Helping noodle wheat meet Japanese expectations

22 January, 2024

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Noodle lovers in Japan know exactly what they want when it comes to udon. The perfect udon noodles should have a mouthfeel known as ‘mochi mochi’ – a unique balance of softness and firmness, combined with good elasticity and a slight stickiness. Appearance is also crucial; udon noodles must have a bright and creamy very slightly yellow colour, with good colour stability – i.e. they stay looking good for longer. Japanese flour millers know that the best wheat for udon is grown in Western Australia.

For almost 35 years, Japan has exclusively imported noodle wheat from WA that has been bred especially for udon. WA supplies about 750,000t of a special noodle wheat blend to Japan at a value of around $300 million annually. AEGIC is Australia’s market-facing agency for the Japanese noodle market, in collaboration with the Grain Industry Association of WA’s Wheat Council. For over 10 years, AEGIC has been central to supporting this market through sensory assessment of new varieties, as well as providing technical support, crop reports and resources to address seasonal issues. Korea is the only other market that currently imports noodle wheat from WA.

In December 2023, we hosted a visiting udon expert from the Japan Flour Millers Association (JFMA) as part of the official udon sensory evaluation program. The evaluation involves blind sensory testing (mouthfeel, appearance, taste) of unreleased wheat varieties to help with classification and to ensure our wheat meets Japanese requirements.

Four people in white lab coats taste noodles with chopsticks

AEGIC’s sensory evaluation panel in December 2023.

Four people in white lab coats taste noodles with chopsticks
A man makes noodles on a table watched by another man through an open window

InterGrain Chief Operating Officer Dr Dan Mullan supervising the making of the udon noodles.

Earlier in 2023, we travelled to Japan with breeding company InterGrain to evaluate incoming Australian Noodle Wheat (ANW) lines with flour millers. In Tokyo, we hosted joint sensory evaluation with the JFMA and put a brand-new ANW variety developed by InterGrain to the ultimate test. The work conducted by AEGIC in this field is highly respected, and our independence was recognised by JFMA as critically important.
A group of people stand on both sides of a table with a number of plates of noodles in the middle

AEGIC’s Dr Larisa Cato (left) and Matt Yamamoto (right) taking part in the all-important sensory evaluation.

Two people stand by a table with plates of noodles, smiling at the camera

Smiles all around after the new variety got the tick of approval

Dr Larisa Cato and Dr Dan Mullan stand in front of hay bales, each holding a bowl of noodles

Dr Larisa Cato and Dr Dan Mullan at InterGrain’s official launch of Firefly in September 2023

As announced by InterGrain, we can now reveal that the new variety is named Firefly and is expected to become a major ANW variety popular with growers. AEGIC supported InterGrain with independent quality and sensory testing of the new variety as it was developed.

Korea is another important market for ANW. The Korean noodle wheat blend is different to Japan’s and is used for other types of noodles as well as udon. We travelled with InterGrain to work with Korean millers to benchmark several varieties for their suitability for Korean white salted style noodles.
Three people stand around a counter with packets of noodles in bags in front of them

InterGrain CEO Tress Walmsley and InterGrain Chief Operating Officer Dr Dan Mullan in the Noodle Zone getting insights about what is needed in the perfect noodle flour blend in Korea.

A man stands holding a stretched piece of noodle dough

The dough is tested for softness, elasticity and toughness. One important test here was understanding the importance of textural stability and change of texture (firmness and chewiness) over a period of 5 minutes.

Dr Larisa Cato and Dr Dan Mullen taste noodles

Dan Mullan and AEGIC’s Dr Larisa Cato doing the crucial sensory evaluation.

Some great insights were gathered for potential improvement to the Korean noodle wheat blend. The Japanese and Korean noodle wheat markets are uniquely stable in both volume and value. The value to growers of producing udon noodle wheat, compared with other classes, is approx. $16.6 per hectare – a 34% boost to growers’ profit. Put another way – Western Australia’s noodle wheat classes add an estimated $35-$70m in extra revenue each year for growers.

The Japanese market is particularly important. The ongoing success of the relationship between WA and Japan is mutually beneficial and each partner is prepared to invest resources to ensure its success. The entire supply chain, from the farmer in WA to the consumer in Japan, benefits from this investment.

AEGIC is an initiative of the Western Australian State Government and Grains Australia. 

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