Using your noodle

(U-WIRE) EAST LANSING, Mich. – When cooking ramen noodles, most people don’t realize they’re about to eat something that’s centuries old.

Ramen noodles, made primarily of flour, water, salt, dough conditioner, seasonings and spices, are a Japanese modernization of a noodle that originated in China around 220 B.C. The goal was to adapt the noodle to better serve people with busy lives. In 1957, the Japanese invented instant ramen, a convenient, inexpensive meal that was packaged in shiny plastic, according to an online project by The Hartford Courant.

The rage didn’t hit the United States until the 1980s, when Americans became attracted to the fool-proof preparation of the noodles. The price of the noodles, around 20 cents per package, is appealing. They are usually sold in bulk at five or six packages for a dollar.

The noodles have become a popular means of nourishment for students on the run or those who are just not in the mood to cook a complicated meal. The benefits are not usually present with the average quick meal, said Funny Lee, a spokesman for Nong Shim America Inc., a manufacturer of ramen noodles in Los Angeles.

“It’s so popular among college students and people in general because it’s convenient and instant, yet is like a full meal,” Lee said. “The price also contributes to its popularity because it’s not expensive and is fairly easy to get.” According to Nong Shim America’s Web site, approximately $450 million worth of ramen was sold in 1997 (about 2.2 billion packages).

This ready-made meal is also relatively low in fat as well. Some containers contain just 12 grams of fat. However, there is quite a bit of sodium and preservatives (especially considering that ramen can be stored and is edible for up to a year). The noodles also run about 150-200 calories per package.

Some people enjoy eating ramen raw, which Nong Shim America insists is completely safe.

“I actually started off eating them dry,” Deer said. “But I definitely don’t eat them like that all the time, only on rare occasions. I usually add the water, they taste much better that way.”

Some people have gone above and beyond simply enjoying ramen as a quick meal, dry or hot. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Yokohama, Japan, which opened in 1994, is devoted entirely to the noodles. This ramen tribute also serves as a historical theme park and a highly specialized restaurant mall. Staying open until 11 p.m. for die-hard fans, the museum often feeds late-night concert-goers who are returning from the nearby Yokohama Arena.

There are even cookbooks dedicated to hundreds of different ramen recipes, and some U.S. college students have created Web sites paying tribute to this instant meal. The keyword “ramen” typed in on any Web search engine will yield more than 6,000 sites to browse, with everything from favorite ramen recipes to the official ramen homepage.

Ramen is not just popular among the Asian community as once was the case in the United States. According to consumer consumption statistics by Nong Shim America, 30 percent of Asian Americans, 36 percent of Hispanics, 22 percent of African Americans and 12 percent of other populations consume ramen in a given year. These numbers have increased almost two percent from 1995 to 1996.

“Before, ramen was mostly for Asian people,” Lee said. “But now ramen is becoming more mainstream and is sold in convenience stores like 7-Eleven in the fall or early winter. Companies like Nong Shim American who manufacture ramen have been trying to spread it out to the masses, and I think it has caught on mainly because of its taste and low price.”

As a fast, inexpensive and tasty way to create a meal with little effort in a short period of time, ramen makes the perfect college meal. The adjustments that come with leaving home and living a life free from parental supervision and home-cooked meals can be difficult. With ramen one worry of the average college student is eliminated.

-by Rebekah Amos, The State News(Michigan State University)

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