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The Importance of Being Ramen

The Noodle Narratives

In the U.S no food is more closely associated with university days than ramen noodles. For less than $0.50 a pack and hot water, a hot meal can be had. In other countries however, the reach of these dehydrated curly noodles goes far beyond those in higher education.

According to the new book the Noodle Narratives, ramen far surpasses Big Macs and Cokes as the most widespread industrial food ever. Last year, worldwide, 100 billion servings of ramen were sold. That translates, according to the article, to “14 servings for every person on earth.” The U.S is only the 6th largest consumer of ramen. The largest number of consumers can be found in China and India.

While not exactly nutritious, instant noodles are a “proletariat hunger killer,” as the anthropologist Sidney Mintz would say. They’re made with wheat flour, which has a high glycemic index (a metric for how soon a food is likely to make you hungry again). But they’re also fried in palm oil, which is 49 percent saturated fat — higher than pork lard (40 percent) and soybean oil (14 percent).

All that fat keeps you feeling full longer and helps bring the noodles’ overall glycemic index down. The fact that instant noodles become soup once you add water helps, too — as the authors note, soup provides longer satiety than, say, noodles alone. And that helps explain why ramen have become a staple of the world’s undernourished and part of some humanitarian food aid packages.

Fruits and vegetables are often too expensive for poor workers. One improvement the authors suggest is to fortify the noodles with vitamins and fiber.

We find it difficult to imagine the increasingly urbanized food future without this humble form of salt, MSG-enhanced, oily and sometimes sugary” food, they write. But “we conclude [that it’s for the best] with great reluctance.

To speak to regional tastes some delicious sounding combinations have been created. For example, the Thai version includes lemongrass and cilantro. While the Mexicans have a version that includes lime and habanero.

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