The Better Noodle
Umi Organic Releases the first-ever U.S.-made fresh organic ramen noodle for the grocery
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MATTIE JOHN BAMMAN
The co-founder of the Umi Organic noodle company, Lola Milholland, has lived in her Northeast Portland craftsman-style home since she was five. Exuding that Old Portland vibe, the home is surrounded by garden plots and fruit trees that grow into front-yard snap peas and backyard Italian plums in the summer. The kitchen is stocked with cooking tools just perfect for methodically testing noodle recipes.
And does Lola have noodle recipes.
She started experimenting with noodles at age 23, after living in Japan during college. Wanting to improve, she took a class from Dr. Gary Hou at Portland’s Wheat Marketing Center. “The class cost $1,000, which I couldn’t afford, so I snuck in as a journalist,” she says. “We explored different wheat noodles and flours for days.” At the time, Lola was employed by Ecotrust (then publisher of Edible Portland). She became a proponent of the local grain movement, and that’s when, she says, the light bulb went on.
“I thought, ‘Portland’s a wheat hub, with wheat from the Northwest and Midwest constantly coming through the city. Why do we export wheat and import noodles? We’re boomerang-ing it, and our farmers are losing out!'”
Seeing a gap in the market, Lola set out to produce the first-ever U.S.-made, fresh organic ramen noodle for the grocery store — a difficult feat. In fact, ramen noodles are so hard to master, many Portland restaurants do not even make their own.
Lola settled on alkaline noodles, better known as ramen-style noodles. These noodles feature alkaline water, or kansui, the key ingredient that makes ramen noodles different from noodles like spaghetti or linguini. Kansui adds springiness and a slipperier texture.
Before you get excited to relive the days of one-dollar instant ramen, Umi Organic doesn’t make that kind of ramen noodle. It doesn’t make anything involving MSG, and its noodles do not contain preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, or GMOs, either. Lola settled on a noodle made mostly of organic, high-protein wheat from Utah’s employee-owned Central Milling, with a touch of whole grain, freshly milled barley flour from Greenwillow Grains in the Willamette.
In 2015, Lola founded Umi Organic with her mom, Theresa Marquez, and her friend, Ayla Ercin. Having achieved Oregon Tilth organic certification, Umi Organic noodles can be found on refrigerated shelves in the fresh foods sections of many fine grocers, and Lola is working on adding sauces and broth bases to sell with the noodles, for a near-instant meal.
Umi Organic noodles aren’t just for ramen, and they’re delicious in a pretty endless number of dishes, both warm and cold (think of all the ways you can use spaghetti). You can put ramen in broth with any number of ingredients, from sautéed cabbage to boiled eggs, and you can add your choice of vegetables for a pasta salad.
Lola says there are a few time-tested tricks for cooking perfect ramen-style noodles: 1) always boil a lot of water—enough so that the water doesn’t stop boiling when you add the noodles; 2) stir regularly; 3) boil for two minutes for warm dishes; and 4) boil for three minutes for cold dishes, followed by a cold rinse.
RECIPE – Provided by Umi Organic
Katherine’s Noodles with Lots of Herbs and Toasted Peanuts
Serves: 2 (or makes 4 hearty sides)
Cooking time: 30 minutes
1 package (10-ounce) Umi Organic fresh ramen noodles
1 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks or grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
3/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
3/4 cup toasted peanuts
1 teaspoon peanut oil
2 small stalks green garlic, trimmed and finely minced, or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon sunflower oil or other neutral oil
Juice of 2–3 limes
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Salt to taste
-Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add noodles and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Shake water out thoroughly. Put noodles in a large serving dish. Add the carrots, green onion, and herbs on top.
-In a small skillet, toast the peanuts (yes, even though they’re already roasted!) over medium heat in peanut oil with a generous sprinkling of salt (to taste) until dark, golden brown, and toasty smelling. Keep the peanuts moving so as not to burn them. Remove from pan and let cool.
-In a medium bowl, mix the dressing ingredients. Taste it. It should be bright and strongly flavored, with a kick from the red pepper flakes.
-Pour the dressing over the noodles, vegetables, and herbs, and toss in the peanuts. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning with more lime juice, salt, or red pepper flakes.
Cook’s Note: “I was inspired by the herbs in my garden and my love of crunchy things. The earthy noodles play very nicely with the bright herbs and the rich, toasted nuts. It’s also delicious with an egg on top! I made this dish with regular spaghetti and it did not hold a candle to the flavor and texture provided by the Umi Organics noodles.” — Katherine Deumling, Owner, Cook What You Have
Mattie John Bamman is a culinary travel writer focused on the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and the Balkans. Wine, wilderness, and words brought him to Portland, where he regularly contributes to Edible Portland and other publications, including Northwest Travel & Life Magazine. Mattie is also the editor of Eater Portland.