17 Nissin Cup Noodles Flavors, Ranked Worst To Best

Some might say that instant noodles are the inflation-proof snack of the gods. Cheap, convenient, and flavorful, their appeal resonates with everyone from backpackers to night shift workers. Since 1971, Japanese food manufacturer Nissin has distributed one of the most popular products in the world of instant noodles: Cup Noodles, invented by company founder Momofuku Ando in 1958. Of course, Cup Noodles fans are familiar with the classic triad of flavors that help make up Nissin's impressive sales in the West. The styrofoam-clad beef, chicken, and shrimp Cup Noodles are veritable vending machine favorites nationwide. That said, dozens of Cup Noodle varieties are a bit harder to come across.

While Nissin has introduced a handful of alternate noodle options to Western consumers, like lower sodium Cup Noodles and stir fry-inspired creations, the company produces the bulk of its recipes for international markets. Most American grocers only carry a limited range of Cup Noodle products, but Asian supermarkets often stock an assortment of flavors from Hong Kong, China, and Japan, to name a few. These bestselling Cup Noodles include everything from umami-laced seafood options, with real pieces of squid, to faithful interpretations of national dishes like tom yum soup. Finding imported and limited edition Cup Noodle releases can be challenging, but many flavors are worth the effort. We tasted several varieties of Nissin's Cup Noodles, from Japanese bestsellers to American standards, to uncover the best — and worst — flavors around.

17. Chicken

Nissin's Chicken Cup Noodles is one of the most ubiquitous flavors in the West, available everywhere from gas stations to hospital vending machines. It can seem like a real treat compared to other low-cost, quick-cooking snack options. However, when stacked against other Cup Noodles in our ranks, it stood out for all the wrong reasons.

Some Cup Noodles come in paper or plastic cups, but Chicken is packaged in good old-fashioned styrofoam. Thus, we were met with a plasticky, polystyrene odor after introducing boiled water to the mixture. Furthermore, the noodles appeared to be slightly overcooked, but these issues were just the tip of the iceberg.

We thought we knew what to expect from this flavor — after all, we'd certainly consumed our fair share of it while growing up. Yet Chicken disappointed us in several ways. Its scent was off-putting, to say the least. The initial notes of muggy styrofoam shifted into a strange, gamey poultry odor that was anything but appetizing. We grimaced at the first bite, expecting the taste to match, but were puzzled by the broth's blandness. If you've ever purchased low-sodium soup only to experiment with adding salt, you'll understand our frustration with Chicken. It may bear the classic Cup Noodles aesthetic, but it's hardly distinguishable from plain boiled water.

16. Shrimp

Look, our love for shrimp knows no bounds. We've traveled miles for tender, fresh-caught shrimp, thrown it in our Bloody Marys, and daydreamed of becoming shrimp catchers ourselves after one too many nights at Red Lobster. From shrimp paste to pan-fried coconut shrimp, is there anything the fruit of the sea can't do?

Sadly, we learned the answer to that question the hard way. Even our beloved prawns couldn't save Shrimp Cup Noodles. Admittedly, we enjoy our instant noodles on the drier, more flavorful side if given a choice, but we followed the Cup Noodles cooking directions to the letter. Instead of the delicious, sweet shrimp broth we hoped for, we received piping hot municipal water with a side of hauntingly white noodles. Shrimp's ingredient list includes everything from ambiguous "spice" to soy sauce solids, yet it manages to be virtually flavorless. We're not sure whether to be appalled or impressed, but we ultimately preferred it to Chicken Cup Noodles.

15. Beef

Choosing a winning Cup Noodles flavor from the traditional "big three" proved challenging. Fortunately, we recalled the words of an old American proverb: "Where's the beef?" Beef Cup Noodles hardly had any, but it was more than we could say for shrimp or chicken. Theoretically, you could swap shrimp or chicken Cup Noodles' broth for your partner's Keurig water without them noticing, but it might not be possible with "The Original" Beef Flavor.

Beef Cup Noodles looks watery from the get-go but has slightly more color than its classic companions. Though it smells ever-so-slightly of beef stock, its taste is far from the real thing. To put it bluntly, we found ourselves fantasizing about Bovril, Top Ramen, and Better Than Bouillon as we reluctantly stirred the Beef Cup Noodles contents (sorry, Beef). If ghost cattle exist, we imagine their beefy spirits were used to create this whisper of a flavor. It may not be much, but it's enough to take Beef to the top of the classic Cup Noodle rankings.

14. Crab

We were thoroughly excited to try the Crab Cup Noodles, clad in hot pink packaging and retailing for $1.69 at our Asian Supermarket. Some Cup Noodles seemed to lose their scent during the cooking process, but Crab's became more pronounced. Plump pieces of seaweed and corn drifted between its beige noodles, and the "crab" took on an attractive reddish tinge. Much to our chagrin, its looks were deceiving. Although Crab is relatively low in sodium for a Cup Noodles, at 1,420 milligrams per container, it tasted overwhelmingly salty with a strange aftertaste to boot.

The rehydrated crab pieces are tough and chewy, while the broth's unpleasant brininess overpowers the diced vegetables. It's hard to pick up much flavor beyond salt and seaweed, although there's a touch of sugar that may be interpreted as crab. Only the most diehard seaweed fans will appreciate Crab Cup Noodles, as there's not enough nuanced crab flavor for crustacean lovers.

13. Korean BBQ

First introduced in 2019, Nissin's Cup Noodles Stir Fry line features flavors inspired by popular Asian dishes, such as Japanese Teriyaki Chicken and Thai Yellow Curry. Some varieties excel at combining takeout taste with instant noodle convenience, but Korean BBQ Stir Fry isn't one of them.

At first, we felt confident that Korean BBQ would be a formidable opponent against other Cup Noodles products. It smelled tempting enough, and we were impressed by the healthy arrangement of pepper and onion slivers resting on its surface. However, we quickly learned a valuable lesson: never judge a Cup Noodles by its cover — or its aroma, for that matter. Korean BBQ may have contained potent mix-ins, from minced garlic to sesame oil, but the overall taste was surprisingly weak. Instead of the harmonious Korean BBQ flavors we yearned for, there was only a sad, saccharine sweetness courtesy of ingredients like brown sugar and sucralose.

12. Japanese Teriyaki Chicken

Available at most Western supermarkets, we found many of the black-labeled Stir Fry Cup Noodles varieties to be pretty flavorful. Still, not all Cup Noodles are created equally. Though the Japanese Teriyaki Chicken smelled savory and rich, its taste was another story.

Even though Japanese Teriyaki Chicken contains over 1,000 milligrams of sodium, it's hard to tell. Nissin's Stir Fry Cup Noodle products contain sucralose, commonly known as Splenda, and this particular flavor suffered from a persistent, cloying sweetness as a result. No matter how much we stirred or mixed, a strange, sugary aftertaste lingered on our tongues. Worse, the stir fry's rice is undercooked and tastes gritty against the slippery carrot sticks and noodles, creating a textural nightmare. From start to finish, Japanese Teriyaki Chicken is mediocre. It may not have been the worst Cup Noodles on our list, but it fell flat against the majority of its stir-fried competitors.

11. Original

Most of us are familiar with classic Cup Noodles flavors like beef, chicken, and shrimp. So what exactly is the Original Flavor Cup Noodle? Well, it's hard to define, as it contains everything from pork to shrimp — but it boldly claims to be the No. 1 Cup Noodles in Japan. To put it to the test, we added boiling water and let it stand for just over three minutes.

The first ingredients to surface are plump, miniature shrimp. They taste prawnlike, but their texture is too dense to mimic the fleshiness of your garden variety shrimp. Yellow, fluffy clouds of egg float and weave between bamboo shoots and cabbage leaves, making this one of the more interesting Cup Noodles we sampled. Unfortunately, Original Cup Noodles' downfall is its overly salty broth. Although it contains over 1,500 milligrams of sodium, the soup's flavor fails to make an impression on us.

10. Teriyaki Chicken

What separates Cup Noodles Teriyaki Chicken Stir-Fry from its Japanese Teriyaki Chicken counterpart? Both flavors contain roughly the same amount of sodium at 1,180 milligrams per container and retail for $2.69, but Teriyaki Chicken features the addition of dried cabbage flakes and shiitake mushrooms. The sweet, crunchy cabbage leaves in the Teriyaki Chicken mix fare better under the Cup Noodles cooking process than Japanese Teriyaki's delicate green soybeans. Truth be told, the tiny, rehydrated veggies provided by Nissin sometimes steal the show in many Cup Noodles, and Teriyaki Chicken's delicious cabbage is a testament to this phenomenon.

The dehydrated soy sauce in Nissin's teriyaki recipe is more noticeable in Teriyaki Chicken, enhancing its robust chicken flavor. There are plenty of "chicken" chunks — tiny morsels made from textured soy protein — but they don't taste of much. Fortunately, Teriyaki Chicken's noodles are cooked to perfection, soaking up its stir-fry sauce with a springy bite. Nothing about this variety is particularly offensive or outstanding, landing it squarely in the middle of our Cup Noodles rankings.

9. Teriyaki Beef

After our tragic encounter with Korean BBQ Stir Fry, we were slightly wary of Teriyaki Beef Stir Fry. Wading through Nissin's Stir Fry offerings felt like playing a game of Minesweeper, never knowing what to expect next. Thankfully, Teriyaki Beef restored our faith in beef-flavored Cup Noodles.

If you've been raised on broth-based instant noodles, the stir-fried interpretations may take some getting used to. These are not very saucy little noodles, but they're tasty nonetheless. A bronzed, glossy sheen of soy-based flavoring coats each noodle and meaty 'beef' segment. Whereas some Cup Noodles are hard to stomach, Teriyaki Beef draws you in for another bite. Its sweet and salty ingredients are well-balanced, and the noodles are addictively chewy. Our only gripe was that this flavor lacked complexity, but it's nothing a dash of soy sauce or MSG couldn't fix.

8. Korean Spicy Beef

One thing's for sure: this was the most colorful Cup Noodles release we tried. Its vibrant orange, pepper-flecked appearance heightened our expectations, but we knew something was off when we sniffed it. As stunning as it looked, there was hardly any smell wafting from its paper cup.

This was the first Stir Fry Rice with Noodles products we tested, and we were curious to see how things would play out. Did it work? Sort of. The two carbohydrates have slightly different cooking times and were better suited to some Cup Noodles recipes than others. That said, Korean Spicy Beef's sauce has a hearty, sweet flavor, but needs punchier ingredients to boost its appeal. Otherwise, its only standout qualities are its bright color and subtle smokiness. With the addition of cheese, gochujang, or a squeeze of citrus, it could easily climb toward the top of the Cup Noodles leaderboard.

7. Sweet Chili

We'll admit that we didn't have great expectations for Sweet Chili, but this Cup Noodles was among the best in its class. The presence of sucralose in Nissin's stir-fried Cup Noodles can spell disaster for some flavors, but it doesn't detract from Sweet Chili's. Instead, there's a pleasant, vinegary tang to its sauce, with a sticky glaze that coats each noodle. 

Those with sensitive palettes will have no issue trying Sweet Chili — although there's plenty of crushed red chili pepper, the heat factor is minimal at best. Sliced vegetables, like carrots and green beans, add a satisfying crunch, while concentrated lime juice provides some much-needed tartness to balance out the sweetness. If we could change anything about Sweet Chili, we'd add in some protein. Its sauce is undeniably delicious, but it would do well with something substantial to soak up the flavor, like cubed tofu or fresh shrimp.

6. Black Pepper Crab

As fate would have it, Black Pepper Crab was the final Cup Noodles flavor we sampled, purchased for $1.69 at our local Asian Supermarket. Upon peeling back its lid, we were greeted by a showy assortment of dehydrated add-ins, from papery shards of green and red onions to gargantuan corn nibs. This Cup Noodles also garnered the attention of our housecats, which is a fitting testament to the authentic aroma of its seafood-based broth.

The soup is slightly more transparent than the original crab flavor, with peppery flecks swimming between noodles. As a result, black pepper is the first flavor we detect, underscored by a hint of sweetness. The sweet crunch of corn and red onion works well against the bold, umami-rich broth. Despite its name, Black Pepper Crab doesn't contain much of its namesake flavor beyond a few rehydrated chunks of mock crab "seafood stick." In fact, crab is the last ingredient listed in the soup base, preceded by shrimp, scallop, oyster, and anchovy powder. However, we strongly preferred this variety over its lackluster cousin, the Crab Cup Noodle. Whether you're a black pepper aficionado or seafood lover, Black Pepper Crab is a flavor worth exploring.

5. Thai Yellow Curry

The Thai Yellow Curry Cup Noodles has hardly any scent in its uncooked form. After allowing it to simmer in the microwave, a curious green swirl of crushed spices rises from its broth. At first bite, we're struck by the sauce's creaminess, likely thanks to dried coconut milk powder. Thai yellow curry is known for its mild flavor, and the Cup Noodles interpretation is no different, containing very little heat but a good balance of sweet and salty elements. A healthy variety of vegetables, from matchstick carrots to diced segments of green beans, are scattered throughout. They provide some texture, but most are too soft for our liking. A tad more crunch would go a long way to improve things, and we can't help but think sliced chicken would be an excellent addition to the mix.

Of the several stir fry rice and noodle Cup Noodles varieties, we find the Thai Yellow Curry sauce works best against the dueling carbohydrates. It isn't quite on par with your local Thai takeout, but it's a solid contender in the instant noodle category. If you're thinking of trying it, we'd suggest adding a squeeze of lime or your favorite hot sauce to make it even more convincing.

4. Curry

From the moment we laid eyes on its retro-inspired packaging, Curry Cup Noodles stole our hearts. Though you could cook this variety in the microwave, we used the boiling water method instead. Right away, we noticed a generous helping of cubed potatoes, stained with the sunny hue of the turmeric-rich broth. Though somewhat similar to instant mashed potatoes in flavor and texture, they were an exciting departure from the standard Cup Noodles assortment of veggies.

This was definitely one of the more palatable Cup Noodles we sampled. The noodles are delicate, bouncy, and pair well with the other ingredients in the mix. There are even some surprising flavor enhancers included, like parmesan cheese and tomato powder. Still, it's worth noting that Curry contains unusual ingredients that could affect allergy sufferers and those with special diets, such as peanuts and sausage. Additionally, those used to making instant curry may be disappointed by the thin consistency of Curry Cup Noodles' broth.

3. Seafood

According to Nissin, Seafood Cup Noodles is Japan's bestselling seafood instant noodle. Retailing for only $1.89 at our local Asian Supermarket, the photo on its packaging suggests the soup inside will be chock-full of colorful vegetables and sea critters. Intrigued, we dutifully filled its cup with piping hot water to uncover the truth.

Immediately, we noticed something different about Seafood Cup Noodles. Unlike Shrimp Cup Noodles' clear, watery broth, Seafood's soup base was milky and opaque. A wide array of ingredients, from sweet, chewy calamari to egg, made things even more exciting for our tastebuds. We found it difficult to resist taking second, third, and fourth bites. With flavorings like plum vinegar and rice wine, Seafood tastes sophisticated by Cup Noodles standards, and there's no unpleasant fishiness to speak of. In fact, our picky child tester was eager to finish this variety on their own.

2. Artificial Chicken

If there was a dark horse in our Cup Noodles competition, it would be Artificial Chicken. We tossed it into our shopping basket without a second thought, paying $1.69 for it at our local Asian Supermarket. True to its name, Artificial Chicken is a vegetarian-friendly Cup Noodles, though vegans should be advised that it does contain dairy.

There's more produce in Artificial Chicken than in any other Cup Noodles, ranging from tender cabbage and spinach to crunchy carrots and corn. After cooking, the cup's contents develop a warm, grassy aroma reminiscent of vegetable gratin. Despite its lack of authentic poultry flavor, it puts Cup Noodles varieties like Chicken to shame. If we weren't told this Cup Noodles was vegetarian, we never would have known. The broth is light and silky, tasting more like homemade chicken soup than prepackaged instant noodles. While we have no doubt that vegetarians will adore Artificial Chicken, you don't need to be one to appreciate its delicate balance of flavors.

1. Tom Yum Seafood

Thai food fans know how special tom yum soup is. Hailing from Central Thailand, the famous hot and sour soup is beloved for its robust flavors, from fragrant kaffir lime leaves to briny shrimp heads. To our delight, Nissin has done an excellent job translating this dish into Cup Noodles format.

The first thing we noticed about the Tom Yum Seafood Cup Noodles was its deep orange color, which is similar to that of tomato bisque. From there, a wave of pungent aromatics, including lime oil, lemongrass, and galangal, took hold of our senses. Its broth is spicy and sour enough to tickle the back of your throat, and the noodles absorb the citrusy tang beautifully. This is the perfect snack for cold weather or head cold sufferers. Tom Yum may have been one of the last Cup Noodles flavors we tried, but it was so delicious we couldn't stop eating it, so it's a clear selection for the top spot.