The Difference Between Air-Dried And Instant Noodles

They both come in plastic packages, ready to be boiled and turned into a meal, with add-ins that include dried spices, sauces and flavored oils. And while they can be similarly shaped, there are significant differences between the instant noodles which many of us have relied on when our budgets were lean or when we were too preoccupied to cook anything else, and the air-dried noodles which have been popping up on grocery shelves across the country.

A-Sha, the brand that started the air-dried noodle trend, was born in the 1970s, and was built on a century-old recipe from a factory in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan. While the brand might have been popular in its home country, it didn't take off beyond its shores until the 2000s, when the popular blog Ramen Rater brought it into the light in 2013.

Air-dried noodles like A-Sha have a firm fan following because they are seen to be more healthy. They are made of wheat, molded into blocks so that they look like traditional instant noodles, then air-dried for more than half a day, ending up with a longer shelf life without the need for any preservatives to be added to the mix. Because of the way they are made, air-dried noodles have the texture of fresh noodles, even though they are cooked as instant noodles.

Instant noodles are made in a completely different way

Traditional instant noodles are much older than their upstart air-dried counterparts. They first came on the scene in the late 1950s, when a Japanese inventor named Momofuku Ando decided to come up with a solution to the crippling hunger that he witnessed in the aftermath of World War II. 

Ando's wheat noodles were made first by boiling them, then adding chicken flavor to the noodles before drying them out and then deep-frying them at 320 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting product was left with microscopic holes which would subsequently disappear after hot water was introduced. These noodles were originally meant to be cooked on a stove top, but after a few tweaks, it could be cooked in a thermal cup simply by adding water too. Today, Nissin Foods, which started it all, is a global conglomerate whose products are available in more than 80 countries around the world. It even developed instant noodles to be consumed in space, known as Space Ram.

While there will always be room in our hearts and pantries for instant noodles, ramen lovers acknowledge that air-dried noodles have an flavor and appeal that is difficult to resist. For the third year in a row, Ramen Rater's top instant noodle continues to be Prima Taste's Wholegrain Laksa La Mian, a wholegrain air-dried noodle that the review called "rich and thick with a beautiful look to it."