Kuzu noodles are noodles made from the starchy root of the kuzu plant, also known as kudzu. These starchy noodles resemble rice sticks or sai fun noodles, tending to be thin and transparent, and they can be used in a wide range of dishes. Some Japanese foods call specifically for kuzu noodles, while other Asian noodle dishes can be made with kuzu as well. These specialty noodles are available from importers and Japanese markets.
Kudzu is a perennial climbing vine with bright flower stalks and simple, deciduous leaves. Many people in the West regard kudzu largely as a pest, but the plant also has food value. The leaves and flowers, for example, can both be used like vegetables, and the roots can be rinsed and pulped to make a flour which can be used to create the noodles. If you're wondering about the different between “kudzu” and “kuzu,” kudzu is derived from kuzu, which is the Japanese name for this plant.
The starch from kuzu roots is also used as a general thickener and geller in Japanese food. Its starchy properties can help to firm up sauces and jellies to a desired texture, and since it sets in a transparent color, it will not change the color of the food. The roots are also fairly bland, meaning that the starch can be used in delicately flavored dishes without overpowering them. Kuzu flour is also available in Asian markets, along with other unique Asian flours.
Kuzu noodles are long, thin strips which are translucent when dried and totally transparent when wet. To prepare kuzu noodles, most cooks pour boiling water over them and soak them for 10 minutes before draining and rinsing them. The noodles can tend to stick together, so they should be tossed into a stir fry or soup as soon as they are rinsed; the noodles can also be used as a side dish, much like rice.
These delicate noodles can be hard to find in some parts of the world. Other fine Asian noodles are made from ingredients like mung bean sprouts and rice, and these are more readily available. If a recipe calls for kuzu noodles, you can use these noodles as substitutes if no kuzu are available. You might also want to check with health food stores for kuzu noodles if you have no Asian markets in your area, since specialized Asian ingredients sometimes turn up at these sorts of establishments.