Instant ramen is not just for broke college kids - it makes an inexpensive and delicious bowl of noodle soup for a leisurely lunch on-the-go. But is packaged ramen vegan? Read our guide below to learn more about ramen noodles and try our favorite vegan instant ramen brands!
Instant ramen is the Asian equivalent of Kraft Dinner.
Its pillowy noodles can be steamed in a few short minutes and served with various salty, flavorful broths that make the perfect lunch on days when your fridge looks a little bare and you've run out of time to get some more groceries.
Ramen is a little more convenient than Kraft Dinner and tastes even better. Plus, unlike KD, it can easily fit into a vegan diet. We love to keep a few packs in the cupboard for just such occasions.
Follow our ramen guide below to learn more about ramen ingredients and find the grocery store brands that offer delicious and hearty vegan noodles.
What is ramen?
There are a few different types of ramen, but today we're talking about instant ramen that comes dried in a packet, with a tiny pouch of broth flavoring that you can make in boiling water at home.
Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen in 1958 in post-WWII Japan - after seeing citizens huddled around a ramen stall, Ando thought that noodles were the inexpensive answer to world hunger.
The ramen itself comes in a dried rectangular block. You can quickly cook your noodles in a pot of boiling water over the stovetop, but we prefer the much simpler method of boiling water in your kettle, pouring it over the noodles, and covering them to steam.
Instant ramen noodles contain only wheat flour and oil, with some occasional potato starch or salt added. These noodles have no animal products and are therefore vegan! The problem with instant noodles and veganism lies in those tiny little flavor packets, which offer a range of primarily animal-based broths, like chicken, beef, shrimp, and more. While some of these flavor packets are vegan, many are not - we'll get into more below.
Can vegans eat ramen noodles+ what is it made with?
Instant ramen consists of two primary components: ramen noodles and stock.
Although many instant ramen brands sell packages flavored with chicken, beef, and shrimp, there are a few great flavors of vegan cup noodles that perfectly suit your plant-based diet!
Component #1: The noodles
Are ramen noodles vegan?
Luckily, yes! You won't find any animal-based ingredients in any typical ramen noodles.
The typical ingredients in any instant ramen noodle are wheat-based flour, water, oil, salt, or kansui.
- Wheat-based flour. While wheat flour isn't suitable for anyone with a gluten allergy, most plant-based dieters should have no issue consuming these vegan ramen noodles.
- Water. Producers add water to instant ramen to hydrate the mixture and turn it into a proper dough consistency.
- Salt. This earth-based mineral enhances instant ramen's flavor and strengthens the gluten structures in the dough. Alkaline salt can also improve the instant ramen noodles' yellow color.
- Kansui. Kansui is alkaline mineral water, often used in place of salt. Because it's alkaline, it also enhances that yellow noodle color while improving the noodles' texture and bounce.
- Cooking oil. Producers often flash-fry instant ramen with palm oil before they dehydrate them.
- Potato starch. Potato starch can enhance the instant noodles' gelling properties to improve their chew while also making them smoother and shinier.
- Baking soda. When alkaline salt or kansui isn't in the process, baking soda makes a popular substitute.
Component #2: The stock
Instant ramen comes with those tiny silver packets of salty flavor, found in both powdered and liquid form, depending on the brand.
While countless flavor options make it harder to pin down an ingredients list, you'll likely see some of the following in an instant seasoning packet:
- Dehydrated meat. Powdered beef, chicken, or shrimp are popular options, though some flavors are vegetarian instead.
- Yeast extract. Yeast extract helps reduce added salt and MSG, helping to lower sodium levels in the broth.
- Onion powder, herbs, and spices. These plant-based additions enhance a broth's flavor naturally.
- Dried vegetables. Dried veggies add a pop of color and some nutritious flavor to the instant noodles.
- Dried soy sauce. Soy sauce adds that classic umami broth flavor and some extra salt.
- Salt, MSG & TBHQ. These are all flavor enhancers and preservatives, though MSG and TBHQ aren't the healthiest additions to the food we eat.
- Glucose. Sugar helps to enhance the sweetness and balance the salty broth flavor.
Is ramen vegan?
Ramen noodles are generally 100% vegan, with one potential gray area. Many ramen noodles are flash-fried in palm oil, a plant-based but unsustainably farmed oil. Some vegans choose to avoid products containing palm oil due to their exploitative nature.
As you can see in the list above, the broth in many ramen packets is not plant-based, containing powder animal meats. Yuck.
All is not lost for vegans in the instant ramen game - there are plenty of brands that offer vegan ramen broth that's plant-based! Take a browse through our list.
Is Maruchan Ramen vegan?
Unfortunately, there are no vegan flavors in the Maruchan brand of instant ramen.
Is Top Ramen vegan?
Many Top Ramen flavors contain animal-based products, but there is one fantastic exception.
Is oriental ramen vegan?
Often, the "oriental" flavor ramen is vegan - you're safe to consume vegan Top Ramen oriental-flavored instant noodles.
Is Samyang Ramen vegan?
Unfortunately, though the broth contains vegan ramen flavors, the ramen noodles themselves contain egg ingredients.
Is Shin Ramen vegan?
Shin ramen is not vegan, with most varieties containing beef stock and others include anchovies.
Is Nissin Ramen vegan?
Nissin ramen often contains animal products, with three excellent exceptions: vegans can eat Nissin Chili, Oriental, or Soy Sauce varieties.
Final Notes & More Vegan Ramen Brands
While you can find a few vegan options in many non-vegan, mainstream brands, you can also make label reading a little easier by choosing exclusively vegan brands.
Dr. McDougalls makes some pretty incredible flavors, including a vegan chicken variety that really hits the spot!
Koyo offers plenty of choices, too, like Lemongrass Ginger, Garlic Pepper, and Shiitake Mushroom.
And our last favorite is Thai Kitchen - we often use their coconut milk in our recipes, but when we're itching for some vegan instant noodles, their Spring Onion, Garlic & Vegetable, and Thai Ginger flavors are the bomb!Now that you've caught up on your best vegan ramen options, read more in our next piece is miso soup vegan?