This week’s low-carb swap feature is a product review of Oomi Noodles, a fish protein-based alternative to carb-based noodles, that doesn’t taste of fish!
I am on my travels this week, in beautiful Muscat, the capital of Oman in the Middle East. It is just wonderful, proper old Arabia, and I hope the pictures I’ve been posting on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are whetting your appetite for the first of my Muscat travel posts coming later this week.
In the meantime, let’s turn to appetites of a different kind – for food of course.
I said when I started this low-carb swap series that some of the posts would be about products that I’ve found useful, rather than recipes. As far as possible, I prefer to stick to non-processed foods where I can, but of course that’s just not always practical. And when I do buy a convenience food, I make sure I select it on the basis of what is on the ingredients label (e.g. see what I said about carrageenan in almond milk in last week’s post).
So as I’ve been nowhere near a kitchen this week, I instead bring you my review of a low-carb swap which is an off-the-shelf product that I’ve found myself using quite regularly lately. It’s not only a convenience food, but contains fewer carbs than the products it replaces. (NB: this is a UK product, but I hope that my international readers will be interested to learn about it too, and I’d absolutely love for you to share with us if you have anything similar in your neck of the woods).
What are Oomi Noodles?
Oomi noodles are a protein-based alternative to regular carbohydrate-based noodles (wheat, buckwheat, rice, etc). But I think you may well not have heard of them yet as, after they first launched last year, they were for some time only available online from Ocado. They are also now available from Tesco online, and in theory from their shops too, although I’ve looked and not found them yet. I only first came across Oomi noodles myself because I attended the Food Matters Live conference at the ExCeL Centre in London in November 2016, where they were being shown off as an innovative new product.
Instead of wheat, rice or other grains, Oomi noodles are predominantly made with white fish protein, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). But they absolutely don’t taste of fish. In fact, they look and taste similar to – and have the springy bite of – an egg noodle made of wheat.
Cooking with Oomi Noodles
These protein noodles are massively convenient as they come snap-packed in individual carb and calorie-counted servings (each pack has two servings). The 115g single serving packets also help you exercise portion control.
They can be eaten cold straight from the packet if you’re really pressed for time, or want them as part of a salad, or a packed lunch at work. Being made of fish protein, they need to be kept in a fridge, although they do have a use-by period of up to a few weeks.
I like to serve Oomi noodles hot as a quickly-prepared accompaniment e.g. to a portion of Thai vegetable curry that I’ve previously batch-cooked and frozen. I just stir fry them with a teaspoon of sesame oil for one minute until they squeak when pressed down with the spatula, which means all their excess moisture has been cooked out and they’re done. (Do this at a medium heat please, so that the oil does not reach its smoke point and produce trans fats).
Of course, you can just throw them into whatever you usually put noodles into. They would be good in an oriental soup. The dish that I made pictured below was essentially a Pad Thai recipe using Oomi noodles instead of flat rice noodles (and I swapped the sugar for xylitol too). So not traditional Pad Thai then, but a lot less carby. Oomi also have some recipe suggestions on their website.
Nutrition count: Egg Noodles vs. Rice Noodles vs. Buckwheat (Soba) Noodles vs. Oomi Noodles
You can see from the numbers below that you’re saving a massive amount of carbs between a portion of Oomi noodles and ones made from wheat, buckwheat or rice, which is swapped out for larger amounts of protein and fat. By my calculations, Oomis are a little more than one-sixth of the carbs of the starchy noodle varieties. The Oomi company itself say they are 75% fewer carbs – I assume they’re being cautious to catch all the products you might compare them with.
You’re not saving significant calories, as lean protein and carbs have essentially the same calories (around 4 kcal per gram). But for a similar amount of calories and significantly fewer carbs, you are likely to feel fuller for longer because of the larger proportions of protein and fat.
I do use other noodle and pasta substitutes, some of which are virtually no-carb and no-calorie (Japanese shirataki noodles in particular, and I’ll write about those another time). But, depending on the recipe, their downside can be that, in comparison to Oomi noodles, they don’t have the taste and texture similarity to the foods that they replace.
|Per serving (115g cooked noodles)||Sharwood’s Medium Egg Noodles||Waitrose Rice Noodles||Clearspring Buckwheat Soba Wheat-free Noodles||Oomi Noodles|
Source: Oomi Noodles packet. Other figures calculated from product information on Waitrose grocery shopping online
Health Impact of the Ingredients
Oomi noodles are gluten-free. I asked Oomi what exactly is the ‘starch’ that is included, which I inferred couldn’t be derived from wheat, or the gluten-free claim could not be made. They told me “There are two types of starch that we use in Oomi Noodles – corn and tapioca. These are both important to help us achieve the texture and elasticity of the noodle.”
Obviously Oomis are not for vegetarians or people with fish allergies. And on the subject of other potential allergens, lower down the ingredients list they also contain some egg, soya and milk protein.
Let’s have a closer look at the effect on health of some of the main ingredients.
The white fish these noodles contain is actually hoki, whiting and pollock – in proportions that apparently vary between batches. I guessed that might be according to what fish is available that can be certified as sustainable by MSC at the time of production. Anyway I was curious, so I asked Oomi why. This was their response:
“As a natural raw material, fish vary in terms of their gel strengths – this is important to consider when trying to achieve a product with a consistent texture across batches. We use different varieties of fish to achieve a gel strength that works for Oomi. This allows us to have consistency in our other ingredients and therefore to achieve a noodle with a great bite and familiar appearance in every single batch. It was really important to us to make a product that has a texture and appearance as close to an egg noodle as possible so it can be used just like a regular noodle! Naturally, white fish are less oily. We only use the lean fish fillet, which is washed, and thus prevents an overpowering fish taste or smell.”
At any rate, all white fish have a number of health benefits, including being an excellent source of lean protein. And in whatever ratios to each other they are included, these three fish varieties all have a similar relatively subtle taste, which I think enables them to be presented as noodles that don’t taste fishy (along with the inclusion of yeast extract as a flavour enhancer).
From the point of view of pollutants in fish, you can safely eat as much of these three white fish as you like. (There are only a handful of white fish that may contain similar levels of pollutants to oily fish, and which should therefore be limited in consumption).
White fish is usually also high in nutrients including selenium for a healthy immune system; vitamin B12, which supports a healthy nervous system, and which – together with high levels of vitamin B6 and phosphorous – also helps the body release energy efficiently from food. And all fish is a good dietary source of iodine, needed for the production of thyroid hormones, which help regulate your metabolism. You want all these things if you’re trying to lose, or maintain, weight.
Being made of white (as opposed to oily) fish, I guessed these noodles should contain a little omega 3, although it wouldn’t be very much. I asked Oomi if any of the omega 3 content is retained during processing, and they confirmed that they could not claim that. Omega 6 will predominate in the sunflower oil in the noodles.
As a quick aside on a much larger topic, the deal with omega 3 is that it has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, whereas omega 6 has a pro-inflammatory effect. You need to have an inflammatory response as part of a healthy immune system, and both omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fatty acids that you have to include in your diet. But to keep the balance in check – which most of us don’t – you need to make sure that you’re also regularly including in your diet oily fish, green leafy vegetables and other foods containing significant omega 3, and cutting back a bit on foods, such as grains and vegetable oils, which contain omega 6. The inflammation caused inside the body as a consequence of having these fatty acids out of balance in a modern diet is a significant contributor to many western diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases. This is a much bigger issue on which I’ll write more fully another time.
Getting back to the noodles, personally I’m not alarmed at the inclusion of some starch and sugar in the ingredients. They are some way down the list and so will be in relatively small amounts, as borne out by the overall carb count. Oomi confirmed to me that there is only a trace amount of sugar in their noodles, but they do have to declare it. Overall, they were keen to emphasise that the noodles are low in sugar and saturated fats.
And personally I’m not alarmed either by the inclusion of xanthum gum. Although it is chemically-sounding, it is a natural substance usually derived from sugar – but like fibre, it has negligible impact on your carb count, as it is a type of indigestible carbohydrate. That means it can cause bloating or discomfort when eaten to excess, but the small amounts used in recipes are unlikely to cause a problem for most people who do not already suffer form digestive issues. It is routinely used in wheat-free cooking as a thickener, and as a substitute for gluten to improve the structure of the finished product. You can now buy xanthum gum as a baking ingredient in supermarkets, and I use it in several low-carb recipes myself.
Finally, carotenes – used to give Oomis their golden egg noodle-like colour, are also natural. As an ingredient they are usually derived, as they’re name implies, from carrots – although they are contained in significant quantities in many other brightly coloured vegetables too.
So there you have it, overall I think that Oomi noodles are a pretty cool swap for regular varieties, when you’re in a hurry and you want to cut the carbs. If you give Oomis a try, please do share with us below a picture of what you came up with!