“I have a problem. I want to confess something: I’m obsessed with instant ramen,” YouTube star and Milk Street Radio contributor Alex Aïnouz said on the show last week. Any fan of instant ramen will know why: It’s cheap, quick and exquisitely salty. Comfort in a cup, or brick, depending on your brand of choice.
But anyone who’s been hooked on the stuff should also know that instant ramen is high in sodium and fat. The sodium might seem obvious, but the fat comes from a hidden source, Aïnouz discovered. “I made an investigation and it comes from the process of drying the noodles themselves. They deep fry them.” Indeed, the noodles and seasoning contain enough salt and fat that Aïnouz was inspired to attempt the impossible, or at least, the insane: Making his own instant ramen entirely from scratch.
As he said, “I’m obsessed. It’s bad for me. I need to correct this.” But making instant ramen isn’t easy, of course. The specific texture of the noodles—chewy, springy and slippery—and the yellow color require alkaline water, which contains a certain pH level. To achieve the same effect, Aïnouz thought of adding baking soda to the dough to raise the pH, but that alone wasn’t going to be enough. So he baked baking soda in the oven, turning sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate, which is more powerful.
That was only the first step.
Next, he needed to find a way to manage the extremely dry dough. Stomping on it with his feet worked. Then, he needed to dry the noodles. He found videos of factories drying ramen in a wind tunnel, so, naturally, he built one at home. Casual. The process continued and needless to say, the instant ramen got further and further away from qualifying as "instant."
Listen to last week’s episode of Milk Street Radio to hear Aïnouz recount his journey in his own words, and to hear the conclusion he arrived at after his trials and tribulations. When it comes to some of our favorite foods, “the real thing” isn’t always what it sounds like.
For more from Aïnouz, watch the mad French food scientist at work over on YouTube.
Photo credit: Shutterstock/Make Photo 17