Selection of noodles

The shocking hidden history behind your favourite instant noodles

Few foods have done more for the world’s lazy chefs than instant noodles.

Favourite of idle students and time-poor business people alike, it takes a truly snobby diner to turn down a hot, salty cup of dried ramen. Since their creation in the 1950s, instant noodles have gone on to conquer the world, and it’s little surprise that a Japanese poll conducted in 2000 ranked them as the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century. However, a look back into their past reveals a surprising story, focused on one man’s mission to end world hunger.

Bowl of instant ramen from above Credit: Chinese recipes for all

In 1945, Japan was a country in ruins. With an economy and infrastructure shattered by the Second World War, the nation was also faced with the devastation from the two nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

With food and money scarce, the people were suffering.

A few weeks after the Emperor had surrendered to allied forces, Momofuku Ando was wandering through the streets of Osaka. During his walk, he came across a group of starving citizens, huddled around a decrepit ramen stall, queuing for noodles. That people were willing to wait hours for a bowl of comforting soup got Ando thinking. As food shortages continued to plague Japan, he became convinced that "peace will come to the world when all its people have enough to eat." And so, Ando set out on his mission to feed the people of Japan.

Noodles from a pot Credit: Heartysoulfood

In 1957, after years spent gaining financial experience and expertise as a bank manager, Ando drew up a formula for what he believed would create the ultimate easy food. According to his original blueprint, the food needed to be “Tasty, Non-perishable, Ready in less than three minutes, Economical and Safe”. His experience with the Osaka citizens showed him that noodles were the best way to go.

His greatest challenge was figuring out how to preserve famously fragile traditional egg noodles. After more than a year spent experimenting and tweaking his formula, Ando discovered that by flash frying the noodles in super hot oil, the noodles were effectively preserved, ready to be brought back to life with a dash of boiling water and seasoning. It was this breakthrough that proved the crucial step in noodles’ journey to global domination.

Shelf full of noodles Credit: The Japan Times

Despite noodles’ deserved modern reputation as an affordable snack, Ando’s new product was initially viewed as a luxurious novelty. However, the convenience of making ramen at home proved too much of a draw and the noodles became a bestseller. The success Ando’s company, Nissin, enjoyed in Japan inspired the inventor to promote the product to the international market. This in turn led to other now famous innovations, such as cup noodles and space noodles. All the while, Ando’s desire to end world hunger remained undiminished.

Momofuku Ando statue Credit: Poormanrecipes

Though Ando passed away in 2007, his legacy lives on.

Today, instant noodles are eaten all over the world in astonishing quantities. More than 96 billion units are sold to hungry customers every year, proving that Ando’s belief that noodles were the way to people’s hearts was more than justified. Ando’s statue stands watch outside the Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka to this day. He may not have completed his mission to end world hunger, but his legacy certainly continues to put food on the table for a great many people.

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