Everyone loves a hot bowl of ramen noodles. It’s warm, it’s filling, and it brings back comforting memories of evenings in the college dorm. It’s also cheap and easy to make, whether you’re on the go or simply in a hurry.
Ramen isn’t just convenient, though. It’s also one of the more versatile foods you’ll find. You can order it in multiple varieties, whether you prefer your flavoring salty, savory, spicy, or some combination of the above. Even when you don’t have many options, you’ve got an excellent go-to food.
At least, that’s the case for people without dietary restrictions. But if you’re a vegan, you also need to think about whether you’re eating any animal products. This can be a sticking point, since not all noodle packs and recipes are the same.
So, is ramen vegan? The short answer is that it depends on the brand, and how you cook it. Here’s a more robust guide with everything you need to know.
Instant Ramen Basics
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the basics. What exactly is ramen? To be clear, we’re not talking about the fresh ramen that’s prepared in restaurants. We’re talking about instant ramen – the stuff that comes in a little packet or a Styrofoam bowl.
The first instant ramen was invented in the wake of World War II, by a Japanese man named Momofuku Ando. In 1958, Japan was still recovering from the war, and hunger was widespread. When Ando saw a bunch of people crowded around a ramen stall, he had a breakthrough. Why not mass-produce the noodles and dry them?
Ando’s goals were lofty; he saw cheap, instant ramen as the solution to world hunger. It’s certainly changed the way we eat! You can take a block of noodles, drop them in a pot of boiling water, and a few minutes later, you’ve got a ready-to-eat meal. Nowadays, ramen comes in many types, and the most popular flavorings are beef, chicken, and shrimp. Vegan ramen can be harder to find.
Most instant ramen noodles are made with wheat flour and vegetable oil, although some are made with rice or other gluten-free grains. Some of them have salt added for flavor, or potato starch to act as a binder. Regardless, you’re talking about a fundamentally vegan dish. That said, there are a number of complexities that come into play. Let’s take a closer look at your typical store-bought ramen noodles, and see what we find.
Ramen Noodle Ingredients
Most instant ramen packets and cups consist of two components: the noodles and the flavor packet. To find out whether or not they’re vegan, we need to talk about all of their ingredients. Here’s what you can expect to find in your ramen packet.
What’s in the Noodles?
Let’s start with the good news; as we already mentioned, most ramen noodles are vegan. But just because they’re vegan doesn’t mean they come with zero health concerns. Keep in mind that not all ingredients are found in all types of noodles. That said, here are the main ingredients you’ll find in Mike’s Mighty Good ramen:
- Organic Wheat flour. Wheat flour is 100% vegan, and you can indulge freely without violating your diet.
- Water. Like any other noodles or bread, ramen noodles are initially made with water, which is then removed in the drying process.
- Salt. Salt is commonly added to the dough for two reasons. First off, it adds to the flavor. Second, it makes it easier for the gluten in the dough to bind together. As an added bonus, if the salt is alkaline, it will brighten the noodles’ natural yellow color. Mike’s Mighty Good uses only organic salt, and no more than is necessary for the recipe.
What’s in the Flavoring?
The other half of your ramen is the little flavor packet that comes along with it. This is typically a dry powder, although some ramen packets include a liquid packet, depending on the flavor. Because there’s a huge number of possible flavors, it’s impossible to make a comprehensive list of ingredients. When in doubt, read the ingredients on your particular choice of ramen. That said, here are some commonly-found ingredients:
- Powdered meat or broth. These can be any variety, although beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp are the most popular options. In the vast majority of cases, this is animal-derived, and decidedly not vegan. Even miso, which most people think is vegan, normally contains a pork base. For a vegan alternative, choose one of Mike’s Mighty Good vegan flavors.
- Salt, MSG, and/or TBHQ. All of these add to the salty, savory flavor, and function as preservatives at the same time. MSG and TBHQ are more questionable from a health perspective, but all three are vegan. Mike’s Mighty Good uses no MSG or TBHQ, and contains 40% less salt than leading brands.
- Dried spices and herbs. These can include garlic, onion, and pretty much any other spice you can imagine. Since these are plant-derived, they’re 100% vegan.
- Dried vegetables. Like spices and herbs, these can be just about anything, depending on the flavoring. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about that, because they’re vegan!
- Yeast extract. Yeast extract adds salty flavor, without requiring you to add extra salt. It allows you to maintain deliciousness, while reducing the total quantity of sodium you consume.
- Sugar. Even spicy, salty, and savory dishes can benefit from a little sweetness. Sugar gets the job done, although it does add some calories to your dish. Mike’s Mighty Good ramen uses only organic sugar.
So, Is Instant Ramen Vegan?
In most cases, ramen noodles are 100% vegan. That said, the same is not true for broth. Oftentimes, these include animal products and other potentially-questionable ingredients. Fortunately, there are also plenty of vegan-friendly options available. And if you make your own broth, you can guarantee that it’s 100% plant based.
Mike’s Mighty Good flavor packets are all-natural, and contain only awesome ingredients. Not only that, but they contain 40% less sodium than your typical gas station ramen.
One other potential sticking point is if the noodles have been flash-fried. While it’s true that palm oil is plant-based, it’s also not a sustainable crop, and many people avoid it for environmental reasons. If you’re concerned about palm oil, choose a more sustainable alternative, like Mike’s Mighty Good. Our noodles are steamed, not fried, so you can eat them guilt-free.
Mike’s Mighty Good actually makes four vegan ramen cups that you can eat right out of the box, with no modifications. Our vegan flavors are:
- Vegetarian Soy Sauce Ramen Cup. Reminiscent of traditional shoyu broth, this ramen includes kombu extract, a seaweed derivative that has an intense umami flavor. The soy adds a salty flavor, which provides an excellent balance.
- Vegetarian Coconut Milk Lemongrass Ramen. Coconut milk and lemongrass combine to create a mild version of the sweet and sour combination that’s so popular in Asian cuisine. Shallots and garlic provide a bit of bite.
- Vegetarian Vegetable Ramen Cup. This is as simple as it gets. A basic vegetable ramen cup with a rich broth that contains cabbage, seaweed, and green onions, among other ingredients.
- Vegetarian Miso Ramen Cup. If you like miso but you’re also a dedicated vegan, this is your solution. It tastes just like miso soup from a restaurant, but there’s no pork in the base
Vegan Ramen Examples
As we mentioned, the best way to enjoy a bowl of vegan ramen is to prepare one yourself. There are any number of recipes you could make, but here are a few of our favorites.
No-Cook Vegan Chili Black Bean Noodles
On a vegan diet, it can be tough to meet your daily protein needs. With the No-Cook Vegan Chili Black Bean Noodles, that isn’t a concern. Despite its name, this recipe isn’t entirely no-cook; you still have to boil the water and soak the noodles. But once that’s done, you just drop the other ingredients in. Among these are garlic, Chinese vinegar, and a splash of soy sauce. You also use a large portion of black bean sauce for protein. Best of all, the recipe takes only 10 minutes to prepare, so you won’t have to wait for long.
Vegan Tofu Ramen
Vegan Tofu Ramen takes advantage of one of tofu’s best qualities; it absorbs the flavor from other ingredients. And in our recipe, we surround that tofu with all kinds of flavor. Carrots, onions, bell peppers, corn, and other vegetables all contribute, while a Mike’s Mighty Good Vegetarian Vegetable Ramen Cup serves as a rich, flavorful base.
Korean Fire Noodles
Korean Fire Noodles are a bit of an oddball, since they’re not necessarily a complete dish. Instead, they can either be eaten alone, or combined with other ingredients to make a larger bowl.
Despite their name, these noodles don’t necessarily have to be ridiculously spicy. As with any spicy ramen recipe, you’re in complete control. If you want more heat, add more spice than the recipe calls for. If you want less heat, use less.
These noodles are spiced with two different ingredients: Gochujang sauce and chili oil. We used a kimchi noodle packet, which helps to take the edge off. Shredded seaweed reduces the heat even more, as well as providing crunch and texture.
Vegan Spicy Cheesy Ramen
What’s better than ramen? Ramen with cheese! And with the Vegan Spicy Cheesy Ramen, “cheese” doesn’t have to mean “animal product.” Instead, it means vegan cheese, so you can enjoy all the decadence of cheesy ramen without the guilt.
The main flavoring comes from sriracha sauce, which provides some kick to counteract the savory cheese flavor. You can use any Mike’s Mighty Good vegan ramen as a base. In addition, you add soy milk to the broth, which makes it creamy. Just make sure not to use sweetened soy milk, or your ramen will come out tasting sweet – and not in a good way.
As you can see, whether or not ramen is vegan depends on two factors. First off, what’s in the flavor packet? If the flavor is beef, chicken, or some other animal flavoring, you’ll want to steer clear. In fact, unless it’s specifically a veggie ramen, you’re likely going to have to make your own broth or sauce.The other factor is the ingredients you use to make your ramen bowl. Admittedly, this factor is much easier to control, since you probably don’t have non-vegan foods lying around your house. As long as you’re only adding plant-based ingredients, you’re going to have a vegan ramen