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Decoding Labels: KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen


Okay, so it’s time to admit it. For a long period of college, I subsisted almost entirely on ramen and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Ramen is cheap, filling, and versatile. You can add meat to it, add frozen veggies to it, dress it up or down. It’s also super tasty and addictive.

But after my Real Food conversion, ramen could no longer be my go-to choice for a quick lunch. It was packed with MSG, artificial colors and flavors, deep fried noodles, you name it. It’s been years since I’ve eaten it.

And then, a reader emailed me asking about a “natural” ramen she’d found at her supermarket that’s made with organic noodles. It’s called KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen.

Here’s what the manufacturer claims:

“The Koyo Ramen Noodles are crafted from freshly milled organically grown heirloom wheat. They are pre-cooked, and baked not fried. They do not contain any Additives, Preservatives or MSG. Authentic Asian flair for today’s modern lifestyle.”

KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen: Ingredients

Organic noodles:

  • organic heirloom wheat flour
  • sea salt

Soup packet:

  • natural sea salt
  • Chinese mushroom powder
  • vegetable powders (onion and garlic)
  • natural cane sugar
  • garlic
  • chili pepper
  • ginger
  • snow peas
  • sweet red bell pepper
  • green onion
  • black pepper
  • kombu powder

KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen: DECODED

First, let’s take a moment to appreciate that the base noodle is simply organic heirloom wheat flour and salt. Standard ramen noodles are made with enriched wheat flour, shaped into blocks, then deep fried in soybean oil, then dehydrated. And if that wasn’t enough, they then add preservatives to the dehydrated noodle. KOYO noodles are as natural as they come — no preservatives, no frying, just dehydrated noodles like any other you’d buy.

That said, they are still made from wheat flour that hasn’t been properly, traditionally prepared through sprouting or fermenting. And, many of you may simply want to be avoiding wheat, period (organic heirloom variety or not).

Then, as we move into the ingredients, we get a long list of things I actually — at this very moment — have in my pantry. Natural sea salt instead of industrially-created iodized table salt? Check. Vegetable powders like onion, garlic, and mushroom to add depth of flavor without texture? Check. Spices like garlic, chili pepper, ginger, and black pepper? Check.

Are these organic? No. Do I care? Not really. As I’ve written before, when working with a limited budget, it’s important to prioritize buying organic, pasture-raised, wild-caught, etc. for the most nutrient-dense foods first. That means I’m going to prioritize organic, pasture-raised eggs, meats & dairy, fats, etc. above organic vegetables. And I’m certainly going to prioritize organic produce above organic spices. Of course, if my budget for a given month has wiggle room, I’ll choose the organic spice. But if it doesn’t, I’m not going to sweat it or berate myself for somehow failing to eat according to my ideals.

Next up we’ve got natural cane sugar. While this is most likely refined, it is also not likely to be GMO. If the label had simply said “sugar” instead, I might have given pause. But by specifying cane sugar when (to date) there are no GMO sugar cane crops, they’re giving themselves a pass.

Also, I should point out that while a truly natural, unrefined sweetener would be ideal, sugar is still sugar. In other words, the benefit of a natural sweetener like honey is that it has other benefits beyond simply supplying your cells with glucose. But that honey is still sugar. Even natural sweeteners need to be consumed in moderation!

And finally, we find kombu powder. Kombu is a traditional Japanese powder made from seaweed. It’s basically kelp that’s been dried and ground into a powder. It’s a great way to get seagreens into your diet (which are rich in iodine), and many traditional Asian inspired recipes may call for using it in place of salt.

Kombu is also a natural source of umami — a particular taste we associate with glutamates. You get umami from grilling mushrooms, cooking meats and bone broths, and yes — seagreens. In other words, it’s part of how we used to get incredible depth of flavor before we learned how to isolate MSG and use it as an additive. (Yes, MSG is dangerous.)

KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen: THE VERDICT

I will confess I struggled with this for a long time. The only two negatives I find in this convenience food are: 1) refined flour, and 2) refined sugar. And yet on the other hand, the flour is at least from an organic, heirloom variety of wheat, and the sugar is at least from GMO-free sugar cane.

But I have to be honest. I have — and use — both of those things in my own kitchen from time to time. I keep the organic flour on hand for recipes where I need a pinch of flour and the texture of a whole grain would be unappealing, and I keep an organic, refined cane sugar on hand to feed my ferments (like kombucha). Are they ideal? No. But they’re useful.

And that’s the balance we have to strike, isn’t it? Ideals vs. convenience. I don’t have a large vegetable garden, so I pay local farmers and growers to grow and harvest vegetables and fruits for me. And sometimes, I don’t stick to what’s local to me. I’ll buy in-season produce from the supermarket when I’m in a pinch. I don’t have access to raw cream (unless I separate it from my milk, which I am loathe to do), so I don’t routinely churn my own butter. Instead, I buy grass-fed butter made from pasteurized cream at the store. I don’t have a local farmer that makes hot dogs from grass-fed cows, so I buy store-bought organic hot dogs made with beef from grass-fed cows.

In all these cases, I’m paying for convenience and slightly compromising my ideals. KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen has a lot going for it — no artificial colors, no preservatives, no refined vegetable oils, no GMOs, no hidden MSG. With that in mind, I think KOYO ramen can be a decent compromise convenience food.

Would I eat it all the time? No. Would I eat it sometimes? Feed it to my kids as a quick lunch when I’ve otherwise failed to get my act together? Yes.

Am I recommending that you eat it? No.

Let me be clear. Where we each draw our own compromise lines is entirely individual and based on our budgets, our lifestyle constraints, and our values. KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen is not a health food.

But I also couldn’t in good conscience REJECT this food, either. That’s because I actually would eat it. In fact, I just bought a case of it online to stock my pantry for those desperate and rare times when I need a quick lunch and failed to plan ahead adequately.

Want Your Labels Decoded?

In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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20 Responses to Decoding Labels: KOYO Asian Vegetable Ramen
  1. Stacey
    August 21, 2013 | 9:14 pm

    Thank you!!! What a destressing post! Sometimes it feels like all the whole food junky bloggers live in a health bubble and I live in the real world on a real budget and real life stresses homeschooling my six children. I do the best I can feeding my family whole nutrient dense food but there are many times I’m just in a bind and have nothing else to feed them but quick less then my ideals food. Do the best you can as much as you can and don’t feel like a failure if you have some off days. Its so good to hear from a blogger that has high food standards be honest and give us semi newbies some realistic feedback! Love your blog!

    • Kristen
      August 22, 2013 | 2:23 pm

      Glad I could help de-stress your life a little. ;)

  2. Caitlyn Williams
    August 21, 2013 | 9:35 pm

    Oh good! I am pregnant and have REALLY been wanting some ramen. I have had a lot of will power, now I know that if I break down that at least I have some options.

    • Kristen
      August 22, 2013 | 2:23 pm

      Right? That’s what’s exciting to me, too.

  3. Annemarie B
    August 22, 2013 | 7:50 am

    A good article. Informative, well-reasoned, and common sense.

  4. Barbara
    August 22, 2013 | 8:16 am

    I understand Campbell’s is G.M.O. .

  5. Ellen
    August 22, 2013 | 8:38 am

    Good posting. Thanks for doing some investigating on this product. I do like ramen but haven’t eaten any of it in many years mainly due to the MSG present. (I value my neurons.)

  6. Debra
    August 22, 2013 | 9:43 am

    Although I occasionally give heirloom wheat and cane sugar to my son, my bigger concern would be whether the kombu has high radiation levels from the Fukushima continuing disaster.

    • Jennifer
      August 23, 2013 | 12:40 am

      Do you have any good info about which seaweeds and seafoods are safe? Not only from radiation, but from mercury, etc. I’m so confused! I’m also looking for good info about sea salt, celtic salt or himalayan salt….so many decisions!
      Thanks so much for your website, I am very encouraged.

  7. Lisa Capehart
    August 22, 2013 | 10:06 am

    I’ve never been attracted to eating Ramen and probably won’t. What I appreciate about this post is your very important point about the need to be flexible when striving to eat Real Food. I, too, have a very similar priority list – meat, dairy, eggs and produce first. And, sometimes – always it seems when I have a specific veggie on my menu – I will have to buy non-organic because the grocer is out of the organic version. I refuse to beat myself up because I know that my family is still probably eating better than 99% of Americans out there.

    And, I urge my coaching clients who are making changes in their diets to take baby steps, even though they often want to be “perfect” and view this flexibility as failure. So, THANK YOU so much, Kristen, for your honesty and for reminding us to be compassionate with ourselves on this journey!

    • Kristen
      August 22, 2013 | 2:24 pm

      Thank you. I just feel like being inflexible is rather useless and debilitating. I’d much rather give myself some wiggle room and exceed my own expectations.

  8. Melissa
    August 22, 2013 | 10:10 am

    Thanks for breaking this down! I have a husband that would live on bags and boxes of processed junk if I let him, and there is a constant battle to keep food in the house that he will grab and eat, and that I feel won’t degrade his health. These would be an ideal compromise- something quick and easy for him, with not too many horrible ingredients for my peace of mind.

  9. Liz
    August 22, 2013 | 2:53 pm

    Kristen, can I just say again that you’re awesome? You’re so reasonable! I like where you’re going with your logic on what is safe to eat vs. not so much.

    I do have one concern, though. This product doesn’t claim to be free of GMO’s! Without that guarantee there’s no way I would consider eating this.

    I have seen video and read articles that describe emerging research showing that GMO crops kill our beneficial digestive bacteria. The herbicide built into Monsanto’s GMO crops, RoundUp, works by disrupting a metabolic pathway that humans don’t have- the shikimate pathway. However, the gut bacteria we’ve evolved to live symbiotically with DO have this pathway, and when we consume these GMO veggies we’re virtually eliminating our colonies of gut bacteria, leaving ourselves immune-compromised and susceptible to auto-inflammatory diseases.

    I am loathe to eat anything processed or genetically modified myself because I have Crohn’s disease. I’ve long had terrible digestive problems after eating anything GMO (I now strongly suspect this has to do with the gut bacteria die-off I described above). However, when I make the effort to continually repopulate my gut with good bacteria and stringently avoid sugar, wheat and GMO’s I am very well indeed. Because I eat only real foods and supplement probiotics, looking at me, you’d never know I have Crohn’s.

    I’d LOVE to see you tackle this idea. More info here:

    • Kristen
      August 22, 2013 | 3:12 pm

      There are VERY few commercially grown crops on the planet that are genetically-modified. They are corn, soy, rapeseed (canola), sugar beets, cotton (and hence, cottonseed oil), papaya, zucchini, and yellow squash. A few varieties of tomatoes & peppers were GMOs more than a decade ago, but their performance was abysmal and they are no longer produced or grown.

      The reason GMOs are in 85% of the industrialized food supply is because 85% of industrialized foods contain these GMO crops. Corn derivatives alone are in 75% of supermarket foods, and of course soybean oil is ubiquitous, as is sugar.

      This food does not contain corn or corn derivatives, does not contain soy, specified that it uses sugar cane (not GMO beets), and does not use any kind of oil (be it canola, corn, soy, or cottonseed).

      The only other ingredients in this food are produce that have no known GMO crops — onion, garlic, mushroom, peppers, snow peas, and kombu. Same with salt & pepper.

      It is safe to say that this food is GMO free.

  10. Amy
    August 22, 2013 | 9:46 pm

    Thank you for all that you do!! Your website is by far the BEST out there!!
    Your post a year or so ago about what’s in our OJ, turned my world upside down ( in a good way) ;)
    I went from a low-fat, diet soda, processed meat
    alternatives girl to a raw milk guzzling, kale-eating, pastured egg and meat-buying hippie chic!!
    A million times, Thank You!!


  11. Jonathan
    August 25, 2013 | 5:23 pm

    Try the soba variety. They’re usually the only kind i’ll buy (9 times out of 10 anyway) because they aren’t straight up wheat, but a mix of buckwheat (not an actual wheat of course) and heirloom wheat. I add fresh or frozen veggies, ginger, garlic, a little heat of some kind, a little tamari, and crack an egg in after turning off the heat for a richer broth. I also boil and drain the noodles (to rinse phytic acid off) and then put them back in fresh clean water. I agree, not something to eat everyday, but from time to time when you need a break from cooking, not a bad way to go.

  12. Monk Proklos
    October 29, 2013 | 9:34 pm

    I used to stock up on this when it was on sale at our local co-op and I do not anymore.

    The noodles being organic is great, but with the possibility of other ingredients being conventional, the price is too high in my opinion. The volume is roughly half the size of conventional ramen packs and the price is almost 3 times the amount of conventional noodles….3 times the price for half the amount just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

    The other issue is it is always SO bland! I found myself always adding soy sauce or oyster sauce or vegetables to it. Thus, now I just buy Hakubaku organic ramen and make my own soups.

    • Casey
      September 15, 2014 | 11:05 pm

      I know this is an old thread, but I just bought these for the first time tonight. The volume on the package is misleading. I cooked up two packages together thinking that it would take that many to equal a commercial pack of ramen and I was blown away. These things cook up to twice the volume.

      Also, try to compare the consistency of these noodles, pre-cooked, when dry to standard issue ramen. It becomes pretty obvious that these are better and better for you.

  13. KJ
    June 28, 2014 | 12:21 pm

    Just for information, you can purchase the noodles without the packet. Our local store has them for about $1 each on sale. Great balance of convenience and cost, and without the packet you things like sodium drop dramatically, improving the overall health profile.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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