The world's oldest noodles, dating back 4,000 years, were made in China. Huyuan Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues discovered ancient noodles preserved in an inverted sealed bowl at an archaeological site near the Yellow River in northwestern China.
"Our discovery indicates that noodles were first produced in China about 4,000 years ago," Lu said.
Prior to this discovery, reported in the scientific journal Nature, the oldest written record of noodles was in a book written during the Eastern Han Dynasty in China between about 25 and 220.
But there have been other suggestions that the noodles were first cooked in the Middle East and brought to Italy by the Arabs in the Middle Ages.
"This is the earliest physical evidence that noodles have been found," Lu says.
The newly discovered yellow noodles are very thin, delicate and 50 cm long. Scientists believe that a massive earthquake and catastrophic flood likely destroyed the ancient settlement where it was discovered.
Unlike modern Chinese noodles or Italian pasta, which are made primarily from wheat, the 4,000-year-old dish included millet, which is an indigenous plant in China.
Wheat was introduced from central and western Asia to northwestern China only about 5,000 years ago.
"Archaeological evidence suggests that although wheat appeared in northwestern China 4500-5000 years ago, it was not cultivated until much later," Lu said.
Prehistoric farmers knew how to chop and grind hard grains of millet and mix them to make noodles.
The dough was likely repeatedly stretched by hand to form long strands and boiled in boiling water to make noodles, the researchers said.
"This study found for the first time that the earliest noodle production was in China," Lu said.