The soupy noodle dish we know as ramen originated in 1800s China and traveled to Japan in the late 19th or early 20th century after the Meiji Restoration, according to the Japan Centre Group.
Instant ramen noodles don't offer much nutritionally. They're high in sodium — as in, an entire package provides about 87 percent of your daily needs — and they offer very little by way of nutrients, according to the USDA.
Video of the Day
But what instant ramen noodles do provide is an opportunity to get in some healthier foods like tofu, vegetables and even seaweed. Simply toss out the sodium-bomb flavor packet, and instead, use the noodles as a vehicle to pair with nutritious foods, all served up in a bowl of comforting soup.
We're sharing some of the best foods to pair with instant noodles from plant-based proteins to chicken and veggies.
1. Include Tofu
Adding cubed tofu to instant noodles makes sense from a culinary perspective (it has a mild flavor, allowing the broth, spices and other add-ins to stand out) but it offers a lot nutritionally, too.
It's a plant-based protein made from soybeans and its creamy texture, almost like cheese, is satisfying. A half-cup serving of firm tofu clocks in at just 180 calories and provides 22 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 19 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of iron, according to the USDA.
You'll want to press or drain the tofu like you normally would before using. The great thing is you can add the tofu to your noodles raw or cook it beforehand (or even buy it pre-baked); it all depends on your preference. The recipe shared here calls for brown rice noodles but you can swap in instant ramen noodles instead.
Recipes to Try
2. Add an Egg
Aside from making your bowl of noodles more authentic, adding a soft-boiled egg or two adds tons of nutrition too.
We know eggs are a good source of protein — one large egg has about six grams — but it's also packed with riboflavin, vitamin B12, biotin, pantothenic acid, iodine, selenium and choline.
Make sure to cook the eggs before adding them to your instant noodles. You can soft-boil or hard-boil the egg and then add it to the broth when you're ready to enjoy.
A Recipe to Try
3. Mix in Edamame
Soybeans are used to make tofu but young soybeans can be enjoyed whole as edamame. You'll most likely see them in the freezer aisle but you can sometimes find them fresh too.
They're a great source of plant-based protein, providing 19 grams of protein per one cup shelled, but they're a unique protein in that they also provide fiber (8 grams per cup, to be exact). Soybeans are nutrient-dense and packed with phytochemicals such as beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, isoflavones, phenolic acids and phytic acid.
Soybeans are easy to cook with, especially when it comes to instant noodles. You can add thawed edamame right into the broth as you're about to enjoy.
A Recipe to Try
4. Load Up on Vegetables
The sky's the limit when it comes to adding vegetables to instant noodles. Because of their mild flavor, the noodles allow veggies to star in any bowl.
Bok choy, asparagus, onions, mushrooms and leafy greens are great go-tos when throwing together a bowl of noodles.
A diet rich in vegetables (and fruits, too) is associated with lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, reduced risk of some cancers and improved weight management, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Aside from maybe leafy greens, you'll want to pre-cook the veggies before adding them to the instant noodles. The Thai Peanut Chicken Soba Noodle Soup (recipe below) uses extra-thinly sliced red peppers instead of cooking beforehand as a quick shortcut.
Recipes to Try
5. Include Seaweed
Seaweed pairs perfectly with a bowl of instant noodles because the savory flavor it provides helps cut down on the amount of salt you'll need to add to the dish. Plus, dried seaweed, like the type used in the recipe below, is filled with iron, magnesium and copper.
It's also a surprising heart-healthy food. Eating seaweed is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, according to an older study published in May 2011 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Adding dried seaweed to instant noodles is easy — simply sprinkle it on top before enjoying.
A Recipe to Try
6. Use Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is a great source of lean protein — a 3-ounce serving has 27 grams and clocks in at just 130 calories.
Eating more protein is especially helpful for weight loss or muscle gain. Getting more than the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight can help us meet those goals, a December 2019 study published in Advances in Nutrition suggests.
Combining chicken with instant noodles takes an extra step because the chicken needs to be cooked first. You can try using a rotisserie or pre-cooked chicken in a pinch.
- FoodData Central: "Firm Tofu"
- FoodData Central: "Egg, Whole, Boiled or Poached"
- FoodData Central: "Edamame, Cooked"
- Harvard Health: "Vegetables and Fruits"
- FoodData Central: "Seaweed, Dried"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Heart Health Peptides from Macroalgae and Their Potential Use in Functional Foods"
- FoodData Central: "Chicken, Broiler or Fryers, Breast, Skinless, Boneless, Meat Only, Cooked, Braised"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Protein Intake Greater than the RDA Differentially Influences Whole-Body Lean Mass Responses to Purposeful Catabolic and Anabolic Stressors: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis"
- MyFoodData: Maruchan Instant Noodles
- Japan Centre Group: Yokocho: History of Ramen