Cellophane noodles ( also known as Chinese vermicelli, bean threads, bean thread noodles, crystal noodles, or glass noodles) are a type of transparent noodle made from starch (such as mung bean starch, yam, potato starch, cassava or canna starch), and water.
They are generally sold in dried form, boiled to reconstitute, then used in soups, stir fried dishes, or spring rolls. They are called “cellophane noodles” or “glass noodles” because of their appearance when cooked, resembling cellophane, a clear material of a translucent light grey or brownish-grey colour.
Cellophane noodles are generally round, and are available in various thickness
es. Wide, flat cellophane noodle sheets called mung bean sheets are also produced in China.
Cellophane noodles should not be confused with rice vermicelli, which are made from rice and are white in colour rather than clear (after cooking in water).
Cellophane noodles are made from starch (from mung beans, yams, potatoes, cassava, or canna). In China, cellophane noodles are usually made of mung bean starch.
- fěnsī (simplified Chinese: 粉丝; traditional Chinese: 粉絲): with fěn meaning “noodle” and sī meaning “thread”
- dōngfěn (Chinese: 冬粉): with the literal meaning of “winter noodle”
They are also marketed under the name saifun, the Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin xìfěn (Chinese: 細粉; literally “slender noodle”), though the name fan2 si1 (粉絲) is the term most often used in Cantonese.
In China, the primary site of production of cellophane noodles is the town of Zhangxing, in Zhaoyuan, Shandong province. However, historically the noodles were shipped through the port of Longkou, and thus the noodles are known and marketed as Longkou fensi (simplified Chinese: 龙口粉丝; traditional Chinese: 龍口粉絲).
Use in Dishes
In China, cellophane noodles are a popular ingredient used in stir fries, soups, and particularly hot pots. They can also be used as an ingredient in fillings for a variety of Chinese jiaozi (dumplings) and bing (flatbreads), especially in vegetarian versions of these dishes. Thicker cellophane noodles are also commonly used to imitate the appearance and texture of shark’s fin in vegetarian soups. Thicker varieties, most popular in China’s northeast, are used in stir fries as well as cold salad-like dishes. A popular soup using the ingredient is fried tofu with thin noodles. A popular Sichuan dish called ants climbing a tree consists of stewed cellophane noodles with a spicy ground pork meat sauce.
In 2004, testing by Chinese authorities determined that some brands of cellophane noodles produced in Yantai, Shandong were contaminated with lead. It emerged that several unscrupulous companies were making their noodles from cornstarch instead of mung beans in order to save costs, and, to make the cornstarch transparent, were adding lead-based whiteners to their noodles. In December 2006, Beijing authorities again inspected cellophane noodles produced by the Yantai Deshengda Longkou Vermicelli Co. Ltd. in Siduitou village, Zhangxing town, Zhaoyuan city, Yantai, this time determining that sodium formaldehyde sulfoxylate, a toxic and possibly carcinogenic industrial bleach that is an illegal food additive in China, had been used in the production of the noodles. The company, which formerly sold its noodles both in China as well as overseas, was ordered to cease production and distribution.
In December 2010, Czech food inspection authorities (SZPI) again inspected Chinese cellophane noodles, this time determining that 142.00 mg/kg of aluminium, which is an illegal amount for food in Czech (and EU) market, had been used in the production of the noodles.
In Indonesian cuisine, they are called soun or suun.
In Malaysia they are known as tanghoon (冬粉). People sometimes confuse them with bihun (米粉) which are rice vermicelli. Sometimes also known as suhun or suhoon.
In Philippine cuisine, the noodles are called a similar name: sotanghon because of the popular dish of the same name made from them using chicken and wood ears. Like in Malaysia, they are also confused with rice vermicelli, which are called bihon in the Philippines.
In Japanese cuisine, they are called harusame (春雨), literally “spring rain.” Unlike Chinese glass noodles, they are usually made from potato starch. They are commonly used to make salads, or as an ingredient in hot pot dishes. They are also often used to make Japanese adaptations of Chinese and Korean dishes.
In Tibetan cuisine, glass noodles are called phing or fing and are used in soup, pork curry or with mushrooms.
In India and Pakistan, glass noodles are called falooda, and are served on top of kulfi (a traditional ice cream). They are usually made from arrowroot starch using a traditional technique. The noodles are flavourless so provide a nice balance with the sweet kulfi. Kulfi and falooda can be bought from numerous food stalls throughout Pakistan and northern parts of India.
In Korean cuisine, glass noodles are usually made from sweet potato starch and are called dangmyeon (Hangul: 당면; Hanja: 唐麵; literally “Tang noodles”; also spelled dang myun, dangmyun, tang myun, or tangmyun). They are commonly stir-fried in sesame oil with beef and vegetables, and flavoured with soy and sugar, in a popular dish called japchae (hangul: 잡채). They are usually thick, and are a brownish-grey colour when in their uncooked form.
In Vietnamese cuisine, there are two varieties of cellophane noodles. The first, called bún tàu or bún tào, are made from mung bean starch, and were introduced by Chinese immigrants. The second, called miến or miến dong, are made from canna (Vietnamese: dong riềng), and were developed in Vietnam. These cellophane noodles are a main ingredient in the dishes: miến gà, miến lươn, miến măng vịt, and miến cua. These cellophane noodles are sometimes confused with rice vermicelli (Vietnamese: bún) and arrowroot starch noodles (Vietnamese: arrowroot: củ dong, arrowroot starch: bột dong/bột hoàng tinh/bột mì tinh).
In Thai cuisine, glass noodles are called wun sen (Thai: วุ้นเส้น). They are commonly mixed with pork and shrimp in a spicy salad called yam wun sen (Thai: ยำวุ้นเส้น), or stir-fried as phat wun sen (Thai: ผัดวุ้นเส้น).
In Hawaii, where cuisine is heavily influenced by Asian cultures, cellophane noodles are known locally as long rice, supposedly because the process of making the noodles involves extruding the starch through a potato ricer. They are used most often in chicken long rice, a dish of cellophane noodles in chicken broth that is often served at luaus.
Glass noodles were introduced to Samoa by Cantonese agricultural workers in the early 1900s where they became known as “lialia,” a Samoan word meaning “to twirl,” after the method of twirling the noodles around chopsticks when eating. A popular dish called “sapasui” (transliteration of the Cantonese chop suey) is common fare at social gatherings. Sapasui, a soupy dish of boiled glass noodles mixed with braised pork, beef, or chicken and chopped vegetables, is akin to Hawaiian “long rice.”