There’s just something comforting about a hot bowl of instant ramen noodles. Whether you’re a student fueling up through an all-nighter before an important exam, or you’re looking for a quick fix to push you through a busy day, ramen noodles always seem to do the trick.
With the various flavours available in supermarket aisles and corner stores, it can be hard to know for sure which ones are vegan. In fact, some of the vegetable flavours aren’t vegan at all!
In this article, I’ll guide you through some of the best available vegan ramen brands, as well as explain some ways through which you can make these noodles healthier. But first, let’s answer the lingering question of whether ramen is vegan. So, let’s start!
What Is Ramen and Is It Vegan?
Instant ramen noodles come in a package or a cup with noodles made mainly from wheat flour, water, and sometimes extra ingredients for flavouring, such as potato starch and salt. These noodles are completely vegan, as they don’t contain any animal-derived products, but along with them, there are seasoning packets that vary in components.
Some of these seasoning packets have ingredients such as powdered beef, powdered chicken, or dehydrated beef extract, which is where we have a problem.
So, is ramen vegan? What we know for sure is that the noodles themselves are, but whether or not a certain package is safe to eat for vegans entirely depends on its ingredients and differs from one flavour to another.
To make sure that your noodles are safe to consume, check the label for any animal-derived ingredients. But still, these non-vegan ingredients can sometimes be lumped up with other components under the name “natural flavours”. So, unless a specific package says it’s vegan, it’s best to contact the company first to make sure its noodles are safe.
Is Ramen Safe?
Ramen noodles are loved for being affordable, convenient, and very easy to make, but we have to address a concern that many people have had for years; is ramen safe?
While ramen noodles aren’t exactly praised for their nutritional value, you’d still expect to get some benefit out of them, given that they’re sometimes consumed as the sole source of nutrition for many busy university students.
It turns out, synthetic forms of certain nutrients such as B vitamins are often added to ramen noodles to add some form of nutrition. However, they still fall short when it comes to essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, and potassium.
With 273 calories in one packet, they make up a good amount of calories that would otherwise be better consumed in the form of a healthy, balanced meal with good nutrients as well as antioxidants and phytochemicals, which instant ramen lacks.
Researchers and colleagues at Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study on a group of 10,711 adults in South Korea, in which they monitored two different diets among the group, one high in processed food, including instant noodles, and one more traditional.
It was found that women who consumed instant noodles twice a week (at minimum), independent of any other food that they ate, had a 68% higher chance of metabolic syndrome.
So, what exactly is metabolic syndrome? Well, it’s a group of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. These risk factors include high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Possibly the most shocking part about the results of that study is that no matter how much the participants exercised or how healthy their diet was, the only thing that raised their risk of developing metabolic syndrome was the instant noodles.
Harmful Preservatives and Additives
Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone, a.k.a TBHQ, is a petroleum byproduct used as a preservative for instant ramen noodles. While it’s safe in small doses, some studies conducted on animals showed that continuous exposure to TBHQ could increase the risk of lymphoma, cause liver enlargement, and lead to neurological damage.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is another debatable ingredient used in most instant ramen brands as an additive for flavour enhancement. Although it was found to be safe to consume in small doses, it was still linked to several symptoms such as headaches, nausea, weakness, and high blood pressure.
However, some people can be susceptible to additives such as MSG, so they should stay away from instant ramen noodles and other highly processed foods.
How to Make Ramen Healthier
Now that we’ve established the potential health risks of instant ramen, we must admit, we still crave them every once in a while. I mean, we all probably already knew that they weren’t the healthiest meal choice, but sometimes they’re the most convenient thing that you have.
That’s especially true if you’re often too busy to plan your meals and you find yourself empty-handed at dinner time, and you’re too hungry to have the patience to cook a homemade meal.
That’s why, below, we’ve gathered some quick tips for things you can incorporate into your instant ramen cup to make up for its lack of nutrients.
One of the easiest and quickest ways to make up for the lack of vitamins, potassium, and fibre in the noodles is to serve them alongside some vegetables. Steaming some broccoli, carrots, and peas or adding them to cook in the broth for your ramen will round your meal up to a good percentage of the required daily nutrients.
It’ll also make for a much more fulfilling meal than plain noodles would, as ramen consists mainly of carbs broken down quickly during digestion into simple sugars.
Add Some Protein
An even healthier addition to your instant ramen would be a good source of protein. Not only does it add an exciting flavour to your meal, but the protein will also take your noodles to a whole new level when it comes to nutritional value, so you’ll no longer be consuming “empty calories”, as some call it.
The choices of vegan proteins are definitely not limited. Tofu works excellent with instant ramen as it has a soft texture that’s easy to break apart. Tempeh is also a fantastic soy product that’s even richer in protein than tofu. If soy doesn’t sound appealing to you, seitan is a gluten-based, soy-free, and protein-packed ingredient that you can use instead.
Add some colour to your plate by cutting up some fresh mushrooms and adding them to the delicious ramen broth along with some peas. Those two vegetables are also packed with protein and will take your food up a notch.
Ditch the Seasoning Packet
Yes, you heard that right! Now, I know the seasoning packet is often one of the main reasons we even buy instant ramen, to begin with, and it’s what makes us crave it soon after we eat it. Sadly, these seasoning packets’ delicious taste barely makes up for the severe amount of sodium that they contain.
It turns out, one serving of these noodles contains roughly 850 milligrams of sodium. Since one serving amounts to half of the package, and no one ever really eats less than the whole package, then that amount leaps to 1700 milligrams for the entire thing.
Why is this significant? Well, according to the British Hearts Foundation, adults should consume a maximum of 2500 milligrams of sodium per day, and this amount decreases for children, according to their age.
So, it’d be hard to keep your sodium intake within that range when one package of ramen makes up 68% of it. Too much sodium could result in high blood pressure, which is a significant risk for heart disease and stroke.
Thankfully, it’s effortless to make your own seasoning for your ramen noodles. In fact, it barely takes any more time than it’d take to make your ramen according to package instructions. Plus, the extra good news is that it only takes a few ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry to whip up a warm bowl of ramen in no time.
All it takes is onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, ginger powder, a dash of salt, and a little bit of black pepper. That’s it! I usually eyeball the quantity of these spices and add more according to my own taste, so there’s no specific recipe to follow. For an extra kick, add a splash of soy sauce to the ramen broth. Trust me; you’ll thank me later.
Best Ramen Brands for Vegans
Made with no additives, fillers, or MSG, Koyo offers organic noodles with plenty of vegan flavours such as Lemongrass Ginger, Garlic Pepper, and Mushroom.
2. Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods
Dr. McDougall’s vegan ramen is made with organic, steamed noodles and is non-GMO. It comes in various flavours such as Hot & Sour, Miso and Chicken (vegan one, of course!).
3. Lotus Foods
Lotus Foods makes ramen that’s a bit different from your average ones. The rice noodles are made from organic, whole grain rice with no MSG, and they’re even lower in sodium than standard ramen packages. They come in several flavours such as Vegetables and Miso soup.
There you have it! The ins and outs of instant ramen. Instant ramen obviously isn’t made to be a well-rounded meal, but a bowl or two every once in a while, especially paired with our tips for making ramen healthier, will surely not harm. Add to this, the comfort of knowing your delicious noodles are vegan, and you’ve got a great dish to enjoy!