The Best Instant Ramen Noodles—a Total Upgrade from Dorm Days
Instant ramen noodles are one of our favorite pantry staples, but have you considered which brands are best to satisfy your noodle craving? Here are our favorites judged on flavor, texture and appearance.
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Searching for the Best Instant Ramen
Instant ramen may be a college student’s favorite food, but you don’t have to stop eating it once you leave the dorms. Dried noodle soups are a solid choice when you need a hot, slurpable meal. Most instructions are fairly fool-proof: boil a few cups of water, cook dried noodles, stir occasionally, add a flavor packet and enjoy.
The possibility for elevating your ramen—adding a runny egg, fresh vegetables, a dash of heat with sriracha, or making it rich and creamy—means you’ve got lots of potential to make something delicious in a few minutes. Though the air-dried noodles and flavor packets of instant ramen don’t typically stand up to a homemade bowl of ramen, we were surprised by some of the results. Despite some flavors tasting like they should remain a college memory, others have found a permanent place in our pantries.
How We Chose the Best Ramen
While there’s a chance your favorite brand of instant ramen is already in your pantry, we sought to find the best. To make our selection, we chose a few classic brands known for their affordability and availability: Top Ramen, Maruchan, Shin and Sapporo Ichiban. Then we included a few cup varieties like Trader Joe’s Instant Miso Ramen and Mike’s Mighty Good Craft Ramen. Lastly, we have two pricier brands, Momofuku and Immi, which claim to use higher quality ingredients that are healthier.
For this taste test, we gathered eight brands of instant ramen from a variety of stores and prepared them according to the package directions. If there was an option for microwave or stovetop, we opted for stovetop to have consistency across brands.
Each ramen was tasted blindly and evaluated based on flavor, appearance and texture.
- Flavor: A delicious bowl of instant ramen should taste salty, comforting and umami-rich. It should not leave an odd aftertaste.
- Appearance: The noodles should look springy and the broth should be a natural color.
- Texture: Most important of all is the texture of the instant ramen noodles. If they’re al dente but smooth, that’s a win! The broth should also be smooth. Bonus points if it has dehydrated vegetables for an extra bite.
Best Classic Instant Ramen: Sapporo Ichiban
While this wasn’t the instant ramen we had in the dorms, Sapporo Ichiban is the tastiest soup for the convenience and cost. It has been around since the ’50s and is a classic instant ramen for a reason: Its chewy thin noodles match nicely with the well-balanced flavor of the salty, umami-packed broth.
Unlike other brands that can overwhelm the tastebuds like a salt lick, Sapporo Ichiban’s hint of garlic and ginger provides a nice note so you can slurp down the whole bowl. While other brands benefit greatly from adding fresh ingredients like egg and green onion, this one stands up on its own and every bite is just as delicious as the last. While it may not be as fancy as some of the others sampled, it’s a classic take on instant ramen when you’re looking to satisfy the craving.
Best Soup in a Cup Instant Ramen: Trader Joe’s Instant Miso Ramen
Trader Joe’s is home to a lot of cult favorite instant meals, like its mac and cheese and orange chicken, but the instant noodle cups caught our taste buds by surprise. The broth is hearty and not too salty, and we were very pleased by the texture of the noodles which were chewy but smooth. Perhaps most impressive and surprising was the list of ingredients: natural ingredients like dried shiitake and miso paste, and no preservatives.
Another great feature of the cup variety of instant ramen is there’s no stovetop required. When you’re in a hurry, you can use a microwave—no need to dirty a bowl! Since Trader Joe’s are around the country, these are also an awfully convenient and affordable option when you’re making your weekly grocery run.
Find it at your local Trader Joe’s.
Best Dry Noodles: Momofuku Soy & Scallion Noodles
David Chang, the New York-based chef and restauranteur best known for his Michelin-starred Momofuku restaurants, has made his take on instant ramen. There are a lot of things that set the Momofuku brand apart, including the extra thick noodles and flavorful sauce. They’re also broth-less, otherwise called a dry noodle, which means they’re still delicious on a sweltering hot day, no spoon required.
The Momofuku noodles are springy and have a nice chew and flavor to them. If you’re a fan of the flavors of sesame oil and soy sauce, then you’ll find the sauce to have a perfect balance of salty, sweet and savory. Momofuku noodles also claim to have double the protein and 25% less calories than the typical bowl of instant ramen.
Our main critique of these noodles is the price point at $16 for a pack of five, and that without a broth, you might want to supplement the noodles with some fresh vegetables or a side dish to feel full. For a tasty snack or lunch, though, definitely give these more artisanal noodles a try.
Best Spicy Instant Ramen: Nongshim’s Shin
Shin ramyun is a Korean take on Japanese ramen, and it has been increasing in popularity in the U.S. Known for its spicy, salty, bold flavor, Shin is the instant ramen choice for those who love a spicy ramen. The noodles are wavy and thicker, which holds up nicely to the powerful broth. If you’re spicy-curious, we recommend adding part of the spice packet and tasting and adjusting as needed.
One unique feature of Nongshim Shin ramyun is the round noodle pack, which fits nicely in a pot. We also like that it comes with a vegetable pack so there are small bits of vegetables in the soup for a touch of flavor. Perhaps because the instructions say to cook the noodles, vegetables and flavor packet all together rather than adding flavor at the end, the noodles in Shin ramyun absorb the flavor nicely.