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Instant Noodles Are Only Growing More Delicious

The instant noodle market is set to explode, and with it, a catalogue of delicious flavors.

Over the years, instant noodles have escalated into a cultural phenomenon. Americans aren't content to reach for the closest pack of chicken Maruchan anymore. Now, after some hefty social media influence and gradual exposure to other cultures, we have become ardent fans of instant noodle brands from all over the globe—brands that pack some serious spice, funk, and flavor. Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, and Vietnamese instant noodles have been thrust into the national consciousness, and there's no going back.

Don't get it twisted, though: Chicken ramen deserves all the respect in the world. The first ever commercially available instant noodle was Chikin Ramen, released in 1958 by Momofuku Ando. Ando, the god-like inventor of instant noodles, is also the founder of Nissin. I love this quote from him:

"Humans can't do anything if they don't eat. Only after hunger has been appeased can they turn to enjoying music or art or literature."

That quote rocks because there is literally no mention of work. Eating isn't fuel for a job; he's talking about art, music, and literature within the same breath as a meal. Fitting, then, that instant noodles would explode into such a wild expression of flavor and culture. We were always going to end up here—with a ton of options, flavors, and a billion ramen hacks—and Momofuku Ando knew it.

With international trade and globalization came the availability of exciting new instant noodle brands here in the States, and people now crave the flavors of tonkatsu, spicy pot-au-feu, mie goreng, and spicy buldak. Gen-Z, you may have heard, loves spice. Food is America's pastime, and chicken-flavored noodles, though still comforting, prove to be less exciting by the minute.

Have the instant noodle flavor packets gotten more tasty, or have our collective taste buds just evolved? The answer seems to be both.

The instant noodle market is growing

Companies like Nissin, Jin, and Nongshim have been steadily rolling out new flavors for quite some time, and ramen "hacks" have been popular on the internet for years. The countless instant ramen videos on social media have informed our palates in unimaginable ways.

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The statistics prove we have a craving for novel and exciting flavors, too. According to a new report published by Allied Market Research, the instant noodle market was valued at $50.7 billion in 2022; by 2032, it is estimated to reach $99.8 billion. There's convenience to instant noodles, yes, but if they lacked excitement, that number simply wouldn't be projected to be so high.

None of this would be possible without a wide variety of flavors and opportunities. You think instant noodles are popular now? Give it five years. New brands with exciting new flavors will be popping up faster than you can taste them all.

Take Omsom, a relatively new instant noodle company run by sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham, the daughters of Vietnamese refugees. They came onto the scene in 2020, and their mission statement promises unflinching amounts of taste, per the Omsom website: "No more diluted dishes. No more cultural compromise. Real deal Asian cuisine and communities are too delicious to deny."

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They also describe the product as providing "proud, loud Asian flavors." I want to hone in on the word "loud" here, because that's the key. Asian noodle dishes feature the type of bright, stark flavor rarely seen on grocery store shelves here in America.

Take Thai jade noodles, for example, which feature a miscellany of flavors. This bowl I had recently at Sapp Coffee Shop in Los Angeles featured roast duck, barbecue pork, crab meat, water spinach, lime, cilantro, green onion, ground peanuts, a pile of sugar, and ground chile. One bite is nutty and sweet, the next spicy and meaty, another earthy and fresh. The best Asian noodle dishes excite you with their loudness.

And so Omsom features four different loud flavors: Chinese soy garlic, Thai curry coconut lemongrass curry sauce, Chinese chili sesame, and Vietnamese garlic black pepper. The noodles cook in four minutes, and once you extract them from the water, you simply mix them in a bowl with one of the intensely flavorful sauce packets. It's exactly the same process as that packet of chicken Maruchan, but the resulting flavor is in a whole other stratosphere. As Omsom continues to roll out its product on the shelves of Whole Foods and Target, these noodles will continue to expose consumers to new levels of complexity.

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The joy of cooking with instant noodles

Instant noodles, while very tasty on their own, invite all sorts of fusion and experimentation at home. Curry and coconut lemongrass begs for some chicken. Chinese chili sesame benefits from some morning glory. Dan dan noodles call for ground pork. Or you can do what I did with the Omsom Vietnamese garlic black pepper noodles: come home very drunk, render some guanciale, make it rain Parmigiano Reggiano, and then garnish the noodles with a fried egg.

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Regardless, the future of instant noodles is bright, and it's made possible by embracing the loud, proud flavors of Asian cultures. So long as companies like Omsom keep pushing for these flavors to hit grocery store shelves, we here in America reap the benefits.

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