What are Ramen noodles?
Ramen is a Japanese word, literally meaning ‘pulled noodles.’ A variation of a traditional Chinese dish, these noodles became especially popular in Japan after World War II, when decreased rice production caused food shortaged, promptly rectified by cheap U.S. wheat (primary ingrediant for Ramen). It has soon become synonymous with instant nooldes, the snack that is now very popular in Asia and in the last few decades became a go-to inexpensive meal. It is not, of course, the only way noodles known in Asia. Ramen are distinct in the way they are manufactured, making them easy to store and super fast to prepare. These convenient noodles are either steamed and dried or steamed and fried before they are packaged. After only a few minutes of boiling (or other form of hydraiton) they are ready to be served. Drying or steaming noodles removes water and creates a porous structure. During cooling, this structure is rehydrated and also filled with flavor which comes from seasonings, often conveniently packaged in a separate sachet. Ramen are shipped in polyethylene bags or Styrofoam cups. They can be easily stored and have a long shelf life.
How much sodium is there in Ramen noodles?
If you didn’t know it already, sodium can be bad for you. Despite the fact that our bodies need salt for most essential funcions, too much sodium causes a rise in blood pressure and can be linked to heart desease. A typical ramen product is made with 100g of wheat flour and as much as 2g of sodium chloride (salt). How much is 2g of salt? Well, it’s 2,000mg of salt, if that makes it easier to grasp. However, the Dietary Guidelines by FDA suggest that adults limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. This means that enjoying a cooked pack of Ramen noodles safely gets you to the limit of what’s recommended. Needless to say, most people consume more salt that needed to begin with (over 3,000mg). And this is not even counting the salt present in the flavor sachet!
As you probably know, food manufacturers constantly work on keeping the prices the same by lowering the contents of the packages sold in stores. The amount of sodium printed on the package of noodles you buy today will be around 875mg. That sounds a bit lower, right? The problem is that this is the amount per serving. And, as incredible as it may be, according to the food industry, one package of Ramen contains two servings. You better hope that half a package of noodles will be the most salt-heavy food you will eat in a day.
Is there such a thing as low-sodium Ramen noodles?
The pressure of having to be serious about health implications has been mounting on Big Ramen for a while. After all, the nutritional value of noodles is more that questionable. They are mostly loaded with carbs and lack vitamins and minerals. But it’s the amount of salt that’s really the problem. Maruchan makes a “less sodium” version of their product. Well, it contains 25% less sugar, bringing down the amount per serving to 570mg. That’s still a lot! Koyo Ramen Soup has 480mg per serving. Don’t forget that there are two servings per package. Clearly, it is too difficult to create noodles that taste the more or less same, but don’t have a significant amount of salt.
How can we further reduce the amount of sodium in Ramen noodles?
As long as we have established that nobody should be eating Ramen for nutritional reasons (there are none), let’s consider the possibilities of how this dish can be modified to make it sometihng that you can have once a year to remind you of your college days.
- You might as well start with a “low” sodium version of noodles.
- Resist using the flavor sachet. It is theoretically possible that it contains no salt. The salt content can also vary from flavor to flavor. For instance, the popular shrip ramen will be more likely to be saltier, because shrimp flavor is known to be enhanced by salt.
- Discard the water that you used to boil the noodles. A great deal of salt will end up in it.
- Use natural flavorings that do not contain salt: pepper, lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, coriander, ginger.
- Add vegetables, fresh or cooked (without salt): green beans, tomatos, artichokes, cucumbers.
Healthier alternatives to Ramen noodles
It is best to eat freshly prepared noodles. Soba noodles, typically made from buckwheat, quinoa or rice noodles can replace ramen in almost every case. But be aware that salt can easily make its way into every bowl!
A useful book on the topic of Asian cousine, especially in its commercial variations: Asian Foods: Science and Technology by Catharina Y.W. Ang, Keshun Liu, Yao-Wen Huang, 1999