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What is vermicelli: The curious case of the popular strand pasta

What is vermicelli: The curious case of the popular strand pasta

If you’ve seen fine, long strands of pasta at the supermarket and wondered how they taste like, now’s your chance to find out! 

In our discussion today, I’ll be shedding light on common questions surrounding vermicelli such as what does it taste like and how can you use it to create unique, flavorful recipes.

Vermicelli is a type of strand pasta. It’s even skinnier than spaghetti. The name “vermicelli” literally translates to “little worms” in Italian. 

In America, it’s often referred to as “angel hair” pasta and is available fresh or dried. It originated in Campania, a region in southwest Italy. Since then, it’s been adopted by several countries to refer to various types of noodles. 

For example, in China and Latin America, rice noodles and fideo noodles are referred to as vermicelli. In the Indian subcontinent, on the other hand, seviyan is a popular name for vermicelli derived from Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi languages. 

The vermicelli was first mentioned in “The Art of Cooking Sicilian Macaroni and Vermicelli,” a book compiled by the renowned Italian 15th-century culinary expert, Martino da Como.

What is vermicelli made of?

Italian vermicelli is made of semolina, a type of coarsely-ground flour extracted from durum wheat. It’s high in protein and gluten. The flour gives the vermicelli its yellow color and is ideal for the preferred al dente pasta texture. Eggs and water are also used in the making.

In Southeast Asia and China, vermicelli is mostly made of rice flour. Strands of pasta are created with the help of water. Mung bean starch is used in the Japanese version of vermicelli, whereas the Korean version uses sweet potato starch. In India, a popular dish called falooda uses cornstarch vermicelli!

To sum it up, Italian vermicelli is wheat-based and made from durum wheat, whereas Asian vermicelli is usually made using rice flour, mung bean starch, corn starch, or sweet potato starch.

What does vermicelli taste like?

Like most pasta varieties, vermicelli doesn’t have a strong taste of its own, but it takes up the taste of the ingredients added while preparing it. 

In the Indian subcontinent, vermicelli is prepared from rice flour. It’s usually sweet and eaten with milk, cream, and nuts. Many would say vermicelli tastes like rice pudding. 

In some parts of Africa, vermicelli is served with custard and cardamom and tastes similar to the Indian dish known askheer. 

In the Americas, vermicelli is used in soups and Mexican and Latin dishes. In China and the Far East, vermicelli is used to complement soups and stews or make fresh spring rolls and stir-fries.

The texture of vermicelli

Vermicelli has a soft and springy texture. It’s more gelatinous than other types of pasta. It must not be hard and should have a lovely spring to it. Boiling vermicelli makes it softer, but it’s also completely okay to consume it uncooked!

How to use vermicelli

You can use vermicelli to create hundreds of sweet and savory dishes. Here are two recipes that we enjoy a lot and want you to try out as well:

1. Seviyan ki kheer (Indian rice pudding)

• 3 tablespoons clarified butter
• ½ cup broken vermicelli
• 2 cups hot full-fat milk
• 3/4th cup sugar
• 3 to 4 saffron strands
• ½ teaspoon cardamom powder

In a saucepan, heat clarified butter. Add vermicelli and sauté on low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and ½ cup of milk. Mix well and cook on a medium flame for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring continuously.

Next, add sugar and the remaining milk, mix well and cook on low flame for 3 to 4 minutes. Add cardamom powder and saffron and cook on low flame for another 2 minutes. Garnish with slivered almonds and serve.

2. Fried rice vermicelli

• ½ pack rice vermicelli
• 1 handful of fresh bean sprouts
• 1 boneless & skinless chicken breast, cut into small pieces
• 1 teaspoon cornstarch
• 3 tablespoons cooking oil
• 2 cloves of minced garlic
• 3 stalks of scallion, cut into 2-inch pieces

For the seasoning, use:
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
• 4 tablespoons water
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Soak vermicelli in water for 20 minutes or until soft. In a bowl, coat chicken in cornstarch to tenderize it. In a wok, add cooking oil. When the oil is heated, add minced garlic and chicken. Cook until the chicken turns white. 

Next, add the vermicelli and all seasoning ingredients. Stir fry for 3 minutes or until noodles turn soft. Add bean sprouts and scallions and cook for another 1 minute. Dish out and serve immediately.

Vermicelli substitutes

If you can’t find vermicelli in the market, you can use these subs instead:

  • Capellini pasta
  • Rice stick noodles
  • Cellophane noodles
  • Spaghettini pasta
  • Fedelini pasta
  • Capelli d’angelo

The bottom line

Vermicelli is highly nutritious and much lower in carbohydrates as compared to other forms of pasta. Craft recipes using this special ingredient in your kitchen today, and let me know whether you loved it or not!