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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year or so, (or you’re a healthy little cherub who eats exclusively home cooked meals), odds are you’ve heard of the recent ramen boom. “Ramen bars” are popping up all over the place and the dish has experienced a sort of rebirth, from cheap styrofoam college fare to gourmet grub.
With the resurgence of popularity, most of us vegans are sitting here wondering if we can get in on this pho-nomenon without compromising our morals or our health. Let’s tackle some of these questions: What is ramen anyway? Where did it come from? Is ramen vegan? Is ramen even healthy for you?
Keep reading to find out!
What is ramen anyway?
Whether ramen noodles first originated in China or Japan is a bit of a debate (and both countries would like to lay claim to these tasty noodles!) but we can be certain that ramen noodle shops had sprung up in both countries in the early 1900s. The fact that the noodles were called “Chinese soba noodles” in Japan until the 1950s perhaps gives away the true origin, but Japan has certainly made the noodles their own in the years since their introduction.
Ramen noodles are traditionally made from a mixture of wheat flour, water, and salt. These are combined to form a dough which is then cut and steamed. Commercially sold ramen usually has other ingredients added to preserve freshness and add flavor.
If you’re interested in seeing how ramen noodles are made in a factory, check out this video below!
True ramen noodles will also contain kansui, a type of alkaline water that gives ramen noodles their characteristic springiness. It is possible to mimic this with baking soda (which is often done to save money), but the noodles will not be true ramen noodles.
Instant ramen was first created in 1958 by Momofuku Ando. He created “Chicken Ramen” to augment the poor food supply after World War II. Momofuku Ando was the founder of Nissin ramen products. The popular product made its way out of Japan in 1971, branded as “Cup Noodles”, eventually “Cup O’ Noodles” – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Should we even be eating ramen noodles in the first place?
While these tasty noodles may seem harmless (noodles, broth, and veggies – seems simple, right?), recent studies have shown that regular consumption of instant noodles can have negative effects on your health.
One study was performed on a number of South Koreans, and while it uncovered many things, one of the most shocking results of the study were that women who ate ramen noodles twice a week, regardless of what other foods they ate, and how much they exercised, were markedly more likely to have metabolic syndrome than any other group.
Some potential culprits in these health effects could be TBHQ (a petroleum byproduct used as a preservative), or the high levels of sodium, saturated fat, and calories that these noodles often contain.
It should be noted, however, that many of these studies have received flak from a number of different sources, including Snopes.
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So, is ramen vegan or not?
The answer, as usual, is complicated. The noodles themselves are vegan, but if you are purchasing Instant Ramen, the flavor packets of most popular brands do in fact contain animal products. “Beef”, “Chicken”, and “Shrimp” flavors usually contain powdered beef, chicken, and shrimp respectively (no surprises there!). The only mainstream flavors that do not contain animal products in the flavoring packet are Nissin’s Soy Sauce, Oriental, and Chili flavors.
Rest easy though, there are plenty of tasty and affordable vegan Ramen brands out there!
Some good ones to try are:
Some vegans will also buy the instant ramen, throw the flavoring packets away, and then season the plain noodles themselves. It’s up to you to decide whether this fits in with your personal practice of, and approach to, veganism or not!
In this article we talked a little bit about what ramen is, where it originated, and what it’s made from.
We went through some of the potential health drawbacks to consuming instant ramen regularly, as well as whether ramen is vegan or not. The noodles usually are, but the flavor packets usually are not!
However, as when approaching most foods as a vegan, reading the ingredients is always the safest bet. If you want to try out one of those trendy ramen bars, the thing to be the most wary of is the broth and any additives – the best thing to do is just ask the establishment!
Finally we gave a few vegan ramen recommendations – try those out and let me know what you think!