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The history of the instant noodle

24 March 2017

Instant noodles today can be picked up in almost any shop at an incredibly low price; however, it hasn’t always been that way. Instant noodles were once only a novelty item that not many could afford to eat on a regular basis. The noodle has come on quite the journey since it was first marketed back in 1958, having been named as “the best invention of the 20 century” by the Japanese in a 2010 poll; continue reading to learn about the interesting history of the instant noodle.

The instant noodle was first created after the tsunami disaster and the nuclear disasters of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in an attempt to end the world hunger that still plagued on long after World War II had ended. Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese inventor if instant noodles claimed: “peace will come to the world when all its people have enough to eat.” For this reason, he dedicated much of his spare time to trailing recipes to try to create something that could end world hunger.

Having spent years trying to perfect the recipe for preserved ramen noodles, rumour has it that he accidently stumbled upon the solution when he accidently dropped a noodle into a pan of tempura oil where his wife was cooking. He then discovered the perfect way to preserve the noodles that filled so many with comfort during the hard times in Japan. The frying process made the noodles much more porous, meaning that the noodles would cook quickly, or “instantly”. Could he have discovered the cure for world hunger with ramen noodles?

Through this method of frying, the life of the noodle was extended way beyond what had ever been possible before which was quite revolutionary at the time. Momofuku Ando marketed these instant noodles in 1958, under his own company, Nissin. The brand of noodles itself was named Chikin Ramen and came in a noodle block of very similar form to those that we see on supermarket shelves today. The main ingredients that make an instant noodle are quite simple, wheat flour, salt and water, with a few additional ingredients that include potato starches, palm oil and seasoning.

When the noodles first came to market, they were sold at the price of 35 yen, (which in today’s currency is around 25p) but at the time, this was a high price for the item, giving it a luxury tag. Fresh noodles at the time retailed for around 5 yen, so instant noodles were around six times more expensive.

This however, didn’t stop their popularity from rising, with a push in promotion efforts by the Mitsubishi Corporation, the instant noodle rose to fame quickly and lead to further development of these exciting products. The popularity of the instant noodle soon spread across many areas of the globe, providing the catalyst for Ando’s personal hobby to develop into a multinational corporation.

The next step for Nissin was to produce “cup noodles”, where the instant noodles could be cooked from within the cup and needed almost nothing else to complete the dish other than boiling water. A revolution at the time, this was one of the most convenient foods on the market, and as the processes developed, dried vegetables were added to make for a more substantial meal. The idea has come to Ando whilst on a business trip to America, inspired by the Styrofoam cups that he watched be filled with coffee. He transformed this idea to expand his noodle offering to give even more convenience than ever before!

Ando even moved on to develop “Space Ram” or space ramen, which was vacuum packed instant noodles that could be enjoyed from space! These were actually taken on the 2005 Discovery space shuttle by astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Momofuku, unfortunately died just a couple of short years later having achieved one of his greatest dreams. However, his spirit lives on in the national symbol that is the instant ramen noodle!

The rest, as they say, is history! Today it is estimated that approximately 96 billion servings of instant noodles are served each and every year, eaten all across the globe, and the company responsible, Nissin, are said to earn more than $3 billion in profits each and every year. Feeding starving university students, and many others. Although the instant may not have solved the problem of world hunger completely, it certainly made a massive impact. Due to the mass success of the instant noodle, the price has now dropped to a more than affordable cost of an average of £0.10 per pack. You could eat ramen for three meals a day for an entire year for an estimated cost of just £130! The vast variety of flavours available today continues to expand, growing the global love for the comforting food that was created in a time of such hardship. All praise Momofuku Ando, the creator of the instant noodle, and as he would have said: “Mankind is Noodlekind.”

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