Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Virtues of Soba. I'm quite a fan of soba in its many incarnations. Growing up, I knew it as buckwheat and enjoyed it in my mother's old fashioned buckwheat pancakes. I also encountered it in France as "crêpes de sarrasin" from the region of Brittany. Galettes are also made of buckwheat in France, but are a different (and delicious) animal. But I completely fell in love with 'soba' in Japan as protein-rich noodles. So much so that upon my return to the states after my stay in Hokkaido, I started experimenting with making them by hand. I soon found what a tricky proposition this is.

Besides the amino acid values, there is a concept from a nutritionist's point of view of "Net Protein Utilization" (NPU). This measures how much of the protein in food the body actually is able to use. The egg is considered to be the 'perfect' protein food, and it's score is 94%. Buckwheat weighs in at 74%, while beef steak is at 67% and our other Asian favorite, tofu, comes in at 65%, the same score as chicken. No wonder buddhist monks are able to do lengthy fasts on just soba! When buckwheat is combined with wheat, as often is the case in the making of noodles, the NPU rises to 81%.

Soba is treacherously hard to make without combining with another grain or other binding agent. If you don't use hot enough water with the flour, or fail to knead it just right at the critical juncture, it will fall apart. I usually use yamaimo to bind it, but the most frequent binding agent is wheat flour added to the mix.

"The Book of Soba" by James Udesky is a marvelous guide to making great dishes from soba, unfortunately both hardback and paperback editions are currently out of print.

It's also been found to control blood sugar, which is a boon to diabetics and dieters. Enjoy some of this wonder food!

1 comment:

vasilisa said...

Oooh, I gotta try this! I love buckwheat, but my husband hates it... Maybe this way I can pass it for a pasta :-)