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  • In 1958, a new food was invented with the goal to help end hunger in Japan.

  • The inventor knew it had to be delicious, nonperishable, easy to prepare, and inexpensive.

  • That food was this 29-cent pack of instant ramen.

  • Every day, 290 million people eat instant noodles.

  • They've even been eaten in space.

  • Roger.

  • Reportedly, the astronaut said, "I enjoyed it."

  • But you don't get billions of dollars in sales and a Sanrio merch tie-in just by accident.

  • Gudetama!

  • So, how did a 48-year-old businessman who knew almost nothing about making noodles start a multibillion-dollar industry?

  • Momofuku Ando was an entrepreneur with a wildsumé.

  • Everything from selling textiles to charcoal, and he even started a school at one point.

  • Now, Ando's story has admittedly gotten a bit mythical over time.

  • There's even this adorable children's book written about him and an incredible animated short film about his origins.

  • It's called "Samurai Noodles," and it's probably the coolest "Our Story" page a company can have.

  • And I think you can see the resemblance.

  • But, anyway, to really understand how that giant box of ramen ended up in your grocery store, we have to go back to 1940s Japan.

  • After World War II, Japan faced widespread famine and had its worst harvest season in decades.

  • A Nissin spokesperson would later state that, "At the time, people were starving and queuing for noodles at street stalls."

  • Because of strict rationing laws and a ban on selling street food, thousands of unsanctioned open-air markets started to pop up.

  • It's estimated that factory workers got more than half of their vegetables on the black market.

  • At the time, Japan relied heavily on the wheat provided by the US during its occupation.

  • Ramen and gyoza, both made from surplus wheat flour, were considered "stamina food" because they were high in calories and kept you full.

  • But at the time, there was a push to use the US-provided wheat to make bread.

  • Ando, as inquisitive as ever, wanted to know why the government wasn't using more of that wheat flour to make noodles, which were much more common in Japan.

  • He said, "If you change your diet, you are in effect throwing away your traditions and cultural heritage."

  • Ando thought that ramen that was more accessible and easier to prepare could be a solution to Japan's hunger problem.

  • But in response, he was basically told, "If you think it's a good idea, then do it yourself."

  • So he did.

  • But this was no easy task.

  • Ando had basically no noodle-making experience.

  • And remember that checklist?

  • He had to figure out how to bring great flavor and texture to instant food.

  • After a year of experimenting, he finally had his breakthrough.

  • According to my favorite anime, "Samurai Noodles," the development process looked a little bit like this, which is pretty epic.

  • Basically, after watching his wife make tempura, he realized that frying the noodles was key.

  • Frying extracted their moisture, so they could be stored for long periods of time and then rehydrated with hot water.

  • That's how we got this iconic brick of noodles.

  • What you'll love is that you can serve your family in three minutes and for just pennies.

  • What I find so interesting about Ando's invention was that it wasn't an accidental breakthrough.

  • He thought instant noodles would be a success, and he worked for a year to find the solution.

  • Looking back, he said: "The experiences of hardship and suffering strengthened me to succeed in a critical time."

  • In 1958, Ando released Chikin Ramen and changed his company's name to Nissin, which you probably recognize.

  • Ando played a direct role in trying to sell instant ramen, reportedly setting up a sales booth in Tokyo to give customers a chance to try the new product.

  • At first, it actually cost more than five times the price of fresh noodles, but the taste and convenience made it a huge hit.

  • It was nicknamed "magic ramen" because it was ready to eat in just a few minutes.

  • It was now over a decade since the end of World War II.

  • Japan's economy had started to improve, there was a surplus of wheat flour, and people were going back to working long hours.

  • These were the perfect circumstances for instant ramen to succeed.

  • Chikin Ramen sold 13 million packages in its first year.

  • And sales in Japan skyrocketed, growing by billions in just a decade.

  • As its popularity grew, dozens of companies started manufacturing instant noodles.

  • In 1968, instant ramen was estimated to hit 3.5 billion servings.

  • But Ando wasn't done inventing.

  • At age 61, it was time to make instant noodles even more instant.

  • Nissin introduced Cup Noodles in 1971, and, like Chiken Ramen, it was a huge hit.

  • In fact, it was so popular that Nissin couldn't meet demand, even though they were making 650,000 cups a day.

  • You can see how noodles in a cup completely overtakes packaged-noodle sales by 1989.

  • Today, cup-noodle sales are more than double packaged-noodle sales in Japan.

  • And Ando was still involved with the company.

  • In 1998, The Japan Times wrote that, "Even as he celebrates his 88th birthday this year, Ando is still keen to invent new variations on his instant noodles."

  • Today, hundreds of instant-noodle flavors are introduced in Japan every year

  • But it wasn't just a hit in Japan.

  • China is currently the largest market, eating over 40 billion servings a year.

  • But South Korea beats it in per capita consumption, with a staggering 75 servings per year.

  • That's a lot of instant ramen.

  • Here in the US, the original Nissin Top Ramen was introduced in 1972.

  • Most people are like Corey.

  • They love eating all those noodles in Top Ramen.

  • Six years later, The Washington Post wrote, "Now the noodles are threatening to replace TV sets as Japan's hottest export to this country."

  • Ando was even awarded the key to the city in LA.

  • And in 1989, The New York Times wrote, "The growing U.S. appetite for Asian-style ramen can no longer be ignored."

  • It became a fixture in US supermarkets despite being a new type of food for a lot of Americans.

  • Today, instant-ramen consumption in the US is over 4.5 billion servings per year and over 100 billion servings globally.

  • And in case you were wondering, Ando finally retired at age 95.

  • Nissin, the company Ando founded, reported over 450 billion yen in revenue in 2019, or about $4.3 billion.

  • It's now led by Ando's son Koki.

  • But despite its commercial success, Ando didn't forget his original goal to help end hunger.

  • In 1997, Ando helped start what's now called the World Instant Noodles Association.

  • Its purpose is to improve the instant-noodle industry and provide emergency food aid.

  • Since its founding, the organization has helped donate hundreds of thousands of instant-noodle servings.

  • Ando once said: "It is never too late to do anything in life. You can have a new beginning even at the age of 50 or 60."

  • And he really lived his life with that mindset.

  • Whether or not you believe every detail of the "Samurai Noodle" story, instant ramen completely changed the way that people ate a centuries-old food.

In 1958, a new food was invented with the goal to help end hunger in Japan.

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How Instant Ramen Became An Instant Success

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