While nothing beats proper ramen from a shop, there is something strangely satisfying about the DIY route: those inexplicably cheap, dry noodles and their dehydrated broth packs. They taste like childhood, or—if you went to college—like survival. For what they are, it’s amazing how delicious they can be. But they can also be pretty easy to dress up and make it a little more like proper ramen from your favorite ramen shop.
At least, that’s true for some instant ramen. Some of it tastes like watery nothing…or worse.
You don’t have enough meals in your life to waste them on bad ramen. Check out the best instant ramen brands, pitted head-to-head in categories of flavor, noodles, and authenticity.
We’re starting out on a high point with this beloved brand. From the variety of creative flavors MAMA offers, to the surprisingly fresh ingredients hiding in each dehydrated soup packet, it’s no wonder that this brand is so treasured in its home country of Thailand.
While ramen is a Japanese invention, the concept has become a worldwide phenomenon, especially in its instant form. MAMA has adopted the dish and breathed new life into it, by infusing traditional Thai flavors bursting with spice.
This instant ramen has personality, to say the least.
MAMA Ramen’s Best and Worst Flavors
The flavor that MAMA is perhaps best known for is the Shrimp Tom Yum flavor, and for good reason. It’s spicy, but underneath that lie the surprisingly delicate flavors of fresh spring onions and seafood.
The addition of fish sauce—a common secret ingredient in Thai dishes—makes the shrimp feel less artificial and strange, compared to the seafood ramens that other brands have on offer.
The worst flavor, however, is the Tom Yum Creamy Shrimp flavor. It’s almost the same idea as MAMA’s best offering, the Shrimp Tom Yum, but with the addition of coconut cream.
In theory, this should work; it’s reminiscent of Tom Ka Ga or Sai Nom Khom, the practice of adding coconut milk to Tom Yum. However, despite MAMA’s best efforts, the powdered coconut cream and tapioca powder do not do this concept justice. Instead, it waters down the otherwise bold flavors.
Final Score: 92/100
But, no matter where it’s sold, it manages to be incredibly consistent in how mediocre it is. It’s very American, which effectively robs this convenience meal of its individuality.
Very little makes this brand stand out, apart from how easy it is to find. Most of the flavors have no nuance at all. It’s really just plain noodles in an inoffensive, forgettable broth.
There are, of course, some exceptions.
Maruchan Ramen’s Best and Worst Flavors
In a sea of blandness, the Chili Lime Shrimp flavor stands out as a beacon of redeemability. The addition of real habanero peppers gives the flavor packet some punch and personality.
With the addition of lime and seafood, the taste is very reminiscent of classic Vietnamese dishes, such as Tom Ka Ga.
Unfortunately, this ramen brand crashes back down to earth with its Creamy Chicken flavor.
The concept is meant to imitate fettuccine alfredo, but it’s the cursed Japanese-Italian fusion dish no one asked for. Something about the instant alfredo sauce swimming in a sea of ramen noodles and chicken broth creates an eating experience similar to chewing on wet Tuscan leftovers.
You leave the table feeling the need to apologize to every culture that was dragged into the creation of this hate-child.
Final Score: 58/100
They aren’t, but they’re clearly made for the same audience. They’re almost the same foods, even down to the flavors both brands offer.
However, in a side-by-side comparison, Top Ramen does taste different. It’s somehow blander, while still tasting more like its source material.
A quick look at the ingredients confirms why: while Top Ramen contains no added MSG, Maruchan lists it as its third ingredient, right behind sugar.
Once you strip away the flavor enhancers that Maruchan puts front and center, all that Top Ramen has going for it is nostalgia and its “less than 2% powdered chicken.”
As for the noodles, they somehow go from waxy and undercooked to absolute mush in seconds, depriving hungry consumers of the satisfying, chewy texture all the best ramen brands offer.
Top Ramen’s Best and Worst Flavors
Top Ramen’s Hot and Spicy Beef flavor excels over the brand’s other offerings, because it has the strongest flavor. Beef and chili are difficult flavors to overlook, so this is the only variety that is not instantly forgettable.
The Shrimp flavor, however, has all the charm of the unidentifiable liquid at the bottom of an empty buffet pan. It tastes vaguely of nothing, and vaguely of shrimp. Overall, it’s underwhelming and slightly unpleasant.
Final Score: 55/100
This brand comes straight from Gunma, Japan, but it’s sold all over the country in American grocery stores. Chances are you’ve seen it in the import section.
Overall, it’s not a bad representation of the traditional Japanese style. The items on offer, like miso and tonkatsu, imitate the style of classic ramen shops as faithfully as any instant ramen brands can.
The broth in a Sapporo Ichiban soup packet is thicker than the watered-down version accomplished by much of its competition. Its flavor tends to be mild and comforting, which is typical of Japanese ramen.
Overall, the subdued flavors in Sapporo Ichiban products seem to call out for ingredients that the manufacturers had no way to include in the package.
This brand of ramen is best eaten with a poached egg or fresh bean sprouts from your own fridge.
Sapporo Ichiban’s Best and Worst Flavors
With such a traditional style, it’s best to lean into this brand’s strengths.
Their original Miso flavor is, in a word, delightful. It’s mellow, but also satisfying and familiar.
If you’re looking for something more from this one, it also makes an incredible base for a dizzying array of vegetables and proteins, like eggs, spring onions, and snow peas.
Meanwhile, Sapporo Ichiban’s Shrimp flavor is easily its worst. Ramen brands just keep trying to make seafood flavors that don’t taste like the air in a fish market on a hot summer’s day, and they keep failing.
In this case, the shrimp flavor is too subtle to be impressive, yet it still stands out from the rest of the sauce packet like a sore thumb.
Final Score: 87/100
This Korean brand is much larger and more diversified than the others on the list, and they actually have a few separate lines of ramen products targeted at different palates.
The two varieties Americans are most likely to be familiar with are the “Shin Noodle” products, and the “NeoGuri” line.
While the flavors in these noodle packets aren’t particularly inventive, they are the hot cousins to brands such as Maruchan and Top Ramen. They all follow the same formula of combining flavor enhancers with uninspiring protein flakes, only Nongshim does it better. Much better.
Nongshim’s Best and Worst Flavors
The Shin Ramyun Black flavor is by far the best reviewed product from Nongshim, and for good reason. It improves on the classic Shin Ramyun, a previously released product with flavors of beef, chili, and vegetables, thanks to an extra flavor packet.
The noodles are also thick and bouncy, like udon, and the dehydrated mushrooms and beef are actual slices, instead of powdered versions.
However, once again, the worst item on the list is a seafood ramen.
The questionably-named Savory Lobster Bowl sounds like something Gordon Ramsey would regurgitate behind a crab shack in Kansas—and the ingredients match. It somehow contains every sea creature besides a lobster, and yet it tastes like none of them.
Final Score: 78/100
This Indonesian brand has one huge advantage: flavor.
Some varieties of Indomie ramen come with five entire flavor packets, including sauces and garnishes, and it shows from the first bite. It tastes like the best street food you’ve ever made at home.
It has everything that South Asian food is known for, from the spice that punches you in the teeth to the sweet and pungent aftertaste. The noodles are also perfectly chewy and plump.
While Indomie doesn’t offer anything that resembles Japanese ramen, they do base their flavors on the dishes of their home country of Indonesia. Their Rendang flavor mimics the intense curried meat of the same name, which is one of Indonesia’s national dishes. They’ve also created instant versions of dishes from Singapore, Malaysia, and Nigeria.
In fact, the cult following Indomie has gotten in Nigeria is spectacular. It dominates the market there, and it’s infiltrated the culture to the point that it’s inspired music videos.
Indomie’s Best and Worst Flavors
Originally, Indomie infiltrated the ramen market with their Chicken flavor. It’s simple, but unlike the chicken flavor offered by brands like Maruchan, it actually tastes like chicken. This savory dream is ideal for meat lovers everywhere, yet it’s mild enough to suit any palate.
It’s hard to pick a “bad” flavor on Indomie’s line, but there is a weak link: the Vegetable Lime flavor.
Kudos to Indomie for trying to draw in vegetarian consumers, but this one really doesn’t taste like anything. There’s a citrus flavor, some unidentifiable orange slivers, and a distinct lack of joy.
Final Score: 98/100
Myojo Chukazanmai—and its American extension, Myojo USA—have a reputation for creating the most delicious ramen you can buy in a Walmart Supercenter.
The flavors from this Japanese company are exciting without straying too far from tradition, and the noodles are thick and substantial.
Overall, the praise for this brand is well-deserved. However, there’s a difference between the original Myojo brand and Myojo USA, and it’s a pretty obvious one; Myojo USA specializes in udon.
Now, the idea of vacuum-sealed, pre-cooked udon is a good one. How else would you recreate the distinct, succulent texture that udon is known for? Unfortunately, the good idea is ruined by the bitter flavor of the udon itself.
The perfectly cooked, chewy texture fools you into thinking you’re about to eat a delicious bowl of ramen, only to have bitterness sneak onto the back of your tongue at the last second.
Myojo’s Best and Worst Flavors
The Myojo Chukazanmai Garlic Miso variety has an umami flavor that is completely unmatched by other, similar flavors of instant ramen. Frankly, it doesn’t seem possible that so much flavor came from a powder.
The bitter udon noodles still rear their ugly heads, though. The worst offender is the Artificial Chicken, which is so bland that the only distinctive flavor is the udon and some salt.
Imagine eating an entire bowl of unflavored wheat flour, while the sodium slowly dries out your gums from within.
It’s almost bad enough to discount the flawless noodles and the mouthwatering flavors of the rest of Myojo’s line…almost.
Final Score: 95/100
This brand is manufactured in India, for Indian palates. While the original manufacturer was based in Switzerland, of all places, it’s a beloved snack and street food staple all across this spice-hungry nation.
While the varieties of ramen that Maggi offers are certainly flavorful, there’s a distinct emphasis on convenience. The selling point is that the ramen can be ready quickly and cheaply, not on how good it tastes.
Which is a shame, because the earthy, curry flavors lurking in the flavor packets are a delight.
That being said, despite the variety of flavors Maggi has on offer, in reality, they all pretty much taste like one thing: masala. And while the masala in question is delicious, it is a shame that no other classic Indian flavors are represented. There’s no chutneys or kormas in sight, and it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Maggi’s Best and Worst Flavors
Because masala is the underlying flavor of most of these ramen packs, it’s best to go with the original Masala. It’s spicy, but still lets the flavor shine.
The worst is the 2-Minute Noodles Without Onion and Garlic, which is really just an inferior version of the Masala flavor. It’s rare that a savory dish isn’t improved by onions and garlic—so without these elements, the whole flavor falls flat.
Final Score: 83/100
This brand is pretty hard to find in America. It’s an Indian creation, and hasn’t gained enough popularity in the States to be imported very often.
Fortunately, it’s popular enough in India that you can find it in import stores, at least in neighborhoods with a high enough South Asian presence.
Most Chinese food in America has been altered from its original form so that it aligns with Western tastebuds. This happens in India as well, creating Indian and Chinese fusion dishes.
Ching’s Secret is a whole brand of ramen with this concept. (And if the name sounds like a misguided imitation of Chinese culture…it is.)
That being said, Chinese and Indian flavors actually go together beautifully. The earthy flavors of India complement the spicy flavors of Szechuan, or the sour aromatics of the northeast provinces, perfectly.
Ching’s Secret Best and Worst Flavors
A quick disclaimer: if you don’t like garlic, you won’t like this pick.
The Hot and Spicy Garlic flavor from Ching’s Secret is an absolute bomb of garlic. Honestly, the seasoning packet might be 90% garlic, and 10% Szechuan chilies. It’s ridiculously spicy, but the broth bursts with so much flavor it feels like it’s straight out of a hot pot restaurant.
The Singapore Curry, however, just doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. Theoretically, they’re meant to be like the popular street food in Singapore in which dry noodles are fried in curry and garlic. However, the flavor is more like a yellow dahl, but with a few chilies added. It’s not quite curry, nor is it a Singapore noodle.
Final Score: 86/100
Nothing beats real ramen, but the best instant ramen brands offer a convenient fix when time (and money) are scarce. When ramen by itself or even dressing it up just won’t cut it, you can always mix it up with these budget friendly dinners. Or if you just aren’t in the mood to cook or just aren’t super hungry, you could always whip up a quick, easy, healthy smoothie.