In post-World War II Japan, food was scarce and people stood in long lines for their meager rations. A Japanese businessman named Momofuku Ando witnessed the suffering and vowed to use his noodle-making knowledge to help feed the hungry.
Ando got his start selling socks before trying his hand unsuccessfully at several business ventures. At age 48, while running a small salt-making company, he had an epiphany – why not create ramen that cooks quickly? He believed if he could produce an affordable, satisfying meal that was easy to prepare, it would ease hunger and support Japan’s recovery.
Ando experimented for months to invent a new method of flash-frying noodles to remove the moisture before drying them into brick form. When submerged in hot water, the noodles would rehydrate and cook in under 5 minutes. To add flavor, Ando created a chicken broth powder to sprinkle over the finished noodles. He named his creation “Chikin Ramen.”
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When Chikin Ramen debuted in 1958, it was considered a luxury item and sold for 6 times the price of traditional noodles. But as production costs lowered, ramen became affordable for the average Japanese family. Its convenience and tasty flavor made it a hit.
Ando soon expanded the variety of flavors and founded the Instant Food Industry Association to set quality guidelines. But he didn’t stop innovating. On a trip to America in the late 1960s, Ando observed people breaking his noodles into styrofoam cups and eating them with forks. This inspired his next brainwave – Cup Noodles.
Launching in 1971, Cup Noodles combined dehydrated noodles and flavor powder in a durable polystyrene container. Hot water was simply poured in to cook. The portable, customizable and easy-to-use product was an international sensation. Soon, instant ramen surpassed sushi as Japan’s most successful food export.
As consumption skyrocketed across the globe, Ando used his fortune to establish the Ando Foundation which funded educational programs for young people. He also opened the Instant Ramen Museum to share the history of his world-changing invention.
Momofuku Ando didn’t set out to feed billions. But by applying creative thinking to address a societal need, one humble noodle-maker improved life for people everywhere. Over 90 billion servings of instant ramen are now consumed annually. And it all started with Ando’s determination to make an accidental discovery that transformed Asian cuisine and fed the world.