Instant ramen noodles are known for their easy three step instructions, low price and status as a college student dietary staple. But it isn’t exactly the most bold or exciting of the instant foods, or the healthiest. This is an easily solved problem, though – your culinary creativity is limitless when it comes to instant ramen.
A recent survey done on The Front’s Instagram story revealed that, of the 30 survey participants, 93% of them eat instant ramen. I wasn’t surprised by this – instant ramen quenches the need for something salty and comforting for less than a dollar. I get it.
A third of the 93% said that they usually eat instant ramen a few times a month. A handful of students said that they only rely on instant ramen as a last resort. That may be because it’s … less than nutritious.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maruchan brand instant ramen noodles contain about 1500 mg of sodium which, according to WebMD, is equal to about 65% of our daily recommended salt intake. Ramen noodles on their own offer little to no nutritional value and a lot of empty calories. Let's talk about how to change that.
Brian Young, the culinary arts instructor at Squalicum High School, uses Top Ramen in one of his first cooking labs for his students, which focuses on spices. He refers to it as “Top Ramen Casserole.”
“The first thing is, you take that heart attack packet out. Then we start to look at spices and herbs,” said Young. “Because what spices and herbs really are is medicinal – they're medicine.”
Young says that you always want to start out by salting your water. He prefers sea salt because it isn’t iodized, but pink Himalayan sea salt is the best because you’ll get the electrolytes. Then you’ll add onion and garlic powder, which provide antioxidants.
Young said if you need an extra boost of focus, adding paprika and cayenne pepper will increase circulation – I might try this when I’m in need of a snack during studying.
“You’re always going to take your four – salt, pepper, garlic, onion – because that's always going to be the backbone of what you do. And you can continuously change the flavor up over and over,” Young said.
Young made sure I knew that in order to reap the benefits of your spice concoction, you must let the spices steep with a lid on for at least 3 minutes. This will allow for all the aromatics to release.
The Front’s ramen survey showed that a few students are already experimenting with their spice cabinet and their ramen. Some like to add chili oil, spicy soup bases, lime, honey and hot sauces. I’m a bit curious how one incorporates honey into their ramen, but maybe I just need to be more open-minded about my ramen seasonings.
“If you can improve the broth … I feel like that is the main problem,” said Kahleb Richwine, a Western Washington University student whose old roommate would add spices to their ramen broth.
Richwine doesn’t eat much instant ramen, but he did try his roommate's version a couple of times. “I liked it, it helped mask the cheap flavor of the noodles,” he said.
If you have the time and a sliver of energy, adding vegetables and proteins can turn your ramen into a much more fulfilling meal. However, you need to know how to cook the proteins and veggies – raw meats and cold broccoli (probably) won’t be very appetizing.
When I make my ramen, I usually only use half the “heart attack packet,” and I add it as my water boils so my noodles cook in the broth. Then, I scramble an egg in a bowl and slowly stir it in so it cooks as it hits the hot water.
But now, after hearing some of Young’s suggestions, it might be fun to try making curry ramen. He said adding in curry paste and seasonings with some coconut milk can achieve a curry ramen experience. I think it will be more “curry-esque” than anything.
When Young teaches his Top Ramen Casserole lesson, he notices that a lot of his students react with confusion or skepticism.
“They’re like, ‘It's Top Ramen,’ but when I see it, as a culinary person, I see it as food. It's a canvas,” said Young. “When you get them to put these spices and herb packets together, you see a whole new world open up.”
While Young uses Top Ramen, most Western students find that they prefer the brand Maruchan, with over half of survey respondents naming this brand in particular. This may be because it is one of the more readily available brands.
The Lakeway Fred Meyer sells more Maruchan ramen than their Top Ramen counterpart. According to Fred Meyer attendant Jake Sharp, the demand for Maruchan chicken ramen is double what it is for Top Ramen chicken flavor.
“At the end of the day what I like about [instant ramen] is it’s easy and it is really really flexible,” said Young. “It’s really limitless what you can do.”
Sophie Bechkowiak (she/her) is writing for the opinion beat at The Front this quarter. She is in her fourth year at Western working towards a journalism news/editorial major and a philosophy minor. On her days off she enjoys thrifting, art, watching documentaries and goofing around with friends.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.