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There's something simple and soothing about a bowl of ramen. Maybe it's infused with the frugal but fun memories of first leaving home, or perhaps it's just an easy friend that's always there when you're too tired to cook. Either way, it's excellent comfort food, and it's as popular in the US as it is back in Japan.
But is ramen vegan? Let's take a look at what makes some brands more vegan than others.
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup. Nearly every region of Japan has its variation on the popular dish.
You can prepare it with a wide variety of different flavors and critical ingredients, from pork bone broth to seaweed .
However, the name is also synonymous with the cup ramen or instant noodles popularised in the 50s.
These instant ramen noodles are cheap to buy and require no cooking skills to enjoy, which is why they have become a worldwide phenomenon. All it takes is boiling a kettle.
At the heart of the soup is the noodle, and to the delight of many vegans around the world, ramen noodles are vegan. Unlike Chinese egg noodles, these wheat noodles contain only four vegan ingredients.
Depending on what type of wheat is used will change the type of noodle. For example, if you use buckwheat, you will be on the path to a soba noodle, whereas a ramen noodle uses wheat. The type of flour used for ramen is what the Japanese refer to as "strong" flour with 10-13% protein content.
Flour makes up the bulk of the raw ingredients for the ramen noodle, so much emphasis is put on the quality of the wheat flour if you are trying to make the best noodle. However, it's the other ingredients that bring it to life.
As with most convenience foods, if you take a look at the ingredients list, you might be shocked how much salt is in there. Even vegan ramen noodles might be free of animal products, but they're not short on salt.
If you're worried about the salt content, use less of the flavor packets or even season your broth. Unfortunately, that defeats the purpose of this convenient meal, and so you'd be sufficient off to read the ingredients and find a brand that is a little less salty. Salt is an essential part of the noodle-making process and can't be removed.
It might seem silly to list water as an ingredient, but as any New Yorker bagel enthusiast will tell you, the water is what makes it. To make ramen noodles, you must use "kansui" or alkaline water. The water is high in sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate and even has a small amount of phosphoric acid.
It is thought that the unique quality of the water is what gives the ramen noodle its yellowish hue and firm texture. Other noodles might use egg instead of "kansui" water, and it's because of this crucial ingredient that most ramen noodles are vegan.
As you can see, the noodles themselves should be entirely vegan-friendly. This means it's the other ingredients in your cup noodles or favorite ramen restaurant you need to look out for.
The dish itself is typically made with very meat-based broth, and so you should always check what's marinating alongside the soy sauce if ordering ramen from a vendor or restaurant.
If you're looking to eat top ramen at home, it's a little easier to flip the flavoring packet and see yourself. You can even use your vegan-friendly soy sauce if they decide to include a fishier option.
Here are three of our top vegan ramen brands:
Pile on the shiitake mushrooms and sesame seeds, yes you can have vegan ramen. However, the majority of ramen you will find eating out will not be vegan-friendly.
The broths that made the meal famous are mostly animal-based, and so finding vegan variations will be the exception that proves the rule.
However, the instant noodle varieties make it much more comfortable, and you can easily hunt down vegan options that will provide flavor and umami appeal in abundance. Just make sure they are a treat and not a diet staple.