Noodles! There’s a Japanese noodle type for every occasion — a hot bowl of ramen on a cold day; some stir fried yaki-soba with your beer; a satisfying bowl of udon and tempura for lunch; or a refreshing slurp of chilled soba. It’s all delicious!! I’m getting hungry writing this.

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between all of these different noodles? Ramen vs udon? Udon vs soba? Isn’t a noodle just a noodle? Why are there so many?? What about my beloved instant noodles???

In this Japanese noodle guide, I explore the differences between the big three main Japanese noodle types — ramen, udon, and soba.

There is a lot of info here, so feel free to skip ahead to relevant sections using the table of contents:

Japanese Noodle Type: Ramen vs Udon vs Soba

First, let’s take a detailed look at each of the Japanese noodle types individually. For each type, I will go over the history, ingredients, variations, dishes, and other interesting facts/tidbits.

If you just want to skip ahead to general comparisons, click here.

Ramen (ラーメン・らーめん・拉麺)

At its simplest, Japanese ramen consists of noodles served in a soup with various toppings (eg. pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, egg etc.). In Japanese, the term "ramen" generally refers to the complete dish, while the actual noodle itself is technically called "Chinese noodles". In Western countries, the noodles are probably more often referred to as "ramen noodles".

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Popularity of ramen vs others

Ramen is by far the most popular and well known Japanese noodle type. This is true inside Japan, as well as in other countries.

In Western countries, ramen started really gaining mass popularity probably around six or seven years ago (2014-15), and is now almost as synonymous with Japanese food as sushi. I’m not sure why it suddenly became so popular; but probably has something to do with being in a lot of TV shows and pop culture.

Check out the Google search trends in the United States for ramen vs other Japanese noodle types over the last five years (2016-2021). Ramen is steadily gaining popularity, and is searched over 10 times more than the others!

ramen vs udon vs soba google trends

In Japan, ramen is also by far the most popular noodle type, but only by about 3 to 5 times more relative to next highest (udon). It is popular to eat all year around, while some other noodle types like somen and soba are more seasonal.

(らーめん = ramen、うどん = udon、そば = soba)

ramen vs udon vs soba google trends japan

Origin / history of ramen

These days, the term "ramen" is strongly associated with Japan, but the name and noodle both originated from China. In Chinese it is written as 拉麵( simplified version: 拉面)and is roughly pronounced as "la-mian" in standard Mandarin. The meaning literally translates to "pulled noodles", since the noodles were traditionally made by pulling/stretching the dough by hand. Many Japanese ramen shops will still use the traditional Chinese characters (i.e. kanji) “拉麵” on their store signs, although these days, ramen noodles are usually made by cutting instead of pulling.

The first recorded history of ramen in Japan was from way back in the 15th century. It did not start gaining widespread popularity until about the late 19th / early 20th century, when Japan opened its borders, and many Chinese settlers moved to Japan. The first Chinese restaurants were then opened in various port cities (most notably Yokahama), and the first bowls of ramen were served in Japan.

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

The OG Japanese ramen shop “来々軒” (Source)

In 1910, the first "Japanese style" ramen shop was opened in Asakusa, Tokyo by a Mr. Kuniichi Ozaki. It combined traditional elements of the Chinese version with other ingredients and elements to better cater to the taste of Japanese people. Sort of like a ‘fusion’ dish. From here, the modern day version of Japanese ramen was born.

Over time, Japanese ramen continued to evolve with various soup bases, toppings, and noodle types. It eventually became its very own cuisine, distinct from its Chinese origin. Instant / cup ramen was also invented in 1958 to the delight of poor college students everywhere. Today, you can find infinite variations of ramen around the world!

What is ramen made of?

The actual ramen "noodles" are known as Chinese noodles (中華麺) in Japan, and are typically made of wheat flour, water, salt, and an alkaline solution known as "kansui" (かんすい). Sometimes eggs are also used. The "kansui" is unique to ramen, and is what gives the noodles its unique elasticity, taste, and yellowish colour. Originally, kansui was sourced from naturally alkaline lake water, but these days it’s a manufactured solution.

The noodles of ramen are characterized by their yellowish colour, chewy/elastic texture, and sometimes wavy/curly appearance.
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Ramen noodle types

Other than the above mentioned ingredients, there are no official standards as to what actually constitutes a ramen noodle. Ramen noodles can vary in length, thickness, and straightness/wavyness/crinkliness (?) depending on the restaurant or shop you buy from. Some restaurants will also let you choose the thickness of the noodle, as well as how hard/soft you want it cooked.

Ramen is better known by the way it is served — mainly the type of soup and toppings used. See the types of ramen dishes below!

Types of ramen dishes / How ramen is served;

Ramen is best known as noodles served in a soup with various topppings. The soup broth can be made of an infinite number of things depending on the individual shop’s recipe. Some common ingredients include pork / beef / chicken bones, bonito flakes, kelp, mushrooms, various vegetables, onions, garlic, and ginger.
ramen type variations

The broth is then usually mixed with a sauce called called "tare" (たれ) to create different flavoured soups like shoyu and miso (see below).

Various toppings are also added. The type of toppings varies heavily from region to region and shop to shop. Some common toppings include char-siu (roast pork), green onion, boiled eggs, menma (bamboo shoots), nori (dried seaweed), and various vegetables.

There are an infinite number of types, variations, and categorizations of ramen. This is probably one of the main reasons it is so popular. Sometimes, ramen is categorized by the region it is from (i.e. Sapporo ramen); sometimes by its toppings (i.e. Chashuu ramen), sometimes by flavour (i.e. miso ramen); or sometimes by combination of everything (i.e. Sapporo miso chashuu ramen). The most common way to categorize ramen dishes is probably to use the soup flavour. Here are the big four main types you will find most often:

1. Shoyu ramen 醤油らーめん (i.e. soy sauce ramen)

shoyu ramen ramen types

Shoyu — which means soy sauce — is the original "Japanese style" ramen created by the first ramen shop in 1910. Shoyu ramen is considered as the most basic form of Japanese ramen, but can take on many variations depending on the broth, tare, and toppings used. The noodles are usually curly/wavy, but not always. Many local/regional specialty ramen are a variation of shoyu ramen.

2. Shio ramen 塩ラーメン (i.e. salt ramen)

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Shio ramen has a soup base where the broth is mainly just seasoned with salt. It has a lighter taste compared to the other main soup types. Shio is the oldest type of ramen, and is the closest version to the original Chinese ramen that was brought to Japan over 100 years ago. Hakodate ramen — named for the city in Hokkaido prefecture — is the most famous variation of shio ramen. Shio ramen typically uses straight noodles.

3. Miso ramen 味噌ラーメン

miso ramen japanese noodle type

Miso ramen has a rich, umami filled soup thanks to the addition of … miso 🙃 . It was invented in Sapporo in the 1950s, and is considered as a relatively new style of ramen. There are hundreds of types of miso, so there are also many variations of miso ramen. The noodles used are usually on the thicker and curly/wavy side.

4. Tonkotsu ramen 豚骨ラーメン (i.e. pork bone broth ramen)

hakata tonkotsu ramen japanese noodle type
Tonkotsu ramen is any ramen that uses a pork bone broth. The broth is made by boiling pork bones (and other ingredients) over high heat for a very long time. It is characterized by its very thick texture, rich taste, and cloudy appearance thanks to the bone marrow and collagen that dissolved into the broth while cooking. 

The broth is often combined with other sauces (i.e. tare) like miso to create the flavours such as "tonkotsu miso ramen" (my personal favourite). Tonkotsu ramen usually uses very thin, dry noodle that is better for absorbing the soup. In some shops, the noodles used are actually somen noodles, not the typical Chinese noodles. This makes categorizing everything very confusing.

Tonkotsu ramen was invented in present day Fukuoka, Kyushu. It is often referred to as "Hakata" ramen, which is the original name of the Fukuoka area.

Other Non-soup ramen dishes — Yakisoba, Tsukemen, and other


Yakisoba (焼そば)

There are also many ramen noodle based dishes that are not served in soup. Tsukemen (つけ麺) is a dish where cold ramen noodles are served separated from the soup, and eaten by dipping the noodles in the soup. Yakisoba (焼きそば) is a popular stir fried ramen noodle dish. It is never made with soba noodles (i.e. buckwheat noodles), as the name may imply. Hiyashi-chuuka (冷やし中華), or chilled/cold ramen, is a popular summer time dish where cold ramen noodles are served together with various toppings and a sauce/dressing. Sort of like a ramen noodle salad?

Restaurants / price range

There are nearly 50,000 ramen shops throughout Japan (according to Tabelog, a restaurant search/rating website). These ramen restaurants range from small stands with a just a few bar seats, to large, full-service restaurants. Ramen is typically looked at as a common food that can be eaten fairly frequently without breaking your budget. There are some expensive shops, but even these will seem reasonably priced compared to typical higher end spots like sushi restaurants.

らぁ麺 飯田商店 ramen restaurant japan

No. 1 ranked ramen restaurant in Japan (らぁ麺 飯田商店)

The price for a bowl of ramen can range greatly by shop. At a budget place (i.e. cheap chain restaurant), a standard bowl of ramen — without extra toppings or side dishes — averages around just 447yen ($4 USD). At a top-10 rated ramen restaurant, the average price for the same standard bowl is about 789yen ($7 USD). Evem at the number one ranked ramen restaurant in Japan (according to Tabelog), a standard bowl of shoyu ramen is still just 850yen ($7.45 USD). Adding extra toppings, noodles, or side dishes will of course bump the price up. Generally, the most expensive bowl of ramen you will find is around 1500 – 2000 yen ($13-$18 USD) Overall, throughout all of Japan, the average price for a standard bowl of shoyu ramen is around 600yen ($5.50 USD). (Sources:,


Ramen noodles are mainly carbohydrates. They also contain some protein, vitamin B1/B2, and fiber, but in very small amounts.

Calorie wise, ramen noodles contains about 149kcal per 100g. This is not very high (rice is about 168kcal/100g), but a lot more calories are typically found in the soup and toppings. A typical bowl of ramen is probably around 500kcal. (source)

The main health downside of eating a typical bowl of ramen is that it contains high amounts of salt and not much vitamins. The salt is mainly found in the soup, so it is recommended to not drink all of it if you are watching your health. To improve vitamin intake, you should try to add more vegetable toppings, or side dishes. Or, just make sure you eat more vegetables with your next meal 🙂.

Udon (うどん)

The versatile udon is the (distant) second most popular noodle in Japan. It is best known as a thick, soft, slightly chewy noodle that is commonly served either hot or cold. Its versatility means that it is popular to eat all year around.

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

History of udon

Udon is said to be the oldest of all noodle types in Japan. It is not agreed upon on when it actually first appeared in Japan, although some theories state that an ancient form of udon was introduced from China as early as the Nara period (710 – 794 AD). As with all things in life, it evolved over time, and the modern version of udon was already widely popular during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Some say the name is derived from the chinese word 混沌 (hundun) — which is actually a sort of dumpling — and somehow eventually became "udon" over time. I’m not sure how that works, but this theory is not universally agreed upon. Others say the name was derived from another term used for "hand cut noodles".

What are udon noodles made of?

Udon noodles are simply made of wheat flour, water, and salt.

More specifically, a medium-strength wheat flour is used. This allows for the right amount of gluten formation to give the soft, light, chewy and slightly elastic texture that characterizes good udon noodles. The wheat flour also gives udon its slightly sweet fragrance and taste. These days, most flour used to produce udon is actually imported from Australia, as Japan does not produce enough wheat domestically.
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
After kneading the ingredients together, the dough is left alone, and allowed to rest. The time the dough is allowed to rest depends on the seasons/temperature, and ranges from about 30 minutes in the summer to over 2 hours in the winter. This short fermentation period further helps create the desired udon texture. Sometimes, the ratio of water/salt is also varied by season.

Types of udon noodles

There are many types/categories of udon noodles. The main way to categorize udon is usually by the region of Japan it is from.

All types of udon are typically made with the same basic ingredients (i.e. wheat flour, salt, water), but are unique by characteristics like their texture, size, and shape. Some are fat, some are thin, some are round, and some are flat.

There are too many types of udon to talk about here, but the so called "Big 3" of udons are "Sanuki", "Inaniwa", and "Goto".

Sanuki Udon (讃岐うどん)

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Sanuki udon is the most famous type of udon in all of Japan. When you think of udon, you are probably thinking of Sanuki udon.

It originates from the small city of Sanuki in Kagawa prefecture, where the dry climate and land is more suitable for growing wheat (as opposed to rice). The area is also next to the inland sea and is a high quality salt producing area. As a result of having these two raw ingredients, udon became a staple food of the area, and Sanuki udon was born. These days, Kagawa is still considered the home of udon in all of Japan, and is sometimes referred to as the "udon prefecture".

Sanuki udon is characterized by its shiny and transparent white color. The noodles are usually around 3mm in width. They are traditionally made by flattening and cutting the noddle dough by hand giving it a concave, squarish cross section shape. Sanuki udon is also know for its chewy texture, strong elasticity, and the smooth feeling when you slurp some noodles down.

Inaniwa udon (稲庭うどん)

inaniwa udon

Inaniwa udon is from the Akita prefecture. It is a thin and flat noodle, around 2-3mm in width. Unlike Sanuki udon noodles, which are made by cutting with a knife, Inaniwa noodles are stretched, and rolled by hand. The colour is also a bit yellowish thanks to the addition of starch. Inaniwa udon is usually produced and sold as a dry noodle as opposed to fresh.

Goto udon (五島うどん)

goto udon 五島うどん
Goto udon is from the Goto islands in Nagasaki prefecture. These noodles are characterized by their skinny round shape (approx. 2mm in diameter), and firm springy texture. Similar to Inaniwa udon, Goto udon is made by being stretched and rolled by hand as opposed to cut by a knife. One unique ingredient added to Goto udon is a local camelia oil, which is used during stretching process to smooth the surface and prevent the noodles from sticking. Also similarly to Inaniwa udon, Goto udon is usually sold as a dry noodle.


A couple other notable udons are Mizusawa udon(水沢うどん) from Gunma Prefecture, and Himi udon (氷見うどん) from Toyama Prefecture. There are a million other local udon types; you can see a pretty full list on Wikipedia Japan’s udon page

Types of udon dishes (i.e. how it’s cooked/served)

Udon is cooked and served in huge variety of ways. It can be served hot or cold (or a combination), depending on the season and regional preference. Many regions in Japan also have their own udon specialty dish made with their own unique ingredients.

The most common way to serve udon is simply to boil the noodles and serve it in a soup/broth with various toppings and/or side dishes. Below are a few of the more common udon dishes you will find:

Kake udon (かけうどん)

kake udon
The most basic, and popular udon dish is known as "kake udon" (かけうどん). In this version, the cooked udon noodles are served in a simple dashi broth. It is usually topped with green onions and/or ginger. Most restaurants will also have side dishes or other custom toppings you can add like tempura, egg, fried tofu, radish, etc.

Kake udon variations and other soup-based udons
kitsune udon きつねうどん

Kitsune udon (きつねうどん)

Some other popular versions/variations of "udon in soup" include kitsune udon (i.e. kake udon with fried tofu on top), tanuki udon (i.e. kake udon with tenkasu/fried tempura flour bits), tempura udon, and niku udon (i.e. kake udon with meat — most commonly beef).

curry udon カレーうどん

Curry udon (カレーうどん)

"Curry udon" is another very popular version, where the udon is served in a soupy curry.

Non-soup udon dishes

There are also many non-soup based udon dishes. "Bukakke udon" is udon that is cooked, chilled, then has sauce poured over it. "Zaru udon" is the most popular cold udon dish. The udon is boiled, drained, chilled, and served on a zaru (i.e. bamboo platter) with a dipping sauce on the side. "Yaki udon" is stir fried udon.

Bukkake udon (ぶっかけうどん)

Bukkake udon (ぶっかけうどん)

There are hundreds of other variations and styles of cooking and serving udon. Many regions in Japan also have their own udon specialty dish.

Restaurants / Pricing

There are over 24,000 udon restaurants in Japan (according to tablelog). Udon is typically known as a cheap food option, although the price can range widely by type of shop. Low cost shops or takeaway stands can be very cheap, with the average bowl only costing 300-600 yen. Most specialty udon restaurants range from around 600-1000 yen. Higher end shops — usually ones that make udon fresh by hand — can cost over 2000 yen per bowl. Overall, the average cost of a bowl of (kitsune) udon in a restaurant is 594 yen ($5.35).(Sources: ; )

At Suzaki Shokuryohinten 須崎食料品店 — the top ranked udon shop in Japan (according to tabelog) — a standard bowl of udon starts at just 230 yen ($2 USD) before toppings. It is a takeout only though.

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Line up for the No.1 ranked udon shop 須崎食料品店

Udon Nutrition

The main ingredient of udon noodles is carbohydrates (approx. 20g / 100g serving), which makes it easy to eat and digest. Udon is not a significant source of fat or protein. Unfortunately, it is also not a significant source of any other vitamins or minerals, although it does contain trace amounts of vitamin B1, niacin, pantothenic acid, and minerals such as sodium, copper and selenium. (Source:

Udon is considered very low in calories (105kcal / 100g) compared to all other noodle types. In order to accurately measure the overall nutrition of udon, you must also factor in the soup, toppings, and other side dishes. Some popular toppings like deep fried tempura can add protein, but unwanted calories and saturated fat. Healthy toppings like wakame (seaweed) can add needed minerals and fiber. Many soups can be high in salt or sugar, so you must also take this into consideration.

Soba (そば / 蕎麦)

What is soba?

Soba is Japanese buckwheat noodles. The word "soba"(そば・蕎麦) literally means buckwheat (i.e. the plant). The original name of soba noodles is actually "soba-kiri"(蕎麦切り・そばきり), which translates to something like "cut/sliced buckwheat". These days, it is usually simply referred to as "soba". In writing, one way to differentiate the plant, from the noodle, is to write the noodle using kanji (i.e. Chinese characters 蕎麦 ), and the plant version using katakana ( ソバ ).
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Whenenever someone mentions soba, I always think of "zaru soba" — the handcut, thin, greyish cold noodles served on a bamboo platter with dipping sauce. In Japan, soba is most popular on New Year’s eve, when it is a tradition to eat a dish of soba (i.e. Toshikoshi Soba).

The term "soba" is also often used as a generic term for various noodle dishes in Japan. For example, the popular "yaki-soba" (i.e. stir fried noodles) and "Okinawa soba" are actually made with ramen noodles (i.e. Chinese noodles 中華麺), not buckwheat noodles. It can all be a little bit confusing!

Origin / History of soba

Soba noodles have a very long history in Japan (although slightly shorter than udon’s). The first evidence of the buckwheat plant in Japan is actually over 9000 years ago (seems crazy). As a food, buckwheat was first used during the Nara period (710-794) to make a sort of porridge. It did not become a staple food until the Kamakura period (1185-1333). At this time, stone mills were introduced from China, and buckwheat flour was able to be produced. The first food made from buckwheat flour was not noodles, but buckwheat dumplings / cakes known as "soba-gaki" (蕎麦がき). You can think of these as like the great ancestor of soba noodles.

The first evidence of the "noodle" version of soba was in the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573). At first, it was considered an expensive/high class food that was only served to nobles. Eventually, it became more common, and by the end of the Edo period (1603 – 1867 AD), soba noodles were widespread and eaten by common folk just like you and me.

本家尾張屋 本店

Oldest soba shop in Japan (本家尾張屋 本店)

Interesting fact: The oldest soba shop still operating in Japan is from the Muromachi period. The shop’s name is Honke Owariya, and is located in Kyoto (imaged above: 本家尾張屋 本店). Check it out!

What are soba noodles made of?

Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour, water, and sometimes a "binding" ingredient (known in Japanese as "tsunagi" (繋ぎ・つなぎ). Noodles are traditionally formed by cutting the dough into strips, as opposed to stretching out by hand. Typically, a specialized noodle knife called soba-kiri is used for cutting.

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Soba cut with specialized soba knife

Since buckwheat flour does not naturally have gluten, it is difficult to simply add water, knead, stretch, and cut the dough into noodles without everything falling apart. Therefore, a starchy binding ingredient (tsnuagi) is often added to make the soba process easier.

The most common binder is just plain wheat flour. So, unless explicity stated, most buckwheat noodles are actually not 100% buckwheat. They are probably around 70% – 80% buckwheat. In fact, according to Japan’s FCC for noodles, fresh/raw soba only needs to have a minimum of 30% buckwheat flour to be considered as soba. Many cheaper, dried soba that you can buy at supermarket may contain only around 20% or less buckwheat. See the next section for more info about types of soba noodles.

For you gluten free people out there, don’t worry. Some popular non-wheat binders include egg, yam, seaweed (funori), mugwort and burdock roots. To make real 100% buckwheat flour soba (known as ju-wari soba 十割蕎麦) takes a lot of skill and time, and is thus more expensive and actually quite rare.

Types of soba noodles

Like most noodle types, soba noodles can be categorized by the state it is sold in — i.e. fresh/raw, dried, boiled, instant, etc.

For fresh/raw soba, or in soba specialty restaurants, it is popular to categorize soba noodles by the percentage of buckwheat flour it uses relative to its binding ingredient (i.e. tsunagi). The main percentages types are 100%, 90%, and 80% (also known as "28 soba"). Of course, you can also find lower percentages. Generally, the cheaper the soba is, the less amount of actual buckwheat flour is used. The price is not because buckwheat flour is much more expensive, but because of the added time/skill/effort needed to make the noodles with less binding ingredient.

100% buckwheat soba / "ju-wari" or "to-wari" soba (十割蕎麦)

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

"Ju-wari" — or 100% soba — is made of only buckwheat flour and water, with no additional binding ingredients. How is this possible? One method used is to first gelatinze a small portion of buckwheat flour with hot water, and use that as the binding agent.

Using hot water may damage the unique flavour/aroma of buckwheat though, so some craftsmen avoid this method. Instead, they only use freshly made buckwheat flour that has been ground by a stone mill at ultra low speeds. Grinding at low speeds introduces minimal heat into the buckwheat flour, which allows it to retain flavour and additional protein needed to form into noodles. The type of buckwheat flour mixture (i.e. from which part of the buckwheat — see next section) is also important to ensure there is just enough protein structure that the noodles can be kneaded.

In any case, making 100% buckwheat soba requires an immense amount of skill and time. It is actually quite rare to find 100% buckwheat soba, and it is more expensive due to time and effort needed.

100% buckwheat soba has the most fragrant buckwheat smell. The noodles are usually cut thicker otherwise they would fall apart. The texture of the noodles is also rougher and chewier than others.

Check out this 100% soba making video:

90% buckweat soba (九割そば)

90% soba refers to noodles that are made with a ratio of buckwheat flour to binding ingredient of 9 to 1, or 10 to 1. Thus, it contains 90% – 90.9% buckwheat flour, and 9.1% to 10% binding ingredient. Popular binding ingredients include yam flour and plain wheat flour. 90% buckwheat soba retains much of the fragrance of 100% soba, but is a bit easier to make, and has a slightly smoother texture when eating.

80% buckwheat soba / "Ni-hachi soba" (二八蕎麦)

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

"Ni-hachi soba" (二八蕎麦) — which translates to "28 soba" — refers to soba made with a ratio of binding ingredient to buckwheat flour of approximately 2 to 8 (i.e. 20% binder, 80% buckwheat flour). Sometimes a bit more buckwheat flour is used (up to 83.3%). Wheat flour is the most commonly used binder. "28 soba" is very popular, and many people actually prefer it to 100% soba. The addition of wheat flour gives the noodles an excellent balance between the unique fragrance and flavour of buckwheat, along with the smooth texture that is more similar to udon. The smooth texture makes 80% soba much easier to slurp down compared to 100% soba which is known for its rougher, grindier texture.

Buckwheat flour type

Another important way to classify soba noodles is by buckwheat flour type.

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Different parts of buckwheat/soba seed used to produce flour

Typically, to produce buckwheat flour for soba noodles, the buckwheat seed is first separated from its shell/hulll, and then ground down in stages. The very center of the grain is softest, so that breaks down first and turns into flour. From there, the second innermost layer breaks down, then third, and so on. In total, there are four separate flours that can be produced from a single buckwheat grain. The color of the flour gets progressively darker each grinding stage (i.e. inner most layer is white, outer most layer is darkest).

Typically, only the first three flours are actually used for soba noodle making. They are aptly named: First Flour (一番粉), Second Flour (二番粉), and Third Flour (三番粉).

Sarashina / Ichiban flour 更科・一番粉 (i.e. First flour)

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
The very, very core of the buckwheat grain (i.e. the core of the endosperm ) is ground into First Flour (i.e. ichibanko 一番粉). It is characterized by its nearly pure white color, very soft texture, high starch, and low protein content. Sometimes, the First Flour is further sifted to produce an even purer flour called "sarashina (更科)" flour. Often, the terms are used intechangeably, as I guess most people can not tell the difference. Since only an extremely small amount of First Flour / Sarashina flour can be obtained from a single grain, it is considered as a super premium / high-end flour.

Soba noodles made with First Flour always use a binding ingredient (i.e. wheat flour, yam flour), as it does not have enough protein to be formed successfully into noodles by itself. The resulting noodles (often referred to as "Sarashina soba") do not really look like what you imagine stereotypical soba to be. The noodles are pure white with an extremely smooth texture. It lacks the signature buckwheat flavour and smell you expect from sobal, but instead has a tiny bit of sweetness due to its high starch content. The noodles are also much more stretchy compared to others.

Since sarashina soba has a pure white colour and a very light flavour, it is sometimes mixed with other special ingredients like cherry blossoms, green tea, or yuzu to create a special coloured / flavoured soba. Some popular dishes like "three color soba" (三色そば) / "five color soba" (五色そば) make use of this technique.

Second Flour (二番粉) or Middle Flour (中層粉)

The Second Flour is made up of outer parts of the endosperm and the germ of the buckwheat. It has a very light greyish / greenish-yellow color. The Second Flour is often considered to be the best flour for making soba noodles as it offers the greatest balance between the distinct buckwheat flavour, while maintaing a nice, smooth texture.

Third flour (三番粉) or Surface/Outer Layer flour (表層粉)
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Soba flour colour comparison — First flour (top), Second flour (right), Third Flour (left)

The Third Flour contains parts of the buckwheat endosperm, germ, as well as the seed coating bran layer. It has blackish/ dark greenishe color, and is the most nutritious of the three flours. Noodles made with just the Third Flour will have a very strong buckwheat flavour, but will also have a rough texture that is typically unwanted. Sometimes it is all called "yabu flour" which means "bush flour". It is generally not suitable for making noodles on its own, so is mixed with second flour, or used for coloring in other buckwheat based dishes.

Whole grain buckwheat flour (全層粉) / Ground Buckwheat Flour(挽きぐるみ ・ 玄挽きそば))

If the flours are not separated, and the whole seed is just ground together, then it is whole grain buckwheat flour. The resulting flour will be very dark, and high in protein and fiber. The noodles will have a very strong buckwheat flavour/smell, and also a very rough texture. A lot of so called "countryside soba" 田舎蕎麦 will use whole grain buckwheat flour. Some people prefer soba made with whole buckwheat flour, as it has the most intense "soba" color/smell/taste.
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Sometimes, if even the hull/shell is left to be grounded into flour, then it is called "ground buckwheat flour"? (I’m not so sure about the naming of this one). The resulting noodles will have an even stronger buckwheat taste, and rougher texture. You will even be able to see black specks in the noodles, which are bits of shell.

Other types

There are a ton of other ways to classify types of soba noodles — by manufacturing method (i.e. handmade, handmade-style, machine made); origin of buckwheat (Japan, China, etc.); time of year the buckwheat was harvested; and the hundreds of local Japanese regional variations.

Types of soba dishes / How it’s served

Soba can be found served hot or cold, in or out of soup, and with a large variety of toppings, pairings, and condiments. Relative to other Japanese noodle types, soba is more commonly found served separate from soup, as opposed to in soup.

Soba actually shares many of the same dish types with udon. Usually, the only difference is that the udon noodles are replaced with soba noodles. You will often find soba restaurants that sell udon, and vice versa. Some dishes are more popular depending on if soba or udon is used. For example, "zaru soba" is much more popular than its udon counterpart "zaru udon". Here are some more common soba dish types that have an udon counterpart..

Soba dishes similar to udon

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Zaru soba ( ざる蕎麦 ) is chilled soba that is traditionally served on a bamboo colander (i.e. a zaru) along with a simple dipping sauce/broth and various condiments (wasabi, green onions, etc.). It is probably the most common of all soba dishes. Originally, zaru soba became popular because soba would easily dissolve or become soggy if left in soup (due to lack of gluten in buckwheat flour). So, there was some genius in the Edo period that decided to serve the noodles separated from soup, and the rest is history. Zaru soba is most popular in the hot summer time. Sometimes it is also called mori soba (盛り蕎麦).

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Kake soba is simply soba noodles served in a simple hot broth. It is most popular during the winter season. There are a ton of variations depending on ingredients and toppings used. The most basic topping is chopped green onions. Kitsune soba is kake soba with a fried tofu on top. Tanuki soba has fried tempura flour bits on top. Tempura soba has various types of tempura on top (shrimp is the most common). Tororo soba has grated yam (i.e. tororo) and egg on top. Many regions in Japan also have their own specialty versions using local ingredients/ toppings.

New Year’s soba (Toshikoshi soba 年越しそば)

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Toshikoshi soba is soba that is eaten on New Year’s Eve. It is said to bring good luck and health for the new year, as well as cut off all the bad stuff that happened over the previous year. There is no standard as to how it is served. Typically it just depends on what is popular in the region. For example, in Tokyo it is typically tempura soba (shrimp tempura is most common). In Hokkaido, it is usally herring soba. A 2012 study showed that 57.6% of Japanese people eat Toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve!

Regional soba dishes

Soba also has a ton of local regional dishes. The so called "big 3" regional sobas of Japan are said to be Izumo soba (from Shimane prefecture), Wanko soba (Iwate prefecture), and Togakushi soba (from Nagano prefecture).

izumo soba
Izumo soba is from Izumo region of Shimane prefecture. The noodles are made with 100% wholegrain buckwheat, and served in a couple of ways – wariko and kamaage. Wariko soba is served by stacking three bowls of chilled soba noodles on top of each other (with no soup). You eat one bowl at a time, adding soup and whatever toppings you want. Kamaage soba is noodles that are served in the same water that it is boiled in. You can then add flavored soup, and other condiments. This is different from other typical soup-based soba (i.e. kake soba), where the soba is boiled, drained, rinsed, then added to a broth.

wanko soba

Wanko soba (わんこ蕎麦)

Wanko soba literally means "bowl soba", and is from Iwate prefecture. It is a very unique way of serving/eating soba. Basically, soba noodles are served in bite sized portions (i.e. one-slurp sized). As you eat, the waiter/waitress will stand beside you and keep refilling your bowl with mini soba portions until you do not want to eat anymore. It is very strange/unique/ridiculous to see it for the first time. The exact portion size depends on the restaurant, but about 10-15 serving of wanko soba is equivalent to a standard bowl of kake soba. Many restaurants are "all-you-can-eat" style, and it is not uncommon for the average person to eat over 50 servings. There are also annual Wanko soba eating competitions, with February 11th being the official "Wanko Soba Day". There are also plenty of YouTubers testing how much they can eat. Check out this girl eating 600 bowls???!

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Togakushi soba(戸隠そば)

Togakushi soba is from the Togakushi area in Nagano prefecture. The noodles are made using 100% wholegrain / ground buckwheat flour. The dough is first stretched / rolled into a circle before being cut into noodles ( typical soba is first stretched into a square ). To serve Togakushi soba, the noodles are separated into bundles called "bocchi" ( ぼっち ) and served on a bamboo colander (i.e. zaru). The number of bundles depends on the area you are in, but most commonly 5 or 6. It is typically eaten together with Togakushi radish (grated), and other local vegetables.

There are a million other types of soba dishes. Check out a list on Wikipedia Japan’s soba page.

Restaurant / Price

There are around 25,000 soba restaurants in Japan according to Tabelog. Soba is interesting in that it can be found served a lowly worker’s dish, as well as a high class dish.

Cheap soba restaurants or takeaway stands sell soba for 300-600 per bowl. Most mid-range soba specialty shops range from around 600 to 1,000 yen. There are also plenty of fancy higher-end restaurants that cost well over 2,000 yen for an order of soba. Through all of Japan, the overall price for a plate of zaru soba is 631 yen.

Nutrition and health benefits of soba

Soba noodles are generally considered to be quite healthy. This is mainly because soba uses buckwheat flour instead of plain wheat flour. Of course, you need to check the percentage of buckwheat flour the soba noodles use, as well as which buckwheat flour type is used (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, wholegrain). Soba made with 100% whole grain buckwheat flour is the most nutritious, while soba that only uses First Flour (or Sarashina) contains the least amount of nutrients (and is also probably mixed with a higher percentage of wheat flour or other binder).
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

Buckwheat flour contains many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your health. It has plenty of Vitamin Bs (B1, B2, B6), which helps relieve fatigue, and are good for your hair and skin. Minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus promote healthy muscles and bones. Potassium is good for your kidneys. Antioxidants like rutin help lower your blood pressure, and is also good for your skin. Buckwheat is high in fiber which helps your digestion and intestinal environment. (i.e. no more constipation!).

Soba is one of the few non-meat, vegan friendly foods that is considered a complete protein (i.e. it contains adequate amounts of all 9 essential amino acids). Most notably is Lysine, which is good for your bones, burns fat, and….is also good for your skin.

Not all is good news though. Soba still contains a relatively high amount of sugar / carbs. This is especially true if it is not made with 100% buckwheat flour. Some people are also allergic to buckwheat.

Comparison Summaries: Ramen vs Udon; Udon vs Soba

Let’s take a look at the main differences and simlarities between each noodle type — ramen vs udon, and udon vs soba. Skip to the bottom for a big ass comparison summary chart of everything.

Ramen vs Udon

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Ramen is the most popular Japanese noodle type inside and outside of Japan. Udon is in second place, but is quite far behind. To illustrate the popularity difference, — according to the Tablelog (a restaurant rating/search site) — there are approximately 49,000 ramen shops in Japan, compared to about 24,000 udon shops. According to Google search volume in Japan, there is an average of about 6,000,000 searches for ramen every month, compared to just 800,000 for udon.

Noodle Ingredients

There is only one difference in ingredients between udon and ramen noodles, but it makes a big difference. Udon is made of wheat flour, water, and salt. Ramen noodles (i.e. Chinese noodles 中華麺) are made of wheat flour, water, salt, and "kansui" (かん水).

The addition of kansui — an alkaline solution — is what distinguishes ramen noodles from udon (and other types of wheat flour based noodles). It gives ramen its unique smell, and alkaliney (?) taste (it’s hard to describe the taste), as well as its yellowish colour. In comparison, udon has a white/translucent colour, and a slightly sweet taste/smell more typical of wheat flour based foods. Kansui also helps gives ramen noodles a stronger, firmer and more elastic/chewier texture compared to udon. Udon is better known for its softer and smoother texture.

Noodle variations

Both udon and ramen noodles can be found in various sizes, thickness, and shapes. Ramen noodles are usually a bit thinner, with less variation in possible thickness, which typically ranges from around 1 – 2.5mm. Udon has a much wider thickness variation, which typically ranges from around 2 – 4mm. The JAS minimum standard width for dried udon noodles is set at 1.7mm. There is no standard for ramen noodles.

sanuki udongoto udon 五島うどん
Udon also has many regional varieties that come in a huge range of sizes/shapes. Some are super thin, flat and wide (e.g. Himokawa udon), some are very thin and round (e.g. Inaniwa udon), some are super thick/fat (i.e. ippon udon), and some are even ear-shaped (i.e. mimi udon)!

On the other hand, there are not really any regional varieties of ramen noodles. The only other variation is that some ramen noodles are straight, while some are more crinkled/wavy. Restaurants will often choose the noodle thickness/type which best matches the soup. For example, tonkotsu/hakata ramen uses thinner and drier noodles which help absorb its rich broth. On the other hand, miso ramen matches well with thicker, moister noodles.
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

For ramen, the focus is instead typically placed on how it’s served — i.e. the soup, toppings, and flavours of the dish as a whole — instead of the actual noodles themselves. This brings me to the next main point…

Focus / Perception

I think the main difference between ramen and udon is what people focus on. When you hear the term "ramen", you probably do not think of the actual noodles (which are technically called "Chinese noodles" in Japan). Instead, you may think of all the diferent ramen flavours like shoyu ramen, miso ramen, or tonkotsu ramen. Perhaps, you think of toppings like chashuu pork, bamboo shoots, and boiled egg. The actual noodles themselves are usually a secondary thought.

In contrast, when you think of "udon", there is much more focus on the noodles themselves. For example, the famous "Sanuki udon" refers to the actual noodles, not to any dish in particular. Many standard/classic udon dishes put emphasis on the noodles, instead of the soup or toppings. For example, ‘kake udon’ is simply udon noodles in a very basic broth with little to no toppings. The simple broth and minimal toppings puts more focus more on the texture of the actual noodles. Of course, there are also some popular udon dishes like "curry udon" where the soup and flavours outweigh actual noodles.

Dish Types / How it’s served

Udon and ramen do not share many similar dish types (unlike udon and soba). One thing they do have in common is that there are hundreds and hundreds of variations for each. Every region in Japan seems to have its own specialty version of ramen or udon, and there are new variations appearing every year.

shoyu ramen ramen typesramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

The most common way both noodle types are served is in a hot bowl of soup with various toppings or sides. Again, the one difference is that ramen dishes generally have more emphasis on the soup and toppings. This is especially true for types like miso ramen, or tonkotsu ramen which feature very rich flavourful broth. Udon, on the other hand typically uses much simpler, lighter soups, which sometimes lean toward the sweeter side compared to more salty ramen soups.

Both udon and ramen also have stir fried versions — yaki-soba (uses ramen noodles), and yaki-udon. There are also dipping/non-soup versions. Tsukemen is the most popular non-soup ramen dish, while bukkake udon or zaru udon are popular non-soup udon dishes.

Is udon healthier than ramen?

Neither udon nor ramen noodles are particularly known for their health benefits. Neither is a major source of nutrition, and are basically just carbohydrates. Carbs are a necessary source of energy, but can obviously be bad if eaten too much. ‘Low-carb’ diet people would probably want to avoid both noodles.

Udon is actually very low in calories (105kcal per 100g), and is good for digestion. Ramen noodles are not super high in calories (149kcal per 100g), but still significantly more than udon. So in this case, I guess you could say udon is healthier than ramen?

The main difference typically is found in the way it is served. Some popular ramen types like tonkotsu ramen are quite high in salt and fat content. Toppings like cha-shuu also add a lot of fat. If you want healthier ramen, then you probably should eat a lighter variation like shio or shoyu ramen with vegetable toppings. You would also want to avoid drinking all the soup which is the main source of salt.

The healthiness of udon also depends greatly on the way it is served. Most udon soup broths are less fatty than ramen broths, but may contain added sugar content. Popular udon side dishes like tempura are also not considered healthy, so you may want to skip out on that if you’re watching your health.

Ramen vs Udon Pricing

Trying to save money? Which noodle should you eat? Well, lucky for you, both ramen and udon are quite budget friendly noodles. Neither are generally looked at as a high-end dish in Japan, and can be eaten regularly without breaking the bank. In some areas of Japan (e.g. Kanagawa), udon is actually eaten more often than rice!

On average, a standard bowl of ramen (604 yen) will cost a tiny bit more than a bowl of udon (594 yen). Udon tends to have a larger variation in prices though (i.e. some super cheap, and some super expensive).

Udon vs Soba

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Let’s now take a look at the differences between udon and soba. Udon and soba actually have a lot in common, despite their distinct appearances. They both have extremely long histories in Japan, and modern versions both became widespread during the Edo period of Japan (1603 – 1868).


They are almost equally popular in Japan, with udon having a very slight edge. This may be arguable as there are actually slightly more soba restaurants (25,000) in Japan, compared to udon restaurants (24,000). According to Google search queries though, udon is searched for on average 823,000 times per month compared to 550,000 for soba. The one day that soba is definitely more popular is on New Year’s Eve, when many people follow the tradition of eating "Toshikoshi soba".

ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type

East is soba (brown), West is udon (blue)

The popularity of udon vs soba also depends greatly on the region of Japan you are in. There is a saying in Japan that goes something like "East is soba, West is udon" (東は蕎麦、西はうどん). Basically, it is saying that soba is more popular in the Eastern regions of Japan (i.e. Kanto and Tohoku regions), while udon is much more popular in Western regions (i.e. Shikoku, Chugoku, Kyushu ). The divide is actually quite clear, and kind of interesting to look at (see image above). The main reason for regional popularity is the climate, which historically made certain regions better suited for growing the raw ingredients for of each noodle (i.e. wheat vs. buckwheat). (Source)


Udon is made with wheat flour, water and salt. Soba is made with buckwheat flour, water, and often a binding ingredient ( i.e. wheat flour, yam, etc.).

Obviously, the main difference is that udon uses wheat flour, while soba uses buckwheat flour. One thing to note is that many cheap soba noodles that you can buy at the supermarket or eat at budget stalls, will actually use extremely low amounts of buckwheat flour, and high amounts of binding ingredient (e.g. 10% buckwheat flour, 90% binding). The most common binding ingredient used is actually wheat flour. This means that — depending on the soba you buy — soba and udon can be more similar in ingredients that you would think.

Noodle Types / Categorization

Udon noodle types are typically categorized by the region it is originally from (i.e. Sanuki udon, Inaniwa udon, etc.). They are all typically made with the same basic raw ingredients (i.e. wheat flour, water, salt), but may differ by their shape, thickness, length, etc.

Soba, on the other hand, is more typically found categorized by its buckwheat flour/binder ratio, or by paticular buckwheat flour type. For example, "juwari soba" (i.e. 100% buckwheat soba), "ni-hachi soba" (80% buckwheat flour soba 20% binder), or "sarashina soba" (i.e. first flour soba), and wholegrain buckwheat flour soba. Soba dish types are often named by region.

Dish Types / How it’s served

Udon and soba share many of the same basic dish types. For example, there is kake udon/soba, zaru udon/soba, tempura udon/soba, etc. As a result, many noodle restaurants will serve both udon and soba.
ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type ramen vs udon,udon vs soba,japanese noodle type
Some udon versions are more popular than their soba counterparts, and vice versa. For example, zaru soba is much more popular than zaru udon. On the other hand, kitsune udon is much more popular than kitsune soba.

Both udon and soba have hundreds of regional specialty dishes. These are all quite unique. There are too many to list, but you can check out a full list on Wikipedia — udon, soba

Health / Nutrition

Soba is considered to be the healthiest of all Japanese noodle types. This is thanks to its use of buckwheat flour, which has many vitamins and minerals beneficial to your health. This includes Vitamin Bs (B1/2/6), and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium. It is also high in fiber, antioxidants, and protein.

On the other hand, udon does not contain much nutrients besides carbohydrates. It is very low in calories though, and easy to digest.

Sometimes, the health benefits of soba is overstated as it greatly depends on the type buckwheat flour (i.e. First, Second, Wholegrain, etc.), as well as the ratio of buckwheat flour to binder (i.e. 100%, 80%, etc.). Many very cheap soba noodles contain much more wheat flour than buckwheat flour, so will have about the same nutritional value as udon.

Restaurants / Price

Soba and udon have similar price ranges in restaurants. There are some extremely cheap options where you can get a simple bowl of noodles for 300 yen. There are also high end restaurants where it will cost over 2000 yen per serving.

Overall, it seems that soba has more high end restaurants, as the average price is slightly higher than udon (631 yen vs 593 yen). (Source)

Japanese Noodle Type Comparison Chart

For your convenience, here is a chart that compares all the main points mentioned in this article between the three Japanese noodle types — ramen, udon, and soba.

Ramen Udon Soba
Overall popularity ranking (in Japan) 1st 2nd 3rd
Google Search volume (avg monthly) 6,120,000 823,000 550,000
Number of restaurants in Japan ((via Tabelog)) 49,000 24,000 25,000
History / Origin – China
– modern version est. 1910
– China
– modern version est. Edo Period (1603 – 1868)
– Japan
– modern version est. Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573)
Ingredients Wheat flour, water, salt, kansui Wheat flour, water, salt Buckwheat flour, water; binder (tsunagi)
– possible binding ingredients: wheat flour, yam, egg, etc.
Popular Noodle Types – no offical types; all ramen noodles referred to as "Chinese Noodles" in Japan
– width, size, depends on soup / dish type
– Sanuki udon
– Inaniwa udon
– Goto udon
– 100% buckwheat soba
– 80% buckwheat soba (i.e. ni-hachi soba)
– Sarashina soba (i.e. first flour )
– Wholegrain buckwheat soba
Popular Dishes – Shoyu ramen
– Shio ramen
– Miso ramen
– Tonkotsu ramen
– Kake udon, kitsune udon, tanuki udon, tempura udon, niku udon
– Curry udon

– bukakke udon
– yaki udon

– kake soba, zaru soba, tempura soba
– New Year’s soba (i.e. Toshikoshi soba)
– Izumo soba ,
-Wanko soba ,
– Togakushi soba
Restaurant pricing (avg) 603 yen 594 yen 631 yen
Nutrition / Health – mainly carbohydrates – mainly carbohydrates
– low in calories
– Vitamin Bs (B1, B2, B6),
– Minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, Potassium
– Antioxidants like rutin lower blood pressure,.
– high in fiber
– high in protein


Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about these three Japanese noodle types — ramen, udon, and soba. We looked at each noodle’s popularity, history, ingredients, types, dishes, and more. Then we summarized comparisons of ramen vs udon, and udon vs soba. Overall, ramen is the most popular/famous type in Japan, but more so as an entire dish (i.e soup, toppings), instead of the noodles themselves (which are called "Chinese noodles" in Japan). On the other hand, udon and soba have a much longer history in Japan and are famous for specific noodle types like Sanuki udon, or "ni-hachi" soba. Soba and udon also share many of the same dishes like kake soba/udon, or zaru soba/udon.

I hope that you found some useful information in this article. I definitely learned a lot about the difference between ramen, udon, and soba. What is your favourite Japanese noodle type? If there are any mistakes, or things I should know, please let me know in the comments, or contact me.



#### Udon:うどん

#### Soba:

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