Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and their hybrids, as well as items that have been contaminated with gluten by growing beside these grains. If you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, then understanding which foods are free of gluten and which contain gluten is important. (Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which people experience damage to their small intestine when they consume gluten. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity also causes gastrointestinal symptoms from gluten consumption.)
What is ramen?
Ramen is a flavorful and popular “noodle soup” dish that is often associated with Japanese cuisine. Taken from the Chinese word “lamien,” meaning “pulled noodles,” ramen is traditionally made from wheat noodles in a savory broth (often a meat-based broth) made with soy sauce or miso (fermented soybean paste), along with additional ingredients, such as pork, fish cakes, eggs, mushrooms, seaweed, and green onions.
There are four popular types of ramen. Shoyu ramen (the most common type) is made from a chicken broth flavored with soy sauce. Shio ramen offers a thinner chicken broth that is seasoned with salt. Miso ramen is thicker, with a rich, brown broth that is flavored with miso. Lastly, tonkotsu ramen is made from simmered pork bones, producing a creamy broth.
Where did ramen originate?
The exact origin of ramen is unknown, but it is believed to be a Japanese adaptation of Chinese wheat noodle soup. The industrialization of Japan is what ultimately led to the popularization of ramen, since was a cheap and satiating meal for workers. Additionally, the development of noodle-making machinery allowed for ramen noodles to be made quickly. With accessibility and affordability, ramen became part of Japanese cuisine, culture, and history.
Is ramen gluten free?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a product is considered gluten-free if it contains fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Traditional ramen noodles are made from wheat (a gluten-containing grain) and are therefore are not gluten free.
There are, however, gluten-free alternatives to ramen noodles, often made from rice (one of the most common options), potato, millet, or other gluten-free flours. You can find these alternatives at health-food stores and online. Always make sure the noodles you buy are labeled gluten free.
Be aware that it’s not just the ramen noodles themselves that can contain gluten. You also need to be just as careful about ramen broth, which is often flavored with soy sauce or miso, both of which often have wheat added. If you make your own ramen broth, use a gluten-free soy sauce or soy sauce alternative.
Is ramen nutritious?
One of the least nutritious aspects of ramen is that it can be high in carbohydrate (especially the instant noodle cup versions found at the store). Noodles that are made from refined grains are high in carbohydrates, which can negatively affect blood sugar. For a healthier option, try to use whole-grain gluten-free noodles if you can. In general, whole-grain foods contain more beneficial dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. As an alternative, there are vegetable noodles available for purchase, such as shirataki noodles, which are made from the konjac yam. These noodles are low in carbohydrate per serving — just be sure they say gluten-free on the package.
Ingredients that are commonly added to ramen, such as fish, eggs, and meat, offer a good source of complete protein. Mushrooms, seaweed, and green onions provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. All of these ingredients are naturally gluten free if nothing has been added to them. Of course, the warm broth in ramen is hydrating and if you cook it with meat bones, it will provide additional minerals — an added benefit.
Want to learn if other common foods are gluten free? Visit our Diet section.