The Savory Science of Instant Noodles

By Ashton Yoon | April 25, 2017 12:00 pm
shutterstock_584951452

(Credit: Pornpen Suechaicharoen/Shutterstock)

Guest post by Panisa Sundravorakul

Instant noodles are delicious, cheap, and easy to prepare. This combination of traits make instant noodles a seemingly perfect solution for college students’ hectic schedules and depleted bank accounts. Let us take a moment to appreciate what made instant noodles possible — let us savor the science behind this culinary delicacy.

Instant noodles are truly a technological marvel – they can last for up to 12 months on the shelf, and a tiny little packet of seasoning makes the noodles taste so good. You can thank science for making this all possible. The shelf life of instant noodles ranges from 4 to 12 months, depending on environmental factors. Finding ingredients that are stable for this long, especially fats and oils that are prone to oxidation, is a culinary challenge.

Antioxidants like tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) can extend the shelf life of instant noodles by preventing the oxidation of fats and oils; this happens by donating electrons to neutralize free radicals, which stabilize the radical’s instability [1]. The texture of instant noodles is preserved by propylene glycol, which is found in the noodles mixture, and helps them retain moisture and prevent them from drying [2].

Monosodium L-glutamate  (MSG) is a common additive used to enhance the flavor of instant noodles. This molecule adds a robust and savory flavor to food, which is commonly described as umami, the fifth flavor after salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. Recent studies have found L-glutamate (Glu) receptors and transduction molecules in the gut mucosa, as well as the oral cavity (REF). The gastric infusion of MSG activates several brain areas, such as the insular cortex that is linked to the regulation of homeostasis; the limbic system is linked to olfaction; and hypothalamus is linked to certain metabolic processes and hunger control. This suggests that Glu signaling via the gustatory and visceral pathway plays a crucial role in digestion, absorption, and metabolism. [3]

Untitled4

Figure 1. Nutritional content vs. daily recommended intake for various components of instant noodles. (Photo Credit: Panisa Sundravorakul)

While noodles might be tasty, convenient, and save you money and time, they do not contain sufficient nutrients that fulfill the body’s daily nutritional needs. Instant noodles are relatively high in sodium, carbohydrates and fat, and quite low in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals [4]. Figure 1 compares the daily nutrition intake as recommended by The National Institute of Health to the nutritional content in one package of instant noodles (Figure 1) [5]. Instant noodles account for too much of daily sodium intake, and not enough for fiber, vitamin A and C, calcium, and iron daily intake.

There is no doubt that instant noodles are a fascinating food science innovation. Health-wise, instant noodles are certainly safe to eat, but if you are thinking about consuming them regularly, think again about how your health could benefit from eating more nutrient-rich foods.

References Cited:

  1. Toxicology Data Network. “T-Butylhydroquinone”. S. National Library of Medicine. 2013. Web. 21 January 2017.
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).”Toxicological profile for Propylene Glycol”. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Serv 1997. Web. 7 Jan 2017.
  3. Torii, K. “Brain activation by the umami taste substance monosodium L-glutamate via gustatory and visceral signaling pathways, and its physiological significance due to homeostasis after a meal”. Journal of Oral Biosciences. 54.3 (2012): 144-150. Web. 20 March 2017.
  4. Nissin Foods. “Top Ramen- Nutrition Facts and Ingredients”. Nissin Foods. Web. 21 January 2017. National Institute of Health. “Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)”. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2011. Web. 21 January 2017.
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science & Food
ADVERTISEMENT
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    The average American $17.46/day on food. “Bachelor Chow – now with flavor!” OK,, $0.30/packet, $0.13/each in bulk. Make it mandatory in prisons to gather nutrition statistics.

    Prowl military surplus stores for expired MRE’s. jicsurvival(dot)com sells 4320 servings for $5949 or $1.38/meal

    48 pouches of Cheesy Lasagna (192 total servings)
    72 pouches of Creamy Pasta (288 total servings)
    48 pouches of Pasta Alfredo (192 total servings)
    48 pouches of Chili Mac (192 total servings)
    72 pouches of Chicken Noodle Soup (288 total servings)
    72 pouches of Savory Stroganoff (288 total servings)
    48 pouches of Hearty Tortilla Soup (192 total servings)
    48 pouches of Potato Pot Pie (192 total servings)
    24 pouch of Teriyaki and Rice (96 total servings)
    48 pouches of Baked Potato Casserole (192 total servings)
    72 pouches of Tomato Basil Soup (288 total servings)
    72 pouches of Southwest Beans and Rice (288 total servings)
    48 pouches of Cheesy Macaroni (192 total servings)
    60 pouches of Strawberry Granola Crunch (240 Servings)
    120 pouches of Brown Sugar and Maple Multi-Grain Cereal (480 Servings)
    60 pouches of Crunchy Granola (240 Servings)
    120 pouches of Apple Cinnamon Cereal (480 Servings)

    Made by people with people for people?

    • Kamran Rowshandel

      Just no

    • OWilson

      There are a couple of innovating companies, advertised on TV, that will halve those rations, charge you twice as much, and call it a “weight loss’ plan.

      Kardashian, selfie, celeb worshiping dupes are eating it up, literally! :)

      And they laugh at Montana.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Science & Food

Science & Food brings you content on food and science including but not limited to: the scientific and culinary aspects of food that you eat; how knowledge of science and technology can be used to make better food; how science is integral to understanding the impact of food on our health and environment; as well as profiles of scientists and chefs that are advancing the frontiers of science and food.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+