Hello, my grocery-loving friends. Ross here. We're back with another grocery store taste test, and since it's cold out, my seasonal affective disorder is back with a vengeance, and we could all use a little bit of extra comfort these days, I decided that this month's taste test would be of my favorite easy comfort food: instant noodles.
As an instant noodle fanatic who's basically been grabbing the same brand over and over again for his entire life, let me just say...these results changed things for me. And I mean it.
So stick around, OK?
After doing some research, these are the brands and flavors I went with. My rule of thumb: I grabbed chicken flavor if available, but tried non-chicken flavors if the former wasn't manufactured by the brand. First, the classics:
Then, the "house brands" and specialty varieties:
To taste, review, and rank all of these noodles in the fairest way possible, I grabbed my pen and paper to record all of my honest thoughts. Unlike the other taste tests I've done, I actually decided not to make this a blind taste test. With two non-chicken flavors in the mix, my knowing the brands as I tasted them didn't feel make-or-break — but the couple of "ground rules" I set to make sure I limited as many variables as possible definitely were.
RULE #1: Each and every instant noodle package was cooked exactly as outlined on the packaging. For the noodles cooked on a stovetop, that meant boiling them for the exact amount of time called for with the recommended amount of water...
...and for the instant noodles cooked in their cups, I poured in boiling water to the top of each brand's "water line" and let things cook for however long the packaging recommended.
RULE #2: Call me extra, but I let each bowl of noodles cool down to right around 145ºF — which is apparently right in the middle of the scientifically-determined best temperature range for soups. You really can learn anything on the internet, folks.
It was a messy job, yes, but very much worth it in the end.
After tasting all seven instant noodles, I had exactly two pages-worth of thoughts, hot takes, and ratings.
Plus some smiley face rankings that probably sum up my thoughts better than words ever could, TBH.
It's the moment you've all been waiting for: my definitive ranking of instant noodles, from worst to best. Buckle up!
7. Cup Noodles — Considering the fact that there are better and cheaper products further down this list, I'd suggest skipping this one at the store. (Unless you like rubbery noodles and vaguely flavorless broth, in which case these were made for you.)
Let's start with the noodles since they're in the name and all. They were, quite literally, spongy. Not great! They also didn't feel all that substantial, texturally. Like, it kind of felt as if I was chewing on air. Weird, rubbery air.
🍜 Overall score for Cup Noodles: 2/10
Maybe there was something about devouring these in a college dorm room in between classes that made 'em taste genuinely delicious back then, but as a now-adult, they didn't make me (or my stomach) very happy.
6. Lotus Foods — While definitely not unappetizing, a less-than-flavorful broth pulled down what could've been a pretty solid score. The noodles themselves were great, especially when you factor in that they're gluten-free.
The noodles, made with "organic brown rice" according to the packaging, were delightful. They didn't trick me into thinking I was eating at a five-star ramen bar, of course, but they had a restaurant-style al dente bite that I absolutely loved. For that reason, it's worth mentioning that Lotus Foods' top-sellers are actually their broth-less, gluten-free noodle packs. If you see those in your local grocery store, run, don't walk. But I'd suggest giving their instant noodle cups a second thought thanks to the broth.
Of all the various noodles I tried, this one's broth was easily the most watery — and yes, I filled this one up to the "water line" exactly, so I know it wasn't my fault. I had high hopes when I peeled back the lid and saw a very neat-looking "freeze-dried soup cube," but it didn't impart very much flavor at all. The broth ended up tasting like spicy red water with a very subtle hint of kimchi funk, which was a tad bit tastier than the Cup Noodles, but still not good.
🍜 Overall score for Lotus Foods: 5.5/10
If you're in the market for a really tasty, super satisfying gluten-free instant noodle, run to grab a pack of Lotus Foods' broth-less noodles...but I'd recommend skipping these instant noodle cups for all the reasons above.
5. Maruchan — They may not be great, but Maruchan instant noodles are definitely solid, especially for the price.
You can't argue that Maruchan noodles aren't jam-packed with flavor. The salty bite is even so intense that lots of folks add only half the seasoning packet by default, but for the sake of this taste test, I stirred in the whole thing. The umami was truly off the charts. But even as someone who could probably suck on a salt lick and find it tasty, the full dose of soup seasoning was a bit salty for my tastebuds.
🍜 Overall score for Maruchan: 6.25/10
Whether you're a whole or half seasoning packet kind of person, rest assured that you're getting a totally decent lunch (or snack) for your 45 cents.
4. Top Ramen — People get heated over the Top Ramen vs. Maruchan battle, but I've never really been able to detect the difference...until I tasted them one after the other, that is. Now I know!
The biggest difference between these two brands is the broth for me, but again, Top Ramen's advantage here is minute. The broth wasn't as overly-salty, and I also enjoyed the flavor profile a bit more. If Maruchan's broth tasted like chomping on an entire bouillon cube (delicious, but kind of aggressive), Top Ramen's broth tasted less bouillon-y and more like legit chicken broth. You have to really concentrate to notice the difference, but the flavors in my bowl of Top Ramen ended up tasting a little less artificial than my bowl of Maruchan, which I liked.
🍜 Overall score for Top Ramen: 6.75/10
Between Top Ramen and Maruchan, their products are reaaaaaally close in terms of what they offer, but IMO, you'll get less salty broth with better flavor from Top Ramen with a noodle that packs a slightly more satisfying chew.
3. Momofuku — Different in format from the rest of these noodles, certain aspects of this product were absolutely delicious...I just wish it was all delicious, you know?
The best component of this product is inarguably the noodles. Hands down. Momofuku actually uses air-dried noodles from the A-Sha brand, which claim to have 25% fewer calories than most other instant noodles and double the protein. (In case you didn't know, most instant noodles are actually fried to "dry" them, which results in a much quicker cook time.) But beyond nutritional value, these noodles are just really damn tasty. Similar to my #1 pick, they were as close to restaurant quality as any instant noodles I've ever tasted — chewy, fresh-tasting, and undeniably substantial.
🍜 Overall score for Momofuku: 7/10
Of all the instant noodles I tried, these ones would definitely be my pick if I wanted a "doctored" bowl of noodles, so to speak. Add in a leftover protein of your choice, some wilted greens, a runny egg, and some additional sauce? I'm sold! As-is, however, I just found the flavors to be on the lackluster side, especially for the higher price tag...but the noodles alone were A+.
2. Trader Joe's — Aside from the actually-laughable amount of noodles included, this one thrilled me. And at $1.69 per cup, it was certainly the best cup of noodles I tried for the money.
Let me start with the sole negative: the volume of noodles you get per cup. It probably would've been helpful to include another object in the image below, for comparison, but let's just say the bundle of noodles was about the same size as one of my dog's mini tennis balls. Tiny.
Size aside, the noodles were delicious. Their smoothness and straighter, wave-less shape actually made them seem more like what you'd order in a ramen shop when compared to other brands. To be clear, you obviously cannot compare these to the taste and texture of fresh ramen, but they felt more or less "inspired by" what you'd get in a restaurant, which was a nice touch.
🍜 Overall score for Trader Joe's: 8.25/10
Though the amount of noodles you get for the price is pretty laughable IMO, I still think TJ's instant ramen is a great deal considering the quality of said noodles and the flavorful, silky broth.
1. Mike's Mighty Good — Suspiciously similar to the Trader Joe's version but with organic noodles (and more of them!) plus a slightly better-tasting broth, I can confidently say that this brand I've never even noticed before surprised me in just about every way.
Right off the bat, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mike's Mighty Good actually is the supplier of Trader Joe's instant ramen. Last year, a redditor on the r/traderjoes subreddit pointed out the similarities between the two brands, mostly the identical oil packets. And after tasting both myself, I've gotta say the noodles and broth taste pretty similar, too...but there are some discrepancies between them that easily place Mike's in the #1 spot for me.
The most noticeable difference is the amount of noodles you'll get when compared to the Trader Joe's version. Granted, you'll also pay nearly twice as much for the Mike's stuff, but at least they're not pretending that human beings can subsist on a mini tennis ball-size puck of ramen.
And then there's the broth, which has the same silky richness of the TJ's version thanks to the oil packet and powdered soup mix, but a better, more savory flavor in my humble opinion. The "sour" aftertaste I noticed in the Trader Joe's broth was non-existent here, and I found the flavor profile of Mike's to be far more savory, too. Even without the noodles. I'd happily chug a bowl of this stuff. No exaggeration.
🍜 Overall score for Mike's Mighty Good: 9/10
Though slightly pricier than the very-comparable Trader Joe's product, these noodles were well worth the cost, in my opinion. The rich broth, chewy noodles, and overall delightful mouthfeel were totally unmatched — but if you have a Trader Joe's near you and want to save a buck or two, you'll get a pretty comparable cup of noodles from them, too.