Classification of Ramen noodles: ingredients, shape, hydration
Since Aristotle classification has been a powerful tool of human mind to organize its existing knowledge of phenomena, and through such an exercise of systematic rationalization, perhaps, gain new insights into what could otherwise have been an amorphous mass of disconnected data snippets.
It may sound rather abstract, but hold on.
Classification helps us to structure our understanding, to ‘connect the dots’, to make sense of things we encounter and interact with. It is also one of the methods of analytical thinking which serves as an effective means to put our understanding regarding the object of our examination in order, to arrange our comprehension of it, to build a coherent picture of the subject in question.
So let us begin our exploration of and inquiry into the topic of Ramen noodles.
I. Classification of Ramen by ingredients
What is Ramen?
It may be a question with rather an obvious answer, and in a way it is indeed. Ramen is a sort of noodles. A quick search will tell you that it originated in ancient China, and specifically meant a kind of noodles that were made by manually stretching wheat dough by hands, splitting it, stretching it again, until a dough lump was divided into a multitude of noodle strands that could be boiled and eaten with chopsticks. The very character “拉” used in a word to denote Ramen (“拉麺”) means “stretching” / “pulling”. Modern methods of Ramen production may not necessarily imitate the original process literally, but, in their own sense, roller-type noodle machines preserve the spirit of initial Ramen making techniques by ensuring gluten structure preservation and development. This is important, but we are diverging…
1. That special chemistry: Kansui for Ramen
One of the important if not defining characteristics of Ramen noodles was, and in a way still is, the use of alkaline compound called “Kansui”. Kansui is, of course, a Japanese pronunciation of Chinese “Jian Shui” (鹹水) meaning “lye water”. Kansui gives Ramen noodles their, sometimes, piquant savor, as well as plays other important roles. But here, in the course of our quest to build a comprehensive and definitive classification of Ramen noodles, we must point out that, as a matter of fact, technically speaking Kansui is what makes just noodles into “Ramen noodles” per se.
According to Japanese food industrial standards Ramen – both in name and substance – belongs to a class of “Chinese noodles” (中華麺) which by definition has to contain Kansui.
Thus, we have arrived to our first benchmark of what is Ramen, and what specifically makes noodles in a broad sense into Ramen. Kansui used in Japan is usually a combination of Sodium Carbonate (Na2CO3) and Potassium Carbonate (К2СО3), and is commercially available in a powdery form.
2. To wheat or not to wheat?
Wheat has been the main, if not the only, flour-base ingredient for Ramen since its inception in China. But recently, with Ramen cuisine gaining more and more popularity, new approaches to Ramen-making have appeared, including such that do not use wheat flour at all.
Both to accommodate the emergence of dietary approaches advocating for eschewing wheat from diet on nutritional grounds, as well as to offer Ramen options specially tailored for people who cannot consume wheat-based products due to circumstances of their physiology, Ramen making world has developed gluten free types of Ramen made from non-wheat kinds of flour and a variety of other ingredients.
Gluten free Ramen
3. All egged up?
Some people think that Ramen noodles contain eggs by default – although this is not necessarily the case, some Ramen does. This depends on production methods and recipes for a particular type of Ramen noodles you are trying to make (naturally, Ramen noodles with eggs would look, taste and act in soup differently).
Ramen with eggs
4. Many shades of Ramen
Other ingredients – mostly of plant origin, and in a form of fine powder – can be used as additives for Ramen to give it a particular aroma, taste or color.
5. Gluten boost
To increase Ramen noodles’ hardness making them, for example, less susceptible to becoming too soggy too quickly in Ramen soup, an isolated gluten powder can be added to flour mix during noodle making. This usually does not change how such noodles look but mostly affects their texture. Gluten is more likely to be added to relatively thin noodles, especially those used for “barikata” style boiling.
6. A dash of ash
Generally, Ramen making is centered around flour – with its properties being of extreme importance, and among those properties ash content is a matter of make or break in terms of how Ramen noodles look, or how they behave during boiling or once put into Ramen soup.
More often than not one would try to find flour with as little ash as possible, but as anyone familiar with recent food and nutritional trends would know, no longer does more refine mean more wholesome both in terms of conventional consumer wisdom and established medical advice…
…meet wholewheat Ramen.
Low ash content Ramen
7. With a grain of salt?
Although standard recipes mention salt in various quantities as an indispensable component of Ramen dough, it is theoretically possible to conceive of Ramen without NaCl (not common, though).
II. Classification of Ramen by shape
1. Square one
When the width of noodle dough sheet passing through a cutter is the same as the width of that cutter’s grooves – you have noodles with a square shape.
"Kaku-giri" (square) Ramen
2. Round two
Although round noodles are usually associated with extrusion-type noodle makers, installing a special cutter with rounded grooves easily allows roller-type Ramen machines to produce round-shaped Ramen too.
"Maru-giri" (round) Ramen
3. Flat Ramen Theory
Passing a thin dough sheet through a cutter with wide grooves gives you flat-shaped noodles similar to pasta or kishimen-style Udon noodles.
"Hira-uchi" (flat) Ramen
4. Going rogue in full Reverse
In contrast to “hira-uchi” type, when the noodle dough sheet thickness is greater than the width of cutter grooves it results in production of noodles with a ‘reverse-flat’ rectangular shape.
Ramen noodles of this type differ from others in that they have more cutter-side ‘rough’ surface, allowing them to carry on more soup when lifted by chopsticks from a bowl.
5. Keeping it straight
Typical Ramen noodles are straight and linear.
6. Curves and curls. Ramen style
Applying pressure on noodles, either by retrofitting a cutter with special attachments that squeeze noodle strands when they come out, or by crumpling a batch a noodles with hands gives them a wavy shape.
III. Classification of Ramen by hydration
For general classification purposes Ramen noodles can be subdivided into low, medium and high water content types.
Usually, there is a correlation between noodles’ water content (hydration) and their size (thickness/width) with drier noodles having tendency to be thinner, and noodles with higher water content being more likely to be thicker and wider.
Low water content Ramen noodles (~ 30%)
Medium water content Ramen noodles (30 ~ 39%)
High water content Ramen noodles (40% ~)
In this article we made an attempt of compiling a comprehensive typology of Ramen varieties according to their ingredients, shape and level of hydration.
We did not delve into a detailed explanation of many particular aspects pertaining to each category and type, leaving this task out to subsequent articles where we plan to touch on those matters in depth.
Stay tuned for further installments of our Noodle blog. We will surely not run out of relevant topics to cover in any near future, for Ramen is a universe in a bowl – vast and ever expanding.