The Ramen Craze Decoded: Why Ramen Noodles Are So Popular

Ah, ramen noodles–the food of college students, prison inmates, and people on a budget. But now, upscale restaurants are getting in the act of serving ramen noodles with fresh toppings. So, what makes ramen noodles so popular?

Ramen noodles are popular because they are affordable, easy to cook, and customizable with meats and vegetables. People love the variety of flavors that ramen comes in. Ramen is also rich in “umami,” the 5th taste in our taste buds.

If you’ve ever wondered what makes ramen noodles so popular, then stick around and read on. 

1. Instant Ramen Noodles Are Cheap.

There is no denying that instant ramen noodles are cheap. Walk into any grocery store, and you will see a full case of 24 packs for around $5, which gives you 24 meals under a fraction of a dollar per meal. That is why they are so popular among college students, prisoners, and poor people because they stretch food budgets when money is scarce.

2. Ramen Is Easy to Cook. 

Open the package, put the noodle brick in a bowl, add water, and heat in the microwave for a few minutes before adding the seasonings. That’s how simple and easy it is to cook ramen noodles, which means that almost anyone can make ramen. 

Of course, people add meat, vegetables, and other food to ramen noodles, which turn them into a full meal. 

3. Ramen Supplements Tight Budgets.

When you already have a tight food budget, cheap food, like ramen, will supplement your already tight food budget. You can serve ramen noodles with pasta sauce and meatballs or serve ramen soup with sliced chicken. Or you can serve a ramen pasta salad with tuna and peas by draining the water before putting in the mayo and some seasonings. 

The point is that if you are creative with your meals, ramen noodles can stretch an already tight budget, and it may mean the difference between going to bed full or hungry.

4. Ramen Noodles Are Comfort Food.

Who doesn’t love chicken noodle soup or beef broth with noodles? The salty, fatty, and starchy flavors work together with the warm broth to create a food that settles your stomach if you’re not feeling well. Or it warms you up on a cold day. Ramen noodles are quick, easy, and are comfort food at times.

5. You Can Customize Ramen.

You don’t have to use the flavoring packets that come with the instant ramen. Your imagination only limits you with the dishes you create with ramen. You could make a turkey bone broth and add onions, turkey, and other ingredients to create a delicious soup.

You could mix lemon juice, mayo, and ½ of the seasoning packet to make a sauce to blend in with your noodles for a pasta salad. 

Go all out and add steak to beef ramen or grilled shrimp to shrimp ramen for added nutrition. 

6. People Love the Wide Variety of Flavors.

With so many different flavors, people can find exactly what they love. The most adventurous eater will love the Lime Chili Shrimp flavor, while more conservative people like traditional flavors like chicken or beef. The wide variety of ramen flavors appeals to many taste preferences. 

7. Ramen Is Quick to Cook. 

You can have a quick and satisfying meal in under three minutes when you use the microwave. Add water to the noodles, microwave for 2-3 minutes, and let the noodles sit for a couple of minutes to continue cooking. Add the seasoning packet, and you have a quick meal. Ramen is very quick to cook, which appeals to many people.

8. They Are Easy to Store. 

Most Instant Ramen noodles shelf lives are about 2 years when stored in a cool, dry place. That may partly be due to the preservatives used in both the seasoning packet and the noodles. The noodles contain a chemical known as TBHQ, which keeps the noodles from spoiling and extends the shelf life of ramen noodles.

9. Ramen Is Used As Prison Currency.

Ramen is so popular that it is now the dominant currency system in prison, which used to be cigarettes. Prisoners use ramen to get others to make their beds or do their laundry. They also use ramen in exchange for fresh fruits or vegetables from the kitchen. Therefore, it can be said that, in prison, the more ramen packages one has, the wealthier he/she is. 

10. Upscale Restaurants Serve Fresh Ramen.

Fresh ramen noodles are slightly different from instant noodles because they are cooked in a homemade broth and served with several fresh toppings. Ramen noodles are so popular that upscale restaurants are selling “ramen bowls” with meat, vegetables, herbs, and a hard-boiled egg for more than $10 per bowl.

11. Ramen Is Rich in “Umami”.

Umami is the 5th “taste” that is savory and meaty. Foods like soy sauce, fish stock, mushrooms, and fried fish are rich in umami. Ramen seasoning packets have this flavor, which is why it is so popular with many consumers. The taste may also come from MSG, as umami is rich in glutamates. 

12. The Noodles Stay Firm in Water.

Ramen noodles don’t get mushy in water because there is an extra ingredient that keeps noodles firm when in liquids. The ingredient is Kansui, which is a mixture of potassium and sodium carbonates. Most people aren’t crazy about mushy noodles, so ramen noodles are popular due to noodles staying firm in water. 

13. Fresh Ramen Noodle Soup Is Easy on the Stomach.

Just like chicken noodle soup, fresh homemade ramen noodles are easy on the stomach. Some people have ramen for their first meal of the day because their stomachs are a little queasy. Other people have ramen at the end of the day to aid in the digestion process. 

14. Ramen Hits Both the Salty and Fatty Taste Receptors.

Ramen is salty and fatty, which is why many people enjoy ramen so much. Many foods that have salty and fatty tastes are popular because they hit the receptors that indicate they are high-calorie foods. In ancient times, high-calorie foods were prized because of how scarce food was. Even though the food supply is more secure today than it was during those days, personal tastes have not changed very much. We still love fatty and salty foods. 

15. Ramen Can Be Fresh or Instant.

Ramen noodles refer to the fresh handmade noodles that became popular in China in the late 1800s. Ramen noodles came to Japan through Chinese immigrants but quickly became popular and known as a Japanese dish. Fresh ramen noodles are gaining in popularity again with upscale restaurants and home cooks.

On the other hand, Instant ramen noodles came on the scene in 1958 as a result of several experiments made by chemists hired by Momofuko Ando, founder of Nissin and Top Ramen foods in Japan. 

Fresh ramen noodles are popular with the “foodie” crowd, while instant ramen noodles are still popular with college students, prisoners, and those with tight food budgets. 

All Things Considered

The lure of ramen noodles is hard to ignore for several reasons. The budget-extending possibilities are endless, which can mean the difference between a meager meal or a meal fit for a king. 

survey taken in 2000 of the Japanese people showed that instant ramen noodles were the best invention of the 20th century, which shows how popular ramen noodles are. The many flavor varieties contribute to its popularity, and the ease of use makes it a food that everyone flocks to daily. 

Will ramen noodles go away anytime soon? Probably not, as it seems almost everyone has ramen noodles in their pantry.

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.