Rice noodles are noodles made with rice or rice flour, depending on the culture and the company making the noodles. They come in a range of shapes, sizes, and styles from facsimiles of Western pasta shapes like spaghetti to fresh Asian ribbon noodles, and there are all sorts of ways to use them. Many grocery stores carry these noodles, sometimes in their Asian ingredient section and sometimes with gluten-free foods, and they can also be found at health food stores and through companies which specialize in gluten-free or Asian food products.
In the West, companies tend to make rice noodles with rice flour. They are manufactured much like regular noodles, by blending rice, water and flour, rolling the mixture out, and cutting or extruding it. The noodles are typically dried before packaging and sale. Rice capellini, spaghetti, macaroni, and a wide variety of other shapes can be made, with either brown rice flour or white rice flour.
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In Asia, rice noodles are classically made by soaking and grinding rice to create a paste, and then rolling out the paste and cutting it. Fresh noodles are often cut into wide ribbons that can be used in soups and stir fries, and they are also sold dried, in a variety of widths. Rice sticks, also called rice vermicelli, are very popular in Thailand, where they are used to make pad thai.
Sometimes, ingredients such as mung bean flour may be added to rice noodles to change their consistency or appearance. These noodles typically cook up slightly transparent, and they are usually chewy and slightly resilient, unless they are overcooked, in which case they will turn mushy and sometimes rather unpleasant. Like rice itself, the noodles are highly absorbent, and the relatively neutral flavor pairs well with a wide variety of sauces and ingredients.
Noodle dishes may call specifically for this type of noodle, especially in Asia, where they have been popular for centuries. Rice noodles can also be used to replace wheat noodles in households where people prefer the different flavor, or where people are sensitive to gluten, a substance found in wheat.
Depending on the recipe, rice noodles may be cooked like regular noodles, or they may be soaked and then tossed in a pan to fry with other ingredients. The soaking method is commonly used in Asian recipes, especially in the case of thin noodles, to ensure that the noodles do not turn mushy from overcooking.