Most of us keep packet of instant ramen to hand as a tasty meal that is quick and easy to prepare as well as being very gentle on our cash flow. Although ramen noodles have been a staple of Japanese cuisine throughout history, the instant ramen only hit the shelves in the 1950s.As tasty as they are though, instant ramen do have nutritional gaps. We take a look at some of these gaps in this article alongside tips on how to improve their nutrition. We also consider some of the evidence around additives such as MSG and THBQ and how these may impact upon our health. With such a wide range of instant ramen available, this article also helps you choose the best instant ramen for that quick and easy lunchtime treat.
The authentic Japanese pack of 10 Nissin Raoh umami soy sauce ramen noodle soup (3.77 oz) is our best pick with its classic flavored air dried noodles.
The Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods vegan ramen chicken flavor (1.8 oz cups) is our organic and GMO-free budget pick ramen.
Quick Comparison: Top 8 Best Instant Ramen
1. Nissin RAOH Ramen Noodle Soup
The pack of 10 Nissin Raoh umami soy sauce ramen noodle soup (3.77 oz) are authentic Japanese ramens that are manufactured in different regions of Japan. The flavor of this ramen is classic, and light flavored in the form of a clear broth. Some may find the flavor of these ramen too light and you may want to add other ingredients for extra flavor.These are air dried noodles rather than fried and do have the texture of fresh ramen noodles. These do have a high sodium content, with one serving giving around 45% of your sodium % Daily Value. As dried noodles, they are fragile and more likely to be damaged during shipping.
2. Dr. McDougall's Right Foods Ramen Chicken Soup with Noodles
Made with steamed organic noodles and ramen seasoning, the six pack of Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods vegan ramen chicken flavor (1.8 oz cups) just need water adding for convenience. The cups are made from paper from sustainable managed forests and this ramen is Non-GMO Project Verified.A number of consumers have received these without the flavor packets and some also consider that the noodles could have a better texture and more flavor to them.
3. Lotus Foods Millet and Brown Rice Ramen with Miso Soup
Made with heirloom whole grain rice varieties, the ten pack of Lotus Foods millet & brown rice ramen (2.8 oz) is also organic and does not contain any MSG. This ramen is also gluten free and takes just four minutes to cook. The finished flavor of these may be less intense than you may expect, and these are imported from China rather than made in the US. These noodles may also cook inconsistently - leaving some noodles too soft while others are still hard.
4. Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup
Cooking in just three minutes, the pack of 36 Maruchan ramen noodle soup – chicken flavor (3 oz) are made in the US. These noodles are free from trans fat but contains around 35% of % Daily Value of sodium as well as a number of artificial additives. There is a risk of these noodles being damaged during shipping.
5. Maruchan Flavor Ramen Noodles
The pack of 24 Maruchan ramen noodle soup – oriental flavor (3 oz) is manufactured in the US. This ramen does contain MSG and is preserved with TBHQ. It also contains a number of artificial additives. There has been some confusion as to whether these noodles are vegetarian as they have been in the past. It is now confirmed that these do contain beef extract and will not be suitable for meat-free diets. Like most instant noodles, these are also high in sodium.
6. Asha Healthy Ramen Noodles
Free from added MSG and preservatives, these five packs of A-SHA Tainan noodle – original sauce (3.35 oz) are air dried noodles made from wheat sourced from Oregon. The natural flavoring in these noodles is just soy sauce and sesame oil. These ramen need adding to boiling water for between three to five minutes and then can be served. These are higher-sodium ramen; with one serving proving 66% of our daily sodium intake.
7. Saigon Mi Instant Coconut Milk Curry Ramen Noodles
A Vietnamese curry ramen, the pack of 5 Saigon Mi instant coconut milk curry ramen noodles are made in Vietnam. These are thicker fried noodles with a rice cake texture and are ready to eat in five minutes. These are higher in calories that other types of instant ramen and some consider that these are bland and could have benefited from more curry flavor.
8. NongShim Soon Cup Noodle Soup
Registered as vegan with the Vegan Society, the pack of 6 Nongshim soon veggie noodle soup cup (2.6 oz) just need water adding to them to serve. These cups are made in the US and like other noodles, you will find they are high sodium. They may also lack some flavor.There is a risk of some of the lids on the cups coming loose during shipping and the cups can be prone to leaking if you prefer to microwave them.
Things to Consider Before Buying Instant Ramen
How Instant Ramen is Made
Traditional fresh ramen noodles are made with wheat, alkalized water and egg and the broth is usually fish or meat-based broth containing soy sauce, miso, sliced meats, seaweeds, green onion and occasionally egg.
Instant noodles were invented in the late 1950s by a Japanese food manufacturer under the name Chikin Ramen. At first these were a luxury item as they actually cost more than fresh noodles, but they soon became popular with their longer shelf life. The manufacturer then began to put the seasoning in a flavor packet rather than directly onto the noodles and in 1971, the same manufacturer introduced cup noodles.
Today, ramen is usually the name used in the US for any type of instant noodle product and in 2018, around 103 billion servings of instant noodles were consumed across the world. China took the lead by consuming 39% of these servings, with Indonesia, India and Japan following close behind.
Like fresh ramen, instant ramen is also made with wheat flour, water, alkalized water (kansui) and salt. The alkalized water is important as it is this which gives elasticity to the ramen. A dough is made from the ingredients which is then rolled and cut into the noodles. These are cooked by steaming and are dried either by frying, or more commonly today, through air drying technology.
The noodles have to be dried properly to preserve them and frying allows noodles to be almost completely dehydrated. Frying also leaves tiny pores on the surface which allows the noodles to rehydrate easier once boiling water is added to them.
Air drying, or ‘blow-drying’ of noodles takes place at a high temperature (176°F), at which the noodles are left for up to an hour. By this time, the water content of the noodles is less than 12%. Interestingly, this method of air drying was used in the early days of instant ramen, but it was not particularly popular as it left them with a poor texture.
Once the noodles are dry, they can then be packaged for sale. Noodles which have been air dried usually take around two minutes longer to rehydrate than fried noodles, but they are lower in calories and fat compared to fried ramen.
Serving up and Spicing up Ramen
When you dish up your ramen, it is worth taking a moment to untangle them with your chopsticks as this does make them much easier to eat. Slurping noodles is acceptable, in fact in Japan, it is expected! Take some care though if you slurp the remaining broth as the flavor can be very concentrated, leaving you with a very spicy or salty taste in your mouth!
If you are on a lower sodium diet, you can choose to leave the excess broth; make up just half the packet when you make your ramen, or even ignore the packet and add your own seasoning.
Instant ramen is suitable for eating as is, but only your imagination will limit what you can add to it. A splash of Sriracha adds a flavor boost, as will sesame seeds, Japanese seasonings, seaweed, kimchi, dried shiitake mushrooms, or you can exchange the flavor pack for some miso paste. It is also easy to throw in some fresh or frozen vegetables for extra nutritional value and some pre-cooked sliced meats or tofu for a protein boost.
Adding an egg will give a creamier broth - just crack one in the boiling water. The ramen is best eaten once the whites are cooked but the yolk is still runny. Instant ramen is also great for adding to a stir fry once you have cooked the noodles.
Instant Ramen Nutrition
Although instant ramen are often low calorie, they do lack some key nutrition. A serving of chicken-flavor instant ramen will contain around 188 calories and 890 milligrams of sodium – over half of our ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams for daily sodium intake as recommended by the American Heart Association. A serving will also contain:
It is worth noting that most serving sizes for ramen are based on half a pack, but a lot of us tend to eat a full pack (two servings) for a meal.
Because instant ramen are usually made with fortified wheat flour, the flour does contain additional nutrients such as B vitamins and iron which improves the nutrition of the noodles. Instant ramen will also contain small amounts of folate and manganese.
As these are processed foods, they also lack many of the nutrients and antioxidants found in fresh foods. Eating instant ramen frequently is also linked to a poor overall diet quality and with metabolic syndrome – symptoms of which include high blood sugar, high blood pressure and excess abdominal fat.
MSG and TBHQ
Instant ramen and other processed foods often contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) and/or tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ or tBHQ).
MSG gives umami flavor to food. Receptors in the mouth for umami or the fifth taste have more capability to bind to molecules of free glutamate. We already consume glutamate in our diet and seasonings such as MSG can make up less than 10% of our daily intake. Using MSG also allows recipes to cut down on the addition of salt as MSG has around two thirds less sodium than table salt.
MSG is the sodium salt of an amino acid found in protein foods such as meat, fish and cheese, as well as carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms. Glutamate is treated the same in the body whether it comes from food or through seasonings such as MSG and it is used by the body as part of its metabolism.
At present, MSG is still categorized as being safe by the FDA, the EU Scientific Committee for Food and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and is approved by many governments for use in food. Research has also shown that MSG is safe for use by pregnant women and children.
TBHQ is a synthetic antioxidant which prevents fats and oils in foods from deteriorating through oxidation – improving the shelf life of foods. TBHQ has been linked with some impairment to the immune response in laboratory animals. The animals which were fed extra TBHQ took longer to recover from flu infection than those who had not been fed the supplement. Animal studies have also shown a link between chronic exposure and lymphoma risk or the risk of neurological damage.
Although there are limits as to how much TBHQ can be found in food, one difficulty is that it is not always on ingredient labels and it can also be added to the oil or fat which the food will then be cooked in.
For you to eat enough food to experience side effects from nausea to collapse, you would need to eat over 11 lbs. of Chicken McNuggets in one sitting. That would give around a one gram dose of TBHQ. The lethal dose is five grams and this would have to be from food in one sitting as TBHQ does not build up in the body over time.
As TBHQ is usually found in processed foods such as nuggets, microwave popcorn and crackers, as well as in some instant ramen, limiting your daily intake of these processed foods will reduce the quantity of TBHQ you consume.
Instant ramen offers a versatile, fast and easy meal which is also budget friendly. Eating a lot of instant ramen on a regular basis could contribute to nutrient deficiencies and its high sodium content could also have a negative impact on health. There are simple ways to improve its nutrition though, such as by only using part of its flavor packet and adding some frozen vegetables to it.
We do hope that our reviews of the best instant ramen has been interesting and that we have taken some of the guesswork out of your next instant ramen choice. Enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, instant ramen is ideal for a tasty and instant meal.