Noodles are noodles you say? Think again! The squiggly delight comes in all shapes and sizes, even spagetti is concidered a noodle. Noodles are as widespread as bread, so naturally there are a myriad of ways to eat them. Fresh is of course always the best, but not the most convenient. This is what gave rise to alternatives like instant noodles, and more recently, frozen ramen. But what is with these frozen noodles that makes them such a hit on social media? Let's compare them to our area of expertise, instant noodles!
The first thing people ask when it comes to frozen ramen is whether it’s healthier than instant ramen. Simply put, no, not really. If you’re looking for a healthy meal, you’re not looking for any type of ramen, even from a restaurant. There are many articles discussing the health benefits of ramen, but thet's not the topic here.
While frozen and instant ramen have their unhealthy yet delicious nature in common, that’s where many of the similarities stop, as these are very different experiences.
Frozen Ramen attempts to replicate restaurant ramen as closely and possible by using quality ingredients, stock that is similar to what you’d experience in a real “ramen-ya” (ラーメン屋), yet still being quick and convenient to cook at home. Frozen Ramen is widely available in Japanese supermarkets in the frozen foods section, and has gained increasing popularity in recent years through social media platforms like TikTok due to its novelty and visual appeal. When opening a frozen pack of ramen, they do certainly look the part, compared to instant noodles.
According to the Japan Frozen Noodles Association, (日本冷凍めん協会) freezing noodles started in the 50’s, however this was simply freezing raw noodles to help them last longer. It wasn’t until 1973 that industry legend Nissin, the same company that invented the instant ramen and cup noodle, started freezing pre-cooked noodles with a patent that was approved in 1982. Thanks to Nissin not being secretive about their patent, the frozen noodle industry experienced rapid innovation and growth leading to the introduction of the very first frozen noodle set similar to the ones we know today. Kinrei Co. Ltd. (then Kinki Reinetsu Co. Ltd.) launched the first frozen noodle pack, the “Frozen Nabeyaki Udon Noodle”. From here, Ramen and soba alternatives followed suit. Their success was boosted due to the rapid growth of convenience stores in Japan, something which today is a mainstay. While the dish may seem unchanged since the 80’s, most of the innovation has happened in how to keep the texture of noodles correct even if the noodles will be cooked twice, while also incorporating the skills of famous noodle chefs.
Frozen Ramen may seem simple, you just make a bowl of ramen, freeze it and voilà, your future meal is ready, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Frozen ramen the way we know it today has gone through many iterations from the 70s till today. Keep in mind, the noodles will be cooked twice! Once when made, packed and frozen, and a second time when prepared by you. To withstand the extreme handling of high to low to high temperatures, the noodle dough and by extension, the noodles themselves are made very compact.
Is there a person on this planet that hasn't had instant ramen in their life? This Japanese innovation is so widespread it hardly needs any introduction. That said, this common meal might be simple to prepare, but is surprisingly complicated beneath the surface. Behind the slab of dry noodles and small flavor packets is a team of culinary scientists that worked on getting that umami just right.
After WWII, Japan faced food shortages and Momofuku Ando addressed the demand for noodles by inventing instant noodles in 1958. He observed Americans breaking and hydrating noodles, inspiring his flash-frying method and the creation of Cup Noodles in styrofoam cups. This innovation made instant noodles accessible and they became a household staple globally, originally considered a luxury but now an affordable alternative to restaurant ramen.
All you have to do is pour boiling water over the noodles and wait for 2–3 minutes, depending on how you like your noodle texture (the longer, the softer).
What the scientists have to do is to find a way to transmit complicated culinary experiences from various famous Japanese ramen houses into a concentrated and simple experience. For the noodles specifically, they’re kneaded, cut, and steamed, before they’re dehydrated. Some noodles are additionally fried for dehydration, however recent innovations allow for this step to be skipped for slightly healthier noodles.
Attempts to replicate the restaurant experience:
With slices of meat that actually look like meat, vegetables that still look like vegetables, and a broth that essentially is the frozen version of the broth in a ramen restaurant, it’s as close as you get to restaurant ramen in your own home.
More umami in the flavor:
Thanks to how the soup is preserved through freezing over the reliance on flavor packs, you keep more of that deep umami flavor that other forms of ramen fails to deliver.
Quality of ingredients:
The ingredients are recognizable, and help elevate the flavor.
The frozen nature helps the ingredients stay still and neatly on top, much like how it’s advertised on the promotional images.
Fails to properly replicate the restaurant experience:
While attempting to reach the levels of a restaurant ramen, it unfortunately always falls short. The portions are smaller, the broth to noodles ratio is favoring the heavy soup and overall tastes a bit watered down compared to a proper restaurant ramen.
Not as quick to prepare as some other fast foods:
It’s convenient, but cannot compare to instant ramen in speed. It typically takes 10+ minutes on a stove top or microwave.
Contents weight seem higher due to weight of broth:
Many manufacturers focus on the weight in the marketing, and as the broth is both cheaper and more compact than the noodles and toppings when frozen, it’s often disproportionate in order to make the volume look greater.
Presentation quickly fades due to slim ingredients:
While the toppings look great in frozen form, they quickly mix with the noodles and disappear in the soup as the cuts of meat are suspiciously slim, and toppings like bok choy are common to be visually voluminous, or eye-catching like corn.
Delectable and quick:
Few foods take 3 minutes to prepare and taste this nice. Boil, pour, wait & enjoy!
Whoever came up with the idea of packaging these in a cup, making it both the dish and the wrapping, deserves a price! Oh wait, it was Momofuku Ando in 1971, and he has a statue in his honor for this very invention made in 2008. This allows you to bring your meal wherever you go, even hiking.
While there's many different forms of instant noodles, you typically know what to expect. Because they’re not attempting to replicate a restaurant experience, you're guaranteed a different experience that delivered on its promises.
Very long shelf life:
Thanks to the lack of humidity, these packs can be stored for a long time. Additionally, they do not require any particular form of storage, except for being kept from overly humid environments.
Flavoring in instant ramen is commonly helped along by MSG and high sodium contents in order to enhance umami flavor in food. Many Americans have a bad image of MSG due to a media storm that started in 1968, based on a single doctor's letter with no research to back him up.
Lower nutritional value:
Instant noodles rarely contain much topping and in most Ramen, most of the nutrition comes from the toppings and the broth. As the broth also relies heavily on flavor packets, it’s too processed to be quality nutrition. There are however alternatives like the Cup Noodle Pro(tein) line from Nissin focusing on higher nutrients, mainly protein.
All the best ones are in Japan:
There is a plethora of delicious instant noodles but naturally, as the invention of the instant noodles was in Japan, the best ones are also found there. Luckily, there's a service like ZenPop that can deliver them to you worldwide.
Never looks like the picture on the pack:
Product photographers for instant noodles do a great job, but perhaps too great, as they rarely look as nice as on the pack.
Should I eat instant noodles or frozen ramen? The boring answer would be to say that these are very different things, and it all comes down to what type of experience you’re looking for.
While that’s all well and true, let’s get a little subjective here. Writing from the perspective of someone living in Japan, having access to both at any given time, we recommend instant ramen over frozen ramen. The reason is simple: If you want proper ramen, go to a ramen restaurant! It’s even faster as they are pretty much everywhere, taste better, not particularly expensive and leave you satisfied. Eating instant ramen is of course not comparable to real ramen, but that's not the point. When you buy instant ramen, you know it’s cheaper, unpretentious junk food.
It’s a little like going to McDonald's. You know you're not getting the best burger in the world, but you really wanted that McDonald's taste. Instant noodles are the same in this way, and that’s why it wins out in our book.
Now, are we biased? Well, also yes. We have a monthly subscription box filled with 7 types of Japanese noodles you’ve likely never heard of, and they change every month as we provide seasonal products, many of which have just been released in Japan as well.
Yes, but not always. It is common for Ramen shops to use MSG (monosodium glutamate) as this ingredient is commonly used in Asia and has no stigma there. If however they aim for the American market, there is a chance it’s been skipped for marketing purposes.
You can buy frozen ramen in Asian grocers and other grocers that stock a wide selection of international products. If you live somewhere with low access to international foods, it can be a challenge to find frozen ramen, but luckily it’s easy to buy rare and exclusive instant ramen with services like Zenpop.jp
Remove the ramen from the pack.
Place the ramen in a heat-resistant bowl fitting its size
Heat in microwave for 4 minutes at 1200w
Mix lightly to melt remaining frozen stock
Heat again for 4 minutes at 1200w
Add any included ingredients or desired topping and enjoy!
Remove the ramen from packaging
Add to a pot similar in diameter size to the ramen, along with any included ingredients.
Heat until it comes to a boil
Pour into your bowl of choice, add any extra desired toppings, and enjoy!
Boil 300ml water
Open bowl lid halfway and remove any included packets
Add any dried meat or vegetables
Pour in the hot water to the line on the bowl and close the lid, put any sauce packs on top to keep it closed and heat up the sauce.
After 2–3 minutes, remove the lid fully and add sauce or powder packs included.
Top with your desired toppings and enjoy!
Prepare 100g of rice
Boil 600ml water
Open the bowl lid 50% and remove any packets
Add the hot water and wait 2 minutes.
Pour the noodles into a strainer and cool down in the sink with cold water.
Pour another 300ml water into the empty bowl. Add the contents of all the sauce and or powder packets, as well as dried vegetables and meat.
Mix thoroughly before re-adding the cold cooked noodles.
Add any desired toppings and enjoy!
Once you’ve finished the noodles, get the rice you prepared and mix with the soup.
Add toppings like Parmesan or spices to customize your noodles turned risotto, it’s a two-course meal!
Many people have been asking who the ramen guy (@insta.noodls) gets his ramen. While he does have several suppliers of frozen ramen, the original and biggest ramen dealer until 2023 has been @ZenPopJapan, providing 19 boxes, and a total of 133 bowls.