Chef Time!

Chef Time!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Instant Noodles: Poison or Healthy?

What are Noodles?

Instant noodles are dried and/or precooked noodles fused with oil, usually eaten after being cooked or soaked in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. A flavor packet is almost always included with a packet of instant noodles. The product may also be consumed uncooked from the packet, as the noodles are already cooked, usually by frying.

History of Noodles
Instant noodles originate from instant versions of the Japanese dish ramen.

The idea of instant noodles can be traced back to the Chinese Qing Dynasty, when yimian noodles were deep-fried which allowed them to be stored for long periods and then prepared quickly. Similarly, "Chicken Thread Noodles" (deep-fried thin noodles served with boiling water and optionally an egg) were available in China and Taiwan since the Qing Dynasty.

Modern instant noodles were invented in Japan by Taiwanese Wu Bai Fu, Japanese name Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Foods, one of the biggest manufacturers of instant noodles today. His noodles were boiled with flavoring, deep-fried with palm oil to remove moisture, and dried into a noodle cake. Other preservation methods have been tried, including preservation with salt and smoke, but Ando concluded that palm oil is the most efficient.

In 1958, Nissin launched the world’s first instant noodle product, Chikin Ramen (chicken-flavored instant ramen) in Osaka. Another milestone was reached in 1971 when Nissin introduced the Cup Noodle, instant noodles in a waterproof Styrofoam container that could be used to cook the noodles. Further innovations include adding dried vegetables to the cup, creating a complete instant soup dish.

According to a Japanese poll in the year 2000, instant noodles were the most important Japanese invention of the century. Karaoke came second, with the Compact Disc only coming in fifth. As of 2005, approximately 85 billion servings of instant noodles are eaten worldwide every year. China consumes 44 billion packs of instant noodles per year, or 51% of the world, Indonesia consumes 12 billion, Japan 5.4 billion. Per capita, South Korean people eat the highest number of instant noodles, 69 packs per year.

Instant noodles are not only popular with college students, they can also be an economic indicator. In 2005, the Mama Noodles Index was launched to reflect the sales of Mama noodle, the biggest manufacturer in Thailand. The index was steady since the recovery from the East Asian financial crisis, but sales jumped by around 15% in the first seven months in 2005 on a year to year basis, which was regarded as a sign of recession. People could not afford more expensive foods, hence the increase in the purchase of ramen, as ramen is seen as an inferior good.

Noodles: Health Concerns
Ramen and similar products are often criticized as being unhealthy or junk food. A single serving of instant noodles is high in carbohydrates but low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Noodles are typically fried as part of the manufacturing process, resulting in high levels of saturated fat and/or trans fat. Additionally, if served in an instant broth, it typically contains high amounts of sodium, usually in excess of 60% the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (1,200-1,440 mg). Some brands may have over 3,000 mg of sodium in extreme cases.

The most recent controversy concerns dioxin and other hormone-like substances that could theoretically be extracted from the packaging and glues used to pack the instant noodles. As hot water is added, it was reasoned that harmful substances could seep into the soup. After a series of studies were conducted, various organizations requested changes in the packaging.

Another major concern on the health drawback of consuming the instant noodles is that the products can be manufactured with oxidized fat and oils if the process is not better managed. Oxidized fat and oils are health hazard substances which induce neurotoxins and which make neurocells hypoactive.

Palm Oil: Health Concerns
The use of Palm Oil for deep-frying the Noodles to remove the moisture can be harmful to health too.

Palm Oil’s heavy use in the commercial food industry can be explained by its comparatively low price, being one of the cheaper vegetable or cooking oils on the market, and by new markets in the USA, stimulated by a search for alternatives to trans fats after the Food and Drug Administration required food labels to list the amount of trans fat per serving. Identifying the exact source of an oil can be complicated by labeling, as palm oil is often described on food labels simply as "vegetable oil".

Palm Oil is used as a cheap substitute for Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Dalda or Vegetable Shortening) since it is semi-solid at room temperature, unlike other vegetable oils. Many people have switched to using Palm Oil instead of Dalda because of the health ill effects of Dalda, which contains trans-fats. However, not many people know that Palm Oil is also dangerous to health since it contains a lot of saturated fats. Studies have linked intake of Saturated Fats to higher risk of heart disease.

So, for your own benefit, stay away from Hydrogenated Vegetable oil, Palm oil, Margarine and Vegetable Shortening. Instead substitute them for more natural and less harmful products like butter, Olive Oil; Sunflower oil or Ghee (Clarified Butter).

Fats. What are they?
The more that is said about fats, the less you think you know about them. There are new discoveries and facts being uncovered about fats every day that it is not possible to stay abreast with every one of them. However, from my reading of the situation as of this day, I believe in what I write below.

To the layman, fats are harmful substances that we cook our food in.

To the more informed, fats are liquids.

To the even more informed, fats are compounds that are soluble in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water.

To the chemically affectionate, fats are Carbon and Hydrogen compounds, which contain 3 carbon atoms in a row. Each of these carbon atoms has a fatty acid hooked on to them. Fatty acids are either long or short chains of carbon hooked to each other with hydrogen attached to many of them.

Because of the presence of 3 carbon atoms, fats are also called triglycerides. If one of the fatty acids breaks off and becomes free, then the resulting glyceride is called a diglyceride. Similarly, if 2 of the fatty acids break off, then the resulting glyceride is called a monoglyceride Fats can be broadly classified into 2 types:

Saturated fats: Carbon has a valency of 4 since it has 4 electrons in its outermost orbit. Therefore, it can have 4 bonds or links. Fatty acids in which the Carbon atom is hooked on to 2 other Carbon atoms on either side, and the other 2 electrons shared with 2 Hydrogen atoms then it is called a Saturated fatty acid. These fatty acids don’t have a Carbon-Carbon double bond and are hence called saturated. Because of this, saturated fats are fairly stable and do not have a tendency to combine with anything, and have a better shelf life. It is because of the latter reason that they are liked by many food manufacturers.

These are further classified into 2 separate types depending upon the size of the fatty acid chain attached to the carbon atoms.
Long chain fatty acids which are mostly animal fats can not be completely metabolized by the body and can result in blood clots and cancer. Short chain fatty acids which is found in Ghee (Clarified Butter) are assimilated and metabolized by our bodies to release energy.
Unsaturated fats: If the Carbon atom in the fat forms a double bond with a neighboring Carbon atom, then it is called an unsaturated fat. These fats can easily break a double bond to combine with other substances. This makes them more reactive as compared to saturated fats. These don’t have a good shelf life and go bad faster than saturated fats, which is why food manufacturers do not prefer using them.

Unsaturated fats can be further classified into 2 types:
Monounsaturated fats which contain just one double bond between Carbon atoms. These are healthy, like Olive Oil and Canola Oil. Polyunsaturated fats which contain more than one double bond. These are not healthy and become oxidized and create free radicals, like Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil, Corn Oil, and Soy. Most vegetable oils belong to this category.
We thought that polyunsaturated fats were good for us, so we switched to using them. Then came about the revelation that monounsaturated fats were better for us. Just when we thought we had come to grip with fats, we now know that some saturated fats are good for us. You must be thinking "How to cope with these findings in the long term?". Well, my advice to you would be to just stop using artificial products like Margarine, Shortening, and Dalda (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil), and switch to more natural alternatives like Butter and Ghee (Clarified Butter). This is because Ghee has mostly short-chained saturated fats, which make it easily, digested as compared to long-chained saturated fats. Also the percentages of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in Ghee are close to what is required by the human body. Besides, Ghee’s rate of absorption by the body is 96%, which is the highest among all oils and fats. This does not mean that you should consume more Ghee than is required by the human body. You should have more fibrous vegetables and fruits, which contain vital vitamins, minerals and fibres required for a healthy bodily metabolism.

A friend of mine, suggested I look into Olive Oil as one of the healthy fats that can be used for cooking. Olive Oil and specifically Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is good for your health. However, limit it to frying, baking and applications that don’t exceed 370F (190C) because that is the smoking point of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. It will burn off and give an unpleasant tastes if you heat it beyond it’s smoking point. For deep-frying and high temperature cooking, you can use healthy fats such as Ghee that has a higher smoking point of 485F (250C). But if you are using it for normal low temperature cooking, you can use Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.

Chef’s note: Most local bakeries and ready made products use Dalda for the fat required in their products. Please stay away from these products as they can seriously harm your health. Bakeries use Dalda instead of Ghee because it can cost up to half as much as Ghee, which results in cost savings and more sales. The health conscious eater will either avoid these products altogether or find some that use pure Ghee or Butter for the fat requirements.

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