Since instant ramen hit US shelves in the 1970s, it’s become a beloved mainstay of students, families, and anyone who wants a tasty dish with minimal preparation time. The thing about instant noodles is that there’s almost always a way to make them tastier – and it’s easier than you think.
Wondering what spices to add to ramen? Are there other ingredients we’d recommend? You’re in the right place. Ramen doesn’t have to be plain or simple.
There’s a huge variety of spices, herbs, vegetables, and seasoning you can add to upgrade your instant noodles – you’ll never get bored of the same old flavors! Just follow our guide and discover a range of easy, affordable upgrades to this cupboard classic.
What Spices Can I Add To Ramen?
The easiest way to quickly upgrade a bowl of ramen noodles is with ingredients that require no extra cooking. The following are some spices to add to ramen to help “spice” up the recipe.
Ginger is a common spice in Asian cuisine. It has the power to make any dish flavorful and savory. This includes ramen! It also contains several health benefits like antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s said to improve coughs, lower headaches, and fevers, and ease other symptoms associated with the flu and common colds.
When thinking about spices to add to ramen, don’t skip black pepper. It gives a different flavor than regular pepper. Adding black pepper to your ramen can give it that hint of spiciness needed to get your taste buds dancing.
Black pepper can also naturally help manage blood pressure. It’s high in antioxidants and may lower cholesterol levels. Aside from how versatile it is, it also has other science-backed health benefits.
You can balance out the flavors in your ramen by adding white pepper. This ingredient is considered milder than black pepper and is one of the top spices to add to ramen.
We recommend adding white pepper slightly before serving – its flavor can be slightly “on the nose” and is best enjoyed when properly stirred through the dish.
Fresh garlic can taste a bit strong if you don’t cook it out first, but garlic powder provides an incredible depth of flavor and that garlicky kick we love. It’s a cupboard essential and can upgrade any dish – it works especially well with instant noodles.
Tangy, sweet, and easy to find in supermarkets, onion powder is another simple but effective upgrade. Onion is the flavor behind so many great dishes, but if you don’t have time to sweat fresh onions down, the powdered variant is a super-easy alternative.
Thyme is great to add to ramen because it’s incredibly aromatic and adds both freshness and depth. Fresh thyme is preferable to dry as it’s more flavorful, but there’s nothing wrong with adding dried thyme to ramen, either!
It’s very easy to keep a fresh thyme plant on your windowsill – it doesn’t need watering too much and will grow all year round.
Coriander seeds have a deep, complex flavor and are a staple of East Asian cooking. While you may not want to eat them whole, they’ll impart a rich, savory taste to your dishes.
Star anise is one of the best spices to add to ramen – you really don’t want to bite into this one, but it’s so large and chunky that there’s no risk of that. Simply remove the star anise chunks after letting them heat in the water, and you’ll have a peppery, aniseed-tinged broth with a wonderful sweetness.
Add some ground cinnamon to the water before boiling the noodles or add it to the seasoning packet that comes with the ramen. It will give your broth a sweet and warm flavor. Although it doesn’t have a sweet taste, cinnamon amplifies the sweetness in other ingredients.
What Vegetables Can I Add To Ramen?
Although seasoning is enough, adding vegetables to ramen will help your meal taste better while giving it a healthy addition packed with vitamins. However, you want to make sure the vegetables you’re adding work well with ramen.
For example, lettuce, cabbage, and spinach will make your ramen greener and healthier. Onions and garlic are used for flavor, while celery and mushrooms will add texture.
Vegetables that cook quickly like lettuce, watercress, spinach, thin cabbage slices, thinly sliced cabbage, and scallions, can be added to the soup right before serving. Longer-cooking vegetables like broccoli, peas, and cauliflower can be added to your noodles as they cook.
If you’re adding frozen vegetables like peas or corn, you’ll want to thaw them out first. Place them in a bowl of warm water or under hot running water for 30 seconds or so. Then, simply add them to your ramen before serving.
Other popular vegetable additions include:
- Bell peppers
- Dried seaweed
- Green onions
- Sliced pumpkin
- Chili peppers
What Proteins Are Best For Ramen?
Bulking up the protein content of your instant ramen makes it healthier, more filling, and often tastier! Here are some suggestions for protein-rich additions to ramen.
You can find these at your local Asian grocery store. Asian fish cakes differ slightly from Western fishcakes – we’d recommend the Asian ones for this purpose, as they have a more suitable flavor profile.
They are normally precooked and frozen. Defrost them and throw them in your ramen! Fish cakes a mildly sweet, salty, and delicious.
There are different ways you can include eggs in ramen.
You can crack the egg and pour it carefully into the broth without breaking the yolk. An alternative is to cook a hard-boiled egg (ideally with a soft yolk, as this will add flavor to the broth when added) and cut it in two before serving. This is how eggs are served with ramen in many Asian restaurants, and it’s the perfect protein addition.
Beef shank is lean and typically cooked in advance before being added to ramen. If you’ve got some leftover beef shank in your fridge, forget about sandwiches – heat it up and add it to your ramen broth!
This provides extra protein and great flavor.
Rotisserie chicken is available at many local supermarkets and pairs wonderfully with noodles. It’s the ultimate zero-effort protein – just pull or cut off the chicken you need and add it to the noodles. Perfect!
Peanuts are slightly higher in fat, but they are a great choice of protein as you don’t have to add too many of them.
They add a crunchy texture and are extremely popular with noodles in many South and Southeast Asian cuisines. Roasted peanuts add an even deeper flavor and can be purchased from the supermarket or roasted at home.
Other Condiments To Add
There’s a huge range of condiments that complement ramen – never be afraid to switch it up and try something new! Here are some popular cupboard essentials that can upgrade your noodles.
Sriracha is also sometimes called “Asian hot sauce.” It has a real kick and a tangy, savory, slightly sweet flavor that goes wonderfully with noodle broth.
Its main ingredient, chili pepper, has many benefits, including boosting the body’s serotonin levels. It also helps boost metabolism.
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Although sriracha is the most commonly used hot sauce, Franks Red Hot gives about the same amount of heat with less sweetness.
This is a Japanese condiment that has a citrusy flavor with a bit of bitterness from the yuzu peel. It’s a mixture of salt, hot peppers, and yuzu. It’s normally used in dishes like soups, salad dressing, and hot pot dishes.
Yes, you can even add peanut butter to your ramen. Its texture gives your noodles a creamy substance and nutty flavor. You can add it into your pot before you add the noodles to melt them down. Or you can add it once your noodles are in. Either way, the heat will help melt the peanut butter.
This blend is made mostly with ground pepper flakes. It also has sesame seeds and dried seaweed. Depending on the brand or version bought, they can vary in spiciness, so keep that in mind when adding to your ramen.
Raw ginger can be a bit harsh for ramen. Pickled ginger may be a better choice as it is sweet and sour with a little kick.
This can be made in many ways with different vegetables and fruits. The most well-known version is baechu kimchi, which is made with cabbage. It has a sour, spicy, and salty taste. In addition to cabbage, it often contains radishes, carrots, ginger, garlic, scallions, chili flakes, and more.
You can find various types of kimchi at your local Korean grocery store.
This literally means white hair as it resembles just that. Shiraga negi is the white part of a leek cut into julienne strips. The way it’s cut will impact the flavor, so be sure it’s shredded at a right angle and vertically.
TIP: When adding sauces, that usually means adding more salt. Keep this in mind when making your broth. Sometimes, doing half broth and half water is a great way to go as you’re able to have more room to add sauces and find the perfect broth for your liking.
Top It Off!
There are some great options to add as you serve up. Here are some finishers:
- Sesame seeds
- Crumbled bacon
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, Thai basil, chives)
- Sesame oil
- Crushed chilies
- Fresh lime
- Soy sauce
- Chili crisp
- Chili oil
- Oyster sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Fish sauce
- Pepper flakes
Spices To Add To Ramen: Final Thoughts
We love ramen because it’s so easy, but you don’t have to go to much effort to make it even better.
Our suggestions range from simple add-ons to slightly more involved steps, but all are appropriate ways to upgrade your simple packet ramen and enjoy your favorite dish anew.
The best spices to add to ramen depend on your personal tastes – experiment with different varieties and see which you like most!