What Are Ramen Noodles Made Of, Really?

Published Categorized as Food
What Are Ramen Noodles Made Of, Really?Vadim Vasenin /Depositphotos

Sometimes, the best way to know what you’re eating is to ask the person who cooked it. If that person is you, you better have the answer!

We all love ramen. But do we all know ramen?

For a dish that’s so ubiquitous, ramen is shrouded in mystery—and much of that mystery involves the noodles.

Ramen noodles are made of glutenous wheat flour, water, lye water, and salt. The dough is mixed, then left to rise before it is rolled.

Lye water, called kansui (枧水) in Japanese, is a solution of 80% potassium carbonate and 20% baking soda. It’s what gives ramen noodles their characteristic golden color and springy mouthfeel.

Kansui is typically sold in bottles in the Japanese market and in the Asian food section of well-stocked supermarkets, but it can be hard to find in some parts of the country. If you want to make ramen noodles at home, and you can’t get your hands on kansui, you can substitute it by mixing 1 part baking soda with 4 parts water.

Not everyone knows that ramen originated in China. According to Japan Junky, Chinese immigrants brought the soup to Japan in the late 19th or 20th century, when they came to the country in search of a better life.

Fresh vs. Dried vs. Instant Ramen Noodles

Traditionally, ramen noodles were made by hand by the home cook and hung to air-dry on a wooden rack.

Although making your own ramen noodles is a very rewarding, albeit time- and labor-intensive, experience, these days most of us buy our ramen noodles from the store.

Sometimes, the choices in the supermarket are so many that it’s downright overwhelming.

The good news is that choosing becomes easier when you know that all store-bought ramen noodles fall into one of three categories: fresh noodles, dried noodles, and instant noodles.

Fresh noodles, the best kind, are sold refrigerated. They’re best used the day you take them home from the store. If that’s not possible, an unopened package will keep in the fridge for 5 to 7 days.

Dried noodles, second in quality to fresh noodles, can usually be found in the Asian foods aisle. An unopened or well-wrapped package will keep in your pantry for 2 to 3 years. It’s worth noting that the noodles will be good to eat for longer than that, but they will get stale and lose much of their appeal.

Dried ramen noodles come in all shapes and sizes. As a rule of thumb, you should match the thickness of the noodle to the salt content of the broth. A light, less salty broth justifies thin noodles; a heavy, salty broth justifies thick noodles.

Instant ramen noodles, a dorm-room staple that’s chock-full of sodium, flavorings, and preservatives, are cheap and take little effort to make. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at the expense of quality, which is why many people avoid them.

(Perhaps the most significant difference between instant ramen noodles and dried ramen noodles is that the former are partially cooked and deep-fried, while the latter are freshly made and commercially dried.)

What’s the Difference Between Egg Noodles and Ramen Noodles?

When most people say egg noodles, they actually mean fresh Italian pasta made from durum wheat semolina flour, water, and eggs. Japanese ramen noodles, as you might expect from food that originated 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) away from the heart of Italy, are a little different from that.

At first glance, egg noodles and ramen noodles are both called noodles, but that’s where the similarities end and the differences between them begin. Because they are not the same thing, they can’t be substituted for each other.

Ramen noodles can contain eggs, but they don’t always do. Like egg noodles, they’re prepared with wheat flour and water. But, in addition to that, they contain lye water and salt. The lye water gives them a richer color and makes them stringier.

Egg noodles are boiled in salted water, tossed with a small amount of sauce, and served, usually with grated hard Italian cheese. Ramen noodles are cooked in unsalted water, rinsed under cold running water, and then served in a bowl of hot broth.

Are Ramen Noodles and Rice Noodles the Same?

No, ramen noodles and rice noodles are not the same thing, and you can’t use them interchangeably.

Ramen noodles originate from Japanese cuisine, and they are meant for making ramen. Rice noodles originate from the cuisines of East, Southeast, and South Asia. They are a staple ingredient of Thai cuisine, where they are used for preparing Pad Thai.

As their name suggests, rice noodles are made from rice flour and water. Noodles made from white rice are white, and those made from brown rice are brown. Very often, cornstarch or tapioca is added to the dough to give it transparency and elasticity.

Ramen noodles, as I mentioned earlier, are made from gluten-rich wheat flour, water, lye water, and salt. (Sometimes, fresh ramen noodles also have eggs.) The lye water makes the noodles chewy and stringy and gives them a deep yellow color.

In Conclusion

What do you get when you mix high-gluten wheat flour, water, lye water, and salt? Well, if you work the ingredients well, let the dough rest for some time, then roll it out and cut it, you get the most delicious ramen noodles!

By Dim Nikov

Food writer, Home Cook World editor, and author of Cooking Methods & Techniques: A Crash Course on How to Cook Delicious Food at Home for Beginners. Cooking up a storm for 30 years, and still no sign of a hurricane warning.

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