Italians are known for them and theories suggest they may have originated in the Middle East but scientists said on Wednesday the world's oldest known noodles, dating back 4,000 years, were made in China.
Houyuan Lu, of the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing and his colleagues found the ancient noodles preserved in an overturned, 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 in an interview.
Until the discovery, reported in the science journal Nature, the oldest written account of noodles was in a book written during the East Han Dynasty in China sometime between 25 and 220.
But there have been other suggestions that noodles were first made in the Middle East and introduced to Italy by the Arabs during the Middle Ages.
"This is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found," said Lu.
The newly unearthed yellow noodles are very thin, delicate and 50 cm (20 inches) in length. The scientists think a large earthquake and catastrophic flooding probably destroyed the ancient settlement where they were discovered.
Unlike modern Chinese noodles or Italian pasta that are made mostly of wheat, the 4,000-year-old variety consisted of millet which is indigenous to China.
Wheat was not introduced from central and western Asia to northwestern China until about 5,000 years ago.
"Archaeological evidence suggests that even though wheat was present in northwestern China 4,500 to 5,000 years ago, it was not commonly cultivated until much later," Lu said. Prehistoric farmers knew how to pound and grind the hard millet seeds and mix them to make noodles. The dough was probably repeatedly stretched by hand to form long strands and cooked in boiling water to make noodles, according to the researchers.
"This study has established, for the first time, that the earliest noodle production occurred in China," Lu said.