Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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 wild résumé. 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.