History of Instant Noodles

Instant noodles were born in Japan in 1958, 10-odd years after Japan's defeat in World War II. It was the time when the advent of television as new media was about to drastically change people's consumption patterns. "Chicken Ramen," the world's first instant noodles, invented by Momofuku Ando was epoch-making product, which was made by dehydrating the steamed and seasoned noodles in oil heat. He has enabled mass-production of instant noodles by establishing the entire process of industrial method of manufacturing: noodle-making, steaming, seasoning, and dehydrating in oil heat. The product that becomes ready to eat just in two minutes by adding boiling water was dubbed "a magic ramen," and became an instant popular sensation.

Instant noodles with flavoring powder in a separate packet were launched in response to people's strong demand for better quality and taste, and the product line was highly acclaimed. The forerunner of Japan Convenience Foods Industry Association was founded in 1964 when the entrants rapidly increased and competition among them became excessively fierce in this growing market. The association strove to maintain the product quality by applying Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS) and started to display the date of manufacture to be more consumer-friendly. Since then, increasingly many different flavors of instant noodles had been put into the market, and their product quality, as represented by non-fried noodles, had been improved.

It was "CUP NOODLES®" launched in 1971 that boosted the then saturated instant noodle market. The differentiating feature of the product is that flavored noodles were placed in an upright Styrofoam container together with freeze-dried condiments such as shrimps, pork, egg and vegetables, and the product was launched as completely new instant noodles. "CUP NOODLES®" was more than instant noodles contained in a Styrofoam package; the product revolutionized the entire processed-food industry. The innovative cup combined three different functions: a packaging material while on store shelves, cooker when boiling water is poured in, and a bowl when eating noodles. It was the processed food, in which a totally new concept was embodied.

Spreading first to Asia and then to Americas and Europe, instant noodles have become accepted globally. Especially with the rise of income level in developing countries in the 1990s, the consumption increased rapidly there. Annual global demand for instant noodles was estimated approximately 15 billion servings in 1990, and the demand grew to 50 billion servings in 2001 and exceeded 100 billion servings mark in 2012. The rapid growth was attributed to the universality of the five principles Momofuku Ando had set forth in developing the food, namely affordability, convenience, safety and hygiene, long shelf life, and palatability. Besides, it was pointed that the versatility of instant noodles enabled themselves to fuse with ingredients in local cooking and traditional flavors. Moreover, going ahead of rising health-consciousness, many manufacturers launched instant noodles with various healthy recipes: noodles with dietary fiber and collagen, low-calorie noodles, and low-sodium noodles, etc.

Amid rapid market growth, Momofuku Ando was concerned that excessively harsh competition could cause quality problem on a world-wide scale. To avoid the recurrence of such incidents, as occurred in Japan in the early 1960s, Momofuku proposed the establishment of a global industry association as a platform for food safety to the world's leading instant noodle manufacturers. Consequently, International Ramen Manufacturers Association (IRMA) was formed, and the inaugural meeting held in Tokyo in 1997 was attended by 10 manufacturers and one industry association. For the purpose of quality improvement, IRMA initiated the CODEX Standard for Instant Noodles, which was eventually adopted at the Codex General Assembly in 2006.

In 2007, IRMA made an organizational transformation so as to accommodate more members: instant noodle manufacturers as well as the companies in related industries from around the world. Taking this occasion, the association name was changed to World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), in compliance with the team used for the Codex.

Space ramen became the talk of the town in 2005, as the instant noodles developed jointly with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) were loaded into a space shuttle. Three bite-size noodle cakes, soup and condiments were put into a soft airtight container. Soup was thickened to keep it from dispersing in weightless environment. The noodles were designed to be reconstituted even in water heated to 70 degrees Celsius. Such features are good for senior users and energy efficient. As exemplified here instant noodles will continue to evolve. Instant noodles, as the food with enormous potentialities, are expected to generate new demands.

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