Instant noodles are dried or precooked noodles and are often sold with packets of flavoring including seasoning oil. Dried noodles are usually eaten after being cooked or soaked in boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes, while precooked noodles can be reheated or eaten straight from the packet. Instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Andō of Nissin Foods, Japan.
Instant noodles were first marketed by Momofuku Ando, who was born in southwestern Taiwan when the island was under Japanese colonial rule, in Japan on August 25, 1958, under the brand name Chikin Ramen. In 1971, Nissin introduced the Cup Noodles, instant noodles in a waterproof polystyrene cup, to which boiling water could be added to cook the noodles. A further innovation added dried vegetables to the cup, creating a complete instant soup dish.
According to a Japanese poll in the year 2000, instant noodles were the most important Japanese invention of the century. As of 2008, approximately 94 billion servings of instant noodles are eaten worldwide every year. China consumes 45 billion packages of instant noodles per year – 48% of world consumption – Indonesia, 14 billion; Japan, 5.1 billion. Per capita, South Koreans consume the greatest amount of instant noodles, 69 per capita per year.
Instant noodles are not only popular with college students, they can also be an economic indicator. In 2005, the Mama Noodles Index was launched to reflect the sales of Mama Noodles, the biggest instant noodle manufacturer in Thailand. The index was steady following recovery from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, but sales increased about 15% on a year-to-year basis in the first seven months of 2005, which was regarded as a sign of an inferior good, one whose consumption increases as incomes fall. The theory was that the increase in sales of instant noodles, which are usually cheap, occurred because people could not afford more expensive foods.
Instant noodles are often criticized as unhealthy or junk food. A single serving of instant noodles is high in carbohydrates but low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Noodles are typically fried as part of the manufacturing process, resulting in high levels of saturated fat and/or trans fat. Additionally, if served in an instant broth, instant noodles typically contain high amounts of sodium. The current U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance of sodium for adults and children over 4 years old is 2,400 mg/day; in extreme cases, some brands may contain over 3,000 mg of sodium per package. Instant noodles and the flavoring soup base may also contain high amounts of monosodium glutamate (MSG).
The most recent controversy concerns dioxin and other hormone-like substances that could theoretically be extracted from the packaging and glues used to pack the instant noodles. It was reasoned that harmful substances could seep into the soup as hot water was added to cup style instant noodles. After a series of studies were conducted, various organizations requested changes in the packaging to address these concerns.
Another concern regarding the consumption of fried foods, including instant noodles, is the possible presence of oxidation products resulting from poor maintenance of the oil. If the cooking oil is not maintained at the proper temperature or changed as often as necessary, these oxidation products, which are suspected to pose various health risks, can be present in the foods. Proper production standards minimize the risk