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For many - too many - people, ramen is a staple: it's cheap, easy to make, and filling, making it perfect for those who are short on funds and time. If you're a regular Dr. Gourmet reader, you probably know what's wrong with ramen from a nutritional standpoint: it's nothing but noodles with a packet of powdered flavoring that's usually incredibly high in sodium and often contains MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Maruchan is one brand I still see frequently (full disclosure: I ate plenty of ramen in my misspent youth). One of their Chicken Flavor packets is labeled as two servings, making the package 380 calories, 1,660 milligrams of sodium (over 2/3 your daily limit), and less than 2 grams of fiber. Their Instant Lunch cups have 290 calories, 1,190 milligrams of sodium, and 2 grams of fiber.
When I spotted today's Rice Ramen cups in my local Whole Foods, I was dubious, but these varieties are not only gluten-free (made with rice noodles, not wheat-based noodles), they're fairly reasonable with respect to sodium - at least as far as convenience meals go.
Both cups are prepared the same way: pull back the paper lid, pour boiling water over the contents up to the fill line inside the cup, fold the paper lid back over the contents, wait three minutes, then eat. The noodles in these cups are fairly impressive: rice noodles are rather fragile and often shatter to bits when the dish they're in is stirred, but these, while softer than we'd like, held up to cooking (boiling) well. Aside from being much thinner than the classic ramen noodles, we'd have a hard time telling the difference.
The Tom Yum flavor smells "sort of generically chicken-noodley" and has no flavors or scents to suggest that it is supposed to be Asian, let alone Southeast Asian. There are a few bits of dried and reconstituted carrots to suggest the presence of vegetables, but apart from their (slight) addition to the soup's texture, you'd never know they were there. With only 490 milligrams of sodium to go with its 210 calories and 3 grams of fiber, it doesn't taste salty, but it doesn't taste like much of anything: "a little soapy-tasting" was the best our panel could come up with.
The Masala Curry flavor (210 calories, 480 mg sodium, 3g fiber) smelled much more appetizingly of curry, ginger, and lemongrass, but once again the actual flavor did not live up to the scent. The panel agreed that this did taste "a little like curry" but was still extremely bland. Worse, these are far more expensive than Maruchan: $2.29 apiece. For that kind of money you could buy a frozen meal that not only has more flavor, but also actually includes protein and vegetables.
Reviewed: September 14, 2018