THE typical Australian diet has undergone some radical changes in the last decade and Asian food is no longer just a take-away favourite - it now has a place in the weekly meal plan.
While Asian foods have become a part of our national cuisine, the foundation of many of these dishes comes from Australian crops.
One popular example is the humble and delicious Udon noodle.
And according to Plum Grove director Tony Smith, despite the steep decline in noodle production in recent years, Australian Noodle wheat growers that have stayed in the game are onto a good thing.
"Growers have been questioning why they should continue to grow Noodle wheat when they feel unsure about its future in the market," Mr Smith said.
Plum Grove held Udon noodle workshops in Geraldton, Dalwallinu and Doodlakine last week to get growers face-to-face with representatives from Asian noodle chain Hanamaru, and speak frankly about the future of the trade.
Hanamaru has more than 300 Noodle restaurants throughout Japan and its goal is to make the Udon common everyday noodles throughout the world.
"Communication between growers and customers has really dropped off since the single desk days," Mr Smith said.
"We wanted to provide an opportunity for growers to get fully informed about the market and our customers' perspective."
To mix things up a little, growers were given the opportunity to make their own Udon noodles, using flour produced from Australian grain, followed by a batch using flour sourced elsewhere.
"Hanamaru brought a lot of its own equipment and specific noodle flour from Japan," Mr Smith said.
"The growers watched as representatives turned the flour into dough, pressing, rolling and chopping."
According to Mr Smith, the results spoke for themselves.
"Hanamaru is looking at strength and elasticity and there was no comparison between the noodles made from Australian wheat and the other," he said.
"The company wants a chewy noodle and was able to achieve that with the product derived from WA.
"There was a real texture difference with the other noodles quite slimy."
Mr Smith said he was confident demand for Australian Noodle wheat from Japan and Korea would not disappear and there was money to made.
"When years are tight, premiums for Noodle wheat go through the roof," Mr Smith said.
"We've seen it twice in the last five years and prices have exceeded a $100 a tonne premium."
Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre program manager Barry Cox said Noodle wheat production in Australia had declined from a high of about 30 per cent of WA wheat plantings in 2004/2005 to about 10-11pc of plantings this year.
"Japan and Korea typically buy around 1.65 million metric tons of ASW Blend a combination of Noodle wheats and APW annually from WA," he said.
"This quantity is likely to be required again this year but it may not be possible to supply the noodle wheat at the levels required by these markets with supply tight due to this year's seasonal conditions in the Geraldton and Fremantle shipping zones."
He said new higher-yielding varieties, higher prices to growers and new supply systems would be critical to the future of the noodle industry.
Grains Industry Association of Western Australia chair John Slee agreed, saying that the long-term future of Noodle wheat hinged on new varieties coming through.
"We need good-yielding varieties in the breeding programs and ensure demand and supply can always be matched," Mr Slee said.
Late last year, Japan made it clear that while it preferred to maintain Noodle wheat at the maximum blend ratio of 60 per cent ANW and 40 per cent APW, it would accept a slightly lower blend ratio of 55pc ANW and 45pc APW.
According to Mr Slee, since this time the old crop price has remained strong.
"We've been able to keep it at that 55pc level and that has held prices up," Mr Slee said.
"Now our attention is focused on continuing to meet demand."