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Do Ramen Noodles Expire? Everything You Need to Know

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Ramen noodles are a snack that most people are familiar with and chances are there’s a time in your life where they were one of the only dishes you knew how to make. They’re a cheap and simple snack that offers a simple meal with a nutritional value that leaves room for improvement.

If you’re on a backpacking trip or a weekend hike, either you or someone you’re with is going to have a package or two. With how quick and easy they are to eat, it’s no surprise that they are a staple of backpackers across the globe.

The question is how long do ramen noodles last? Most people assume that they last forever, however, they do have a printed expiration date.

What are Ramen noodles?

Ramen noodles are a traditional Japanese dish that consist of Chinese style wheat noodles served in a flavored broth with other toppings available. Almost every region in Japan has a unique variation of ramen with names like Miso Ramen, Tonkatsu Ramen, Shoyu Ramen, and Shio ramen.

Today, ramen noodles have been brought to the masses, packaged as a quick snack with a long shelf life. There are a million different types of ramen depending on where you are in the world that cater to the local palate. You can find shrimp, pork, chicken, crab, and nearly every other flavor combination you can imagine.

They have become a popular snack for long distance backpackers and survivalists due to their long shelf life and ease of use. By simply adding hot water, you can have a salty snack that will fill you up in a matter of minutes.

Do ramen noodles have an expiration date?

Yes, ramen noodles have an expiration date listed on the packaging. This is a date that manufacturers are required by law to include on packaging to protect themselves legally so they don’t get sued if you get sick. This information included on the packaging lets you know that the food is best consumed on or before the date.

The expiration date of noodles is related to the flavor and texture of the noodles. If you eat an expired package of noodles you’ll notice that they have a stale flavor when compared to a “fresh” package of noodles.

person holding bowl of rice with chopsticks

Health benefits of ramen noodles

The health benefits of ramen, or lack thereof, is typical of any prepackaged snack. They are high in sodium and contain preservatives that are hard to spell and harder to pronounce. Needless to say, they shouldn’t be eaten every day, however, they are easy to prepare, making them the perfect quick snack for backpackers, hikers, and survivalists.

One package of chicken flavored ramen noodles contains:

  • 25 grams of net carbs
  • 52% of daily salt intake
  • MSG
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 8 grams of fat
  • 1 gram of dietary fiber
  • 3.6 milligrams of iron
  • 52 grams of carbohydrates
  • 380 calories

Instant ramen noodles are made with wheat and flour that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals may improve micronutrient retention (source).  That being said, they often lack important nutrients, such as Vitamins A, C, B12, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

Ramen noodles are high in sodium

Salt is delicious, whether its a cheesy plate of nachos or a handful of salty potato chips. While sodium does have a place in our diet, too much sodium can be a bad thing and a large source of sodium today is from processed foods.

According to Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, sodium has a number of health benefits, including:

  • Balances fluids in the body
  • Help send nerve impulses
  • Needed for muscle contractions
  • Influences blood pressure; even modest reductions in sodium consumption can lower blood pressure.
  • Currently, overall consumption levels are much higher (at least 2-3 fold higher) than needed for any health benefits

While sodium has its benefits, too much of a good thing (sodium) can be a bad thing. High salt intake increase blood pressure, is linked to stomach cancer, and osteoporosis (source).

One pack of instant ramen noodles contains 52% of the daily recommended value. So, in terms of salt intake, you for sure don’t want to pack only ramen noodles on your next backpacking trip.

Ramen noodles contain TBHQ

Ramen noodles contain ingredients that are meant to preserve them and taste better. One of those ingredients is TBHQ.

Tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, is a synthetic antioxidant that’s added to foods to limit or delay oxidization. Oxidation of food causes food to lose flavor, color, and can lead to toxicity or spoilage. It also causes food to lose some of its nutritional value and vitamins to break down. 

In high doses TBHQ is known to be toxic, however, the FDA limits the amount of TBHQ that can be added to food. The amount that in crackers, popcorn, and ramen noodles has been found to be safe.

Ramen noodles contain MSG

MSG is a flavor enhancer that’s added to processed meats, canned foods, chinese food, ramen noodles, and canned vegetables. MSG has been added to food for years and is considered safe by the FDA, however, it’s a controversial topic. 

According to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D, MSG has been added to food for years. However, the FDA has received reports of adverse effects of food containing MSG. Known as MSG symptom complex, the symptoms include: 

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Muscle tightness
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

While these symptoms aren’t reported by everyone, research has shown in a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized study that there is a link between MSG and the reported side effects. 

Most of the negative effects of MSG are reported in high doses and not everyone experiences them. If you are sensitive to MSG or have experienced any of the side effects, it’s best to simply avoid it.

So, why do ramen noodles last so long?

The main reason that ramen noodles have such a long lifespan is the preservatives that are included in the manufacturing process. Preservatives don’t have the best reputation and considering that most of them are nearly impossible to pronounce, it’s easy to understand why. They are typically man-made additives to food that are added to make food last longer. 

Another reason that Ramen noodles have such a long shelf life is the absence of moisture. Bacteria need water to grow and they die without it. The lack of moisture in the packaging and the recommendation to store them in a cool dry place both lead to a longer shelf life. 

The addition of preservatives and the lack of moisture in the packaging are two main reasons that ramen noodles have such a long shelf life. Keep in mind, not all ramen noodles are made the same and certain ramen noodles come with additional ingredients that may lead to spoilage. 

Ways to make ramen noodles healthier

If you’re on a long distance backpacking trip you understand that a healthy diet is not a reality. You’re burning an enormous amount of calories, you only have access to limited food choices, and you’re forced to consume foods that are high in calories. There are several ways to make ramen noodles healthier and higher in calories.

  • Choose the low sodium option: Look for the low sodium options of ramen noodles to limit the amount of salt intake. 
  • Add protein: Protein is an important part of any backpackers diet, so adding protein to anything and everything (including ramen) is never a bad idea.
  • Add vegetables: Peas, carrots, and broccoli are all good options to add a little flavor and consistency to your backpacking meals. Keep in mind, vegetable go bad quickly so you’ll have to eat them within a few days on the trail.
  • Toss out the flavor packet: You can use buillon cubes or chicken stalk to add flavor without adding a ridiculous amount of salt.

Conclusion

Everything eventually goes bad, nothing lasts forever. It’s illegal to not include an expiration date on food, even water. In terms of how long ramen noodles last, a number of factors come into play: heat, moisture, and bacterial growth, but the song remains the same, they eventually go bad.

Ramen noodles are a hiking and backpacking staple and have been for years. They’re a quick and lightweight snack on the trail that’s ready in just a matter of minutes. Eating expired ramen noodles may not taste the best, but they can still be eaten.

Get lost and keep wandering. 

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