They’re cheap, they’re simple to make, and they’re a staple of struggling workers and college kids alike. Instant ramen has been a presence here in the USA since the 70’s. Whether you prefer the noodles from Nissin or would rather munch on Maruchan, there’s more to the golden strands and spice packets than meets the eye. For instance, it’s said that instant ramen can feed a person for one year at the staggering price of $150. While that’s not recommended (see more on that later), there’s still plenty to love and respect about this versatile noodle soup.

In Praise of Momofuku Ando

Instant ramen was developed by a fellow named Momofuko Ando. Ando founded the Nissin Food Product Company in Osaka. With post-WWII Japan still scrounging for food for its starving populace, the country’s Ministry of Health tried pushing bread made with US-imported wheat flour. Wondering why bread and not noodles were being supplied (and probably met with the customary “Because we said so”), Ando came upon the idea of creating instant noodles flash fried so that they could be prepared quickly.

In 1958, he marketed his first package of instant ramen noodles, called Chikin Ramen and a new way of eating was born. Simply by adding boiling water and adding seasoning from a small packet, a hot and delicious meal was to be had. By 1972, Ando had developed the popular Cup Noodle as the instant noodle craze crept over to America. Instant ramen becam so popular worldwide that in 2011, over 100-billion packages were sold. That’s a lot of noodles.

What To Add to Your Instant Ramen (besides the spice packet)

Uncooked block of ramen noodles.

(photo: Wikipedia)

Now just because you have that package ready to boil doesn’t mean you can’t jazz things up. There are plenty of easy and cheap ways to spice up your ramen on a budget. Toss in some frozen vegetables such as peas, carrots, or spinach actually ups the nutritional content of your quickie meal. Need protein? Simply tossed in some chopped chicken breast, tuna, or edamame. One of my favorite things to do is to crack an egg into a freshly poured bowl of noodles.  Sriracha also makes for a good and spicy addition, especially if you’ve called in sick to work and need comfort food that gets the sinuses flowing.

If you want to give your instant ramen a true Cincinnati welcome, toss out the seasoning packet and top with chili from your favorite parlor. Or simply take inspiration from celebrity chef David Chang and eat your noodles uncooked.

Indeed, instant ramen is so versatile, you can even make it into a grilled cheese sandwich.

Instant Ramen’s Gonna Get You

Because life is cruel and short, anything so cheap and delicious means it probably comes with a boatload of caveats and instant ramen has a few. Constantly consuming instant ramen has been shown to lead to increase risks of heart disease, especially in women. Instant ramen also contains the preservative TBHQ. If you think that means “To Be Honest, Questionable,” you’re almost right. It actually means tertiary butylhydroquinone. It’s found in quite a few foods, including Chicken McNuggets.  Any additive that has that many syllables, not to mention the word “tertiary”, is best taken in small doses.  Additionally, the seasoning packets contain high levels of sodium and, just in general, lacks nutrients and protein.

But if loving instant ramen is bad… well, as they say, all things in moderation.