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Comfort food and a tight budget goes hand in hand with instant ramen. This classic Japanese noodle soup has become insanely popular all over the world, with ramen restaurants popping up in virtually every major city, and even instant ramen becoming a convenient favorite. The release of instant ramen in 1958 made the noodle accessible, affordable, and incredibly easy to make.
When you’re not quite in the mood to make all-out “real” ramen but you want a little something more than just the instant ramen packet alone, here are some simple ways to upgrade your dish to make it even more delicious.
As with anything, there are some types of instant noodles that are healthier than other types. One of the main health concerns with ramen is the high amounts of sodium that you can see on the nutrition label.
A high sodium intake can contribute to poor heart health and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. To avoid this increase in risk, it’s good to cut down on your sodium intake, especially if you eat a lot of instant noodles. So when you’re buying ramen, check the nutrition label to see how much sodium is in each packet.
The less sodium, the better. Once you’ve found your ramen of choice, you can reduce your sodium intake even further by only using part of the flavor packet it comes with — about half will usually still give you plenty of flavor.
When it comes to ramen, flavor is the name of the game. Quality ramen from a restaurant just has so much more umami and depth of flavor than the kind that comes in a packet because of the hours and hours that go into making the broth alone.
Luckily, there are so many things you can do to elevate the flavor of your instant ramen. Many of them are fairly easy and can really change up your noodles. A vast array of flavor profiles await you! Let’s dive in and look at some of the popular options.
The first thing is to change up your broth. The broth of the ramen is everything when it comes to the overall composition of the dish, and there are a lot of things you can do to mix it up.
For starters, you can reduce the starch in your broth, but don’t add in your flavor packet just yet! Boil fresh water, then pour it to the bowl first before you add the packet mix. Once your noodles are cooked, strain the noodles and add them to the broth. This method will give your broth a light texture without the extra starch.
Another simple solution is to add some kewpie mayo to your ramen. This makes your broth nice and creamy, reminiscent of delicious tonkatsu ramen from a restaurant. And of course, you can always just skip the flavor packet altogether and use actual chicken broth or vegetable broth, adding sesame oil and soy sauce to help bring that umami flavor into a more plain base.
Adding an egg to your ramen is a great way to get a little bit more protein in your meal and complement the saltiness of the dish. The yolk works to soften the saltiness of the ramen and unify the flavors in the soup.
A common method is to add a soft-boiled egg. This leaves the yolk runny, which can then mix into the broth and give it a creamy egginess that is exquisite.
You can also simply add an over-medium fried egg to your dish to get a similar effect.
If you’re looking for a really simple way to do it that won’t dirty another dish, simply crack an egg into your noodles while they’re boiling to give it a quick poach. Think egg drop soup — that’s what these eggs will look and feel like.
Vegetables can add some additional flavors to your ramen while also making it a bit more nutritionally dense. There are loads of options available to you, so get expressive and add your favorites to your soup!
One of the best options are quick-cooking vegetables. Chopped cabbage, spinach, bean sprouts, bok choy, or mustard greens are delicious add-ons because you can throw them in right at the end, and they will cook from the steam and residual heat of the noodles and broth. Easy!
Another option is to add sautéed shiitake mushrooms. This is a classic ramen topping that’s pretty easy to execute at home. You can even use cremini mushrooms in a pinch — they will still offer some solid umami.
You can also add thinly sliced carrots, corn, daikon, snow peas, or edamame!
For those of you who love a little extra kick in their ramen, Togarashi chili pepper is an easy way to spice it up. It can be sprinkled onto any dish to add that extra spice, and we especially love it mixed into ramen broth.
You can also opt for a Japanese chili oil like this one to bring the heat!
The additional zing can really elevate your experience and add a whole new layer of flavor to your instant ramen.
Go for a classic taste and grab the soy sauce. Its deep umami and rich saltiness are central to many Asian cuisines. Just a little splash can deepen your ramen’s flavor in a traditional way — shoyu ramen is a classic Japanese dish that features soy sauce (shoyu) as a main ingredient.
This one may sound a little strange, but if you give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. For this method it’s also really good to add some chili paste or chili sauce for a little kick, some lime juice to balance the acidity, honey for a touch of sweetness, and some soy sauce to add umami and saltiness.
This makes for a sort of Thai-style ramen noodles with peanut flavors. Its creaminess and nuttiness makes for an almost fusion-esque experience; the broth thickens, allowing it to beautifully coat the noodles in a velvety texture.
Sometimes all you need to give your ramen a change is a look into your spice cabinet to see what there is to see. Chili powder and garlic powder are simple options that can make a big difference.
You could go for Chinese Five Spice if you have it for a truly enhanced flavor. And if you’re looking to get a little adventurous, you could add curry powder or even a cinnamon stick.
The famous TikTok ramen. This method went viral on the social media platform and gained immense popularity. It’s creamy, savory, spicy, salty, and sweet all at once. There aren’t many dishes that pack all of those flavors into one place.
To make TikTok ramen, melt your butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook it until it’s fragrant and soft. Then toss on some crushed red pepper and stir in brown sugar and soy sauce. Mix it all up, and you have your sauce. No broth packet required.
Next, take your cooked noodles and place them in the pan with the sauce. Toss the noodles in the sauce to coat them, and serve them with a scrambled egg.
This delicious and easy recipe might not be a “soup” like true ramen, but it is definitely one of the more popular instant ramen hacks out there.
Of course, you can always add a little protein to the mix. There are loads of proteins you could add, from pork belly to shrimp, but if you don’t have those lying around you can always go with chicken or beef.
Sauté a chicken breast or flank steak, making sure to only season it with salt and pepper since the broth should bring most of the flavor. Once it’s cooked, slice it into thin, bite-sized slices, and make sure you cut against the grain of the meat for uniformity.
Get your soup ready and lay your slices of meat across the top. More umami, more protein, and more flavor make for a great addition to your bowl.
Kimchi is a delicious, Korean side dish that is wonderfully spicy and even serves as a healthy probiotic. This dish is made mostly with cabbage that is fermented with cultures that are naturally present on the vegetables.
Made spicy with gochugaru, garlic, and ginger, kimchi is a Korean staple that can really enhance your ramen. It adds a nice serving of vegetables while also adding a delicious spiciness.
Cheesy ramen is another traditional Korean comfort food that found its popularity in the western world over recent years. Simply cook your noodles, drain the water, and then mix in the flavor packet and cheese. This might not be the healthiest option, but it will definitely add a creaminess that can give you a unique ramen experience.
Part of the experience of ramen in a restaurant is how beautiful it looks, and garnishes are the driving force of that appeal.
A great garnish that can add a lot of flavor is dried seaweed, or nori. Or, if you’re looking for a big burst of flavor, try the rice seasoning furikake.
Black or white sesame seeds are also a classic option, but if you don’t have those on hand, everything-seasoning (typically used on bagels) works great. It has garlic and onion in it, too, so it’s extra flavorful.
What comes in the ramen noodle packet depends on the brand you choose to buy. The most simple options only come with a block of noodles and one packet of seasonings to make the broth with.
Other packs of ramen come more fully loaded. Some have dried vegetables that get rehydrated upon cooking. And some have a few different seasonings packets that are used to get a lot of different flavors into your soup, often one packet for dry seasoning and another for the oils.
A ramen noodle packet is sort of a blank canvas. There are so many flavor directions you could take your ramen to. The simplicity of it is part of what makes this dish so incredibly popular!
But one thing is for sure, no matter what kind of ramen you’re getting, there’s most likely going to be a large amount of sodium in it. Some brands have up to 1,800 milligrams of sodium per pack! That’s definitely not the healthiest choice, which is why these hacks to make this convenient dish just a little healthier have become so popular.
There are even more things you can do to heighten your instant ramen noodle experience. In pursuit of healthier, more flavorful ramen, here are some methods that can refine your experience beyond a budget snack and into a legitimate meal.
The first thing to do is to try some other brands of ramen that you haven’t tried before. There are dozens of different brands out there that you may not have tried. Each of them has their own unique flavors and spices that you may prefer over the more well-known brands.
Turning ramen into a stir-fry is a great way to change it up. Start by sautéing some vegetables in a pan. You can do broccoli, cabbage, onions, carrots, snap peas, bok choy, or really any vegetable you happen to be craving or have on hand.
Making a stir-fry sauce is simple enough. You can go simple and use soy sauce, garlic, and a sweetener, but if you’re looking for a more healthy option, try this recipe for date and soy stir fry sauce.
After sautéing your vegetables, add your stir fry sauce, cooked noodles, and toss to coat everything in the sauce.
This is a fun take on a takeout classic. Simply cook your ramen in chicken stock, add some green onion stalks, and soy sauce. Once it's cooked, add some chicken if you want some protein.
Then, take the soup off the heat and slowly pour in some whisked eggs as you stir. The hot broth will gently cook the eggs to give them that classic egg drop soup texture.
One healthy option is to make your broth using some nice, light miso. You can make a full miso soup and then put your ramen noodles in, but if you’re looking for a simpler option, you can get a tablespoon of miso paste of any type, and mix it into some boiling water until it dissolves and you’re done. Now you have a salty, savory broth with some healthy probiotics.
There are loads of ways to make your own sauce for ramen to make a nice plated noodle dish instead of the soup that the noodles are normally used for.
You could always whip up a light sesame sauce to throw your noodles into. Simply combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and crushed red pepper into a bowl and add your cooked noodles. Stir to coat, and you’re done!
Ramen doesn’t have to be a cheap college meal, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive night out either. A happy medium can be achieved with just a few simple tricks, and now you have a lot of them up your sleeve!
If you’re looking to try new ramen or need some Asian ingredients to execute some of these hacks, check out Umamicart for Asian groceries delivered straight to your door. You’ll get the ingredients you need, and you’ll be a ramen expert before you know it.
Date and Soy Stir-Fry Sauce | Plant-Based Diet Recipes | T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Instant Ramen History and Hacks | Pickles and Tea | Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Know Your Noodles! Assessing Variations in Sodium Content of Instant Noodles across Countries | National Institutes of Health
Ramen Goes International | Business and Economy | Trends in Japan
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