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Baking Soda’s Strange Relationship with Ramen

Ramen noodles have become very popular in the USA in recent years. Many Ramen shops have been opening up in large cities, each bringing that particular chef’s style and tastes in making this iconic Japanese dish. But, the one thing all ramen shops have in common is that they must all use ramen noodles. At first glance there does not seem to be much to these noodles, they are maybe a bit wavier than some other kinds of Asian noodles. But that is far from the case.

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The making of ramen noodle dough.  Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash

Ramen had its beginnings when Chinese merchants began trading with Japan in the nineteenth century. And according to a 2014 article in The New Yorker, Professor George Solt, an assistant history professor at New York University, ramen noodles have a history that includes being used to stave off Communism by American forces after World War II.

During the US occupation of Japan after the war, America imported wheat to reduce starvation, which according to Professor Stolt, “The more Japan experienced food shortages, the more people would gravitate towards the Communist Party,” he said. By providing the means to feed the Japanese people, (the wheat was used to make, you guessed it! Ramen) America won the Cold War, in a very indirect manner.

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WWII remnant sign.  Photo by Pavel Nekoranec on Unsplash

History aside, making ramen noodles is not as straightforward as mixing wheat, water, and eggs to make the dough for the noodles. There is a particular need for highly caustic baking soda. And this is not something you can run to the store and go and buy. You have to make it, and making it is a little hazardous and needs a bit of time to do it right.

To begin with, you need one cup of any baking soda, spread onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and spread a thin layer onto the tray, then preheat your oven to 120F and bake the soda for one hour. During baking, the alkalinity of the baking soda rises to levels needed to make ramen noodles properly. Here is where the dangerous part comes in, when done cooking, let it cool, and while wearing gloves, transfer to a sealable container for future use. It is not recommended to touch it with bare hands.

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Hand making ramen noodles traditionally. Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

Now, you can begin to make ramen noodles, and at this point, any directions will do, as long as you keep your measurements in proportion, you can make them the correct Japanese way, all with the addition of baked, baking soda.

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A corner ramen shop somewhere in a Japanese neighborhood.  Photo by Michael Gluzman on Unsplash

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