Japanese pastas have unique characteristics and health promoting properties that are not found in traditional Western-style pasta. For example, buckwheat, the main ingredient of soba, is a primitive grain that is rarely eaten in the United States. However, buckwheat is the best, and in some cases the only, source of some bio-compounds that are vital to the healthy functioning of cells and enzymes.
This is why adding soba, particularly 100% buckwheat soba, to your diet can have a positive effect on your health.
Buckwheat is uniquely rich in proteins (12-15%) and the essential amino acid lysine (5-7%), which is lacking in most cereal grains. Buckwheat is also abundant in lipids, minerals (iron, phosphorus and copper), and vitamins B1 and B2.
Buckwheat is very high in rutin (4-6%), an essential nutrient that is not found in other grains, such as rice and wheat, or beans. Rutin is important because it strengthens capillaries and thus helps people suffering from arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure. Rutin belongs to a group of plant compounds called bioflavonoids that also include the important catechins of green tea and polyphenols of red wine. Recent studies have shown that bioflavonoids are powerful antioxidants that fight free radicals. Free radicals are said to be responsible for as much as ninety percent of diseases, such as cancer, arteriosclerosis, strokes, and age-related senility. Research in Japan has shown that 30 mg of rutin per day meets the body's needs. Since one serving of high protein soba contains about 100 mg of rutin, one serving of soba a day is more than enough.
Vitamin P is similar to rutin in that it increases capillary strength, but it also has an important synergistic effect on vitamin C absorption. Although vitamin P is found in trace amounts in some vegetables, buckwheat is the only significant source.
Choline, another important micro-nutrient found in buckwheat, plays an important role in metabolism, particularly regulating blood pressure and liver function. As a neutralizing agent, choline can support the liver when it is overburdened by alcoholic beverages. It makes sense that soba noodles and broth are often served in Japan after big parties.
After centuries of eating soba noodles, the Japanese have come to respect the healing power of soba, some aspects of which have been confirmed by medical researchers in Japan. The high dietary fiber in 100% buckwheat soba helps the body eliminate cholesterol, and stimulates the intestines to promote bowel movement. The regular consumption of high protein soba has also been associated with reduction in body fat.
Although eating soba noodles that are made with 80-100% buckwheat is the best way to get the nutritional benefits of buckwheat, there are several varieties of soba, such as cha soba, mugwort soba, and jinenjo soba that add the powder of important medicinal plants to a basic soba recipe. Cha (tea) soba, which is made by adding one of nature's most medicinal foods, green tea powder, to soba is both colorful and healing. Mugwort soba is made with the addition of wild mugwort (yomogi) powder, which gives this noodle a striking green color. Mugwort is high in several minerals and is often recommended for anemic conditions. Jinenjo (mountain yam) soba is a very popular noodle in Japan. Mountain yam is considered an important Japanese folk remedy for people with weak digestion. A strengthening food rich in digestive enzymes, jinenjo helps bind the buckwheat flour, resulting in smooth, soft noodles that are easy to digest.
Japanese wheat noodles, such as udon and somen, are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates for sustained energy. Although udon and somen do not have the high protein and mineral content of some soba noodles, they are an excellent source of high quality protein, and brown rice udon contains the complementary amino acids of rice and wheat.
Udon is legendary in Japan for its digestibility. Laboratory experiments in Japan using digestive enzymes and controlled temperatures have shown that udon dissolves much faster than other pastas and three times faster than beef. Japanese scientists believe that the digestibility of udon begins in the kneading of flour during the manufacturing process. Kneading develops and concentrates the wheat protein, which then mixes with the starch molecules and makes them more available to digestive enzymes in the body. Udon digests so quickly that large amounts of blood are not rushed to the stomach, so the body retains heat in the extremities. What's more, experiments have shown that udon creates body heat that lasts much longer than heat produced by ramen, soba, or Western-style durum wheat pastas. This is why udon and dashi broth is a favorite winter food for traditional Japanese who do not heat their homes, even in the northern regions. This is also why udon is a favorite food for people with the flu. It quickly provides sustained energy and warmth while keeping the flu-fighting white blood cells in the body where they are needed.
However, all Japanese pastas are not the same. Only noodles made by the slow, time-honored methods outlined above have the mouth feel, flavor and healing energy of traditional Japanese pastas. The drying process is very important, and quick, commercial drying with hot air can destroy some of pasta's healing qualities and flavor. In fact, research in Italy has shown that drying pasta too quickly can cause wheat protein to break up into toxic substances. On the other hand, careless, prolonged drying can cause mold and bacteria to grow on noodles. Only careful, natural drying, such as in Mitoku's traditional noodle shop, will produce a high quality product with all the flavor and health benefits of traditional noodles.