spaghetti, fettuccine, lo mein, pad Thai, chicken noodle soup, peanut noodles, kugel – there are delicious noodle dishes from cuisines all over the world that are no longer readily accessible, especially if you have adopted the low carb or ketogenic lifestyle. HOWEVER – that does not have to remain true, because honeys – you’ve got OPTIONS!
Don’t get me wrong – there is not yet a perfect substitute that completely mimics the feel and flavor of traditional wheat-based noodles. This is true even with the fantastic high-carb gluten free options that most grocery stores stock these days! But if you are able to shift your perception just a little bit, and view noodles as
- a component to a dish
- or a vehicle for delicious sauces as opposed to the main event
you will be pleasantly surprised by the following alternatives. They also happen to be my five favorites, and have made my California Keto journey thus far MUCH, much easier.
What they are – “Zoodles” are zucchini or even summer squash noodles, made by using a mandolin, julienne peeler, kitchen tool called a Spiralizer, or even just a knife if you have confident knife skills! This spiralizer happens to be my favorite as a chef, as it is the quickest and creates the most uniform noodle. You can also use it for all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but if you are looking for a low-carb and savory option, summer squashes & zucchini are the jam. This is the one that I typically gift to my friends who do not “zoodle” as often as me, and this is the one I have for myself (which sees near daily use and has removable, replaceable blades).
Why they’re awesome – Oh, let me count the ways! They are a mere 2.4 net carbs per cup, are filling, hold sauces well, are available almost year round, and can even be bought pre-zoodled at tons of different grocery stores! They do not actually require cooking and store well in the refrigerator for up to a week in a Ziploc bag lined with a dry paper towel.
Perfect for – Anything that you would use regular spaghetti for, like spaghetti Bolognese or pasta pesto!
Handy tips – Zoodles do release water when heated or salted, so they can get a little soggy. Dressing them with a heated sauce will soften them just enough to achieve the perfect noodle-like texture; I personally reserve sautéing them for when I want to use them as a side dish. You can also bake them in a single layer at 400ºF/205ºC for 15-20 minutes with olive oil, salt, and pepper to get crunchy, crispy bits. OH! And they can be really long noodles – so I do suggest giving your pile a few quick snips with kitchen scissors!
What they are – “Doodles” are much like “zoodles”, but are made with daikon radish, a long white typically Asian vegetable with mild flavor! Same process of making them, with spiralizer, mandoline, julienne peeler, or flashy knife skillz…
Why they’re awesome – These guys are even lower carb, coming in at 1 net carb per cup, and most grocery stores I have encountered usually stock daikon radish. They also come in fun colors, like purple and green, if you either have the opportunity to grow them or have access to more exotic farmer’s or Asian markets.
Perfect for – Soups, pickling, and sauces with a bit of umami flair! I really like these dressed in satay-type nut-or-seed-butter & coconut milk dressing.
Handy tips – Doodles, unless being added to a soup or pickled as I mentioned earlier, really shine when used and dressed raw. They also are amazing with simple dressings, like a quick spritz of lemon, a drizzle of sesame oil, and salt. Definitely put them on your must-try list alongside seared tuna or teriyaki beef or chicken! And ditto for the kitchen-scissor-trim!
What they are – It’s all in the name! They are long, thin, noodle-like strips of cabbage and the most economical and readily available in this list. No special equipment apart from a sharp knife is needed. You can make them by cutting a cabbage in half through the stem, placing the cut side down on a flat surface for stability and safety, and making thin vertical slices. “Crumble” with your fingers and voila! “Noodles”.
Why they’re awesome – Cabbage noodles are great raw OR cooked, and taste like entirely different vegetables depending on the way you treat them! They have 2 – 5 net grams of carbs per uncooked cup (Napa has 2 net, Green has 3 net, Red/Purple has 5 net), which translates to about 1/2 cup cooked. They also have incredible health benefits:
Perfect for – Cole slaw, salads with either creamy dressings or vinaigrettes, turning into sauerkraut, sautéing until soft, roasting, braising with apple cider vinegar and apples, paired with hearty roasted meats
Handy tips – One average-sized cabbage translates into a LOT of cabbage noodles! If you’re cooking for one or two, I suggest preparing only a half or quarter cabbage. The remainder will keep well in the refrigerator for weeks. Also, purple cabbage will turn both creamy dressings and light-colored veggies in your salad into a pretty lavender color. It’s okay. Now you just know what purple tastes like!
Shirataki or Miracle Noodles
What they are – Shirataki, aka konnyaku and sold under the most popular brand name “Miracle Noodles”, are made from glucomannan and water. Glucomannan is a water-soluble fiber from the konjac yam, and these translucent white noodles are very popular in Japanese cuisine. They come in thin and wide versions.
Why they’re awesome – Shirataki noodles are essentially pure fiber, which makes them INCREDIBLY filling even in small amounts. They also have less than 1 gram of carbs per 3.5 oz serving (half of a standard package – which I usually eat an entire on of, by the way…)! They are flavorless once you rinse them off out of the package and are super slurp-able.
Perfect for – Adding to soups and stir-fries. You’re probably going to judge me here, but they are also my super-guiltiest pleasure when all I want is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese out of the box! I *have* switched over to Annie’s Organic version, and this only happens about twice a year, but a package of drained shirataki noodles + the cheese powder packet from boxed mac & cheese is the least-guilty way to enjoy all the flavor without the carbs.
Handy tips – Right when you open the noodles, pour them into a sieve or colander and rinse with HOT water. Then press down with your hand or a plate to release as much liquid as possible. People online have complained about a “fishy” smell, but to be brutally honest, I have never noticed it and I can usually determine the ingredients of a dish cooking 20 yards away with a single whiff! I suppose it depends on the brand. They also do release a lot of liquid while cooking, so dry-frying or baking without salt or oil will help them be their “noodliest”.
While Miracle Noodle is a very popular brand that can be bought at specialty stores and online, and comes in a variety of shapes including rice, there are many other brands available at Asian markets, and usually for half the price.
And final note – READ THE LABEL AND MAKE SURE IT IS PURE KONJAC. “Tofu Shirataki” is not the same thing. They are much higher in carb and are no longer Paleo friendly.
Healthy Noodle by Kibun Foods
What they are – First of all, they are kinda MY FAVORITE THING RIGHT NOW. This is the only actual brand that I am endorsing here, though I am not affiliated in any way. They are NOT Paleo, because they contain soy fiber. They also do contain more science-y sounding ingredients like cellulose (made from plants and has beneficial effect of decreasing blood sugar), sodium alginate (a molecular cooking ingredient made from seaweed that is used as a thickener), and calcium chloride (a firming salt also used as an electrolyte in rehydration drinks), but are also primarily water and konjac like the shirataki.
Why they’re awesome – Healthy Noodles are the closest thing to real pasta I have experienced in low-carb noodles! And they are 1 net carb gram per serving! Do you feel like I’m yelling about their awesomeness!?!? BECAUSE I AM!
Perfect for – Real-feeling chicken noodle soup, wide-noodle stir fries, creamy-sauced pasta recipes, kugel, etc! For real, I feel like the possibilities are endless with these guys.
Handy tips – Much like the shirataki noodles, I suggest draining, rinsing, and wringing out these noodles before cooking with them. You can dry-fry or dry-roast them to get a little more water out, which I would recommend before adding a watery sauce.
Use Your Noodle!
These aren’t the only Keto, Paleo, OR Vegan choices for noodles out there. They are, however, a healthy and accessible start for any of you looking for a way to bring the experience of pasta back into your lives.
I would love to hear more about versions of noodles that YOU have tried, my clean eating crew! Please tell me more in the comments!
– Chef Nicole