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The Rise of Ramyun: Do You Really Have the Guts for It?

Feb 26, 2024

2 min read

In an instant noodles-loving nation, the Hallyu wave has brought with it an appreciation for ramyun. But does this spicy Korean staple sit well with our gut?

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Two young girls watch TV while enjoying some spicy Korean ramyun
A portrait of the author, Ishani Chatterji



“I have finally found something that is so spicy that it hits the spot!” said my spice-loving friend. Even before she said what it was, I knew she was talking about these spicy Korean ramyun noodles that have been populating grocery shelves and social media trends for a while now. 

The spicy noodle challenge

In 2018, YouTube users in Seoul started the “fire noodle challenge” with an instant noodle from South Korea called buldak. The challenge required a person to waffle down this incredibly spicy food as soon as possible. The same challenge trickled down to India a few years later; in 2020, Buzzfeed India created a video that had three of their employees try 6 levels of these fiery noodles, and this led to a wave of content creators participating in this challenge. This was just the beginning, though, and soon, Indians became obsessed with all things Korean, from K-pop to K-drama and ramyun, thanks to the Hallyu wave that swept through the world. Korean noodles in India witnessed a growth of 162% in terms of volume in 2020 and were expected to grow by 178% in 2021. In late 2021, Hwang Il-Yong, director of the Korean Cultural Centre India, said in an interview that “K-cuisine is all the rage, especially on social media in the form of food challenges such as mukbang [a trend that started in 2010 of people live-streaming themselves eating food that first emerged in South Korea]”.

As Indians, we are not new to the concept of instant noodles; the two-minute evening snack has been a staple in most homes. We also don't shy away from anything spicy; we love our spices, and India has the highest consumption of spices in the world. The question, though, is while we (Indians) do love an extra sprinkle of spice in our food, how much spicy is too spicy for our guts, especially concerning Korean spicy ramyun?

The noodle-gut conundrum

Over 200 years ago, Hippocrates said, “All diseases begin in the gut”. The gut microbiome, which hosts up to 1000 bacterial species that encode about 5 million genes, performs many of the functions required for host physiology and survival; it plays a role in the maintenance of a healthy state in adulthood. Dr Vijay Hangloo, HOD & Senior Consultant at the General and Laparoscopic Surgery Department at Batra Hospital, said, “The gut is responsible for the absorption of nutrients and has a healthy bacteria, lactobacillus; this bacteria helps maintain a balance. These noodles lack fibre, protein and crucial vitamins and minerals but are high in sodium content that negatively affects your health by increasing the risk of heart disease, stomach cancer, and metabolic disease.”

Blog quote

Korean spicy noodles should not be eaten daily; instead, they should be had in moderation and balanced out with gut-friendly foods like bananas, yoghurt, sour cream, nuts, whole grains, oats, garlic and mushroom, among others.

Dr Vijay Hangloo., HOD & Senior Consultant at the General and Laparoscopic Surgery Department at Batra Hospital

Korean spicy ramyun comes neatly packaged with a block of fried noodles that's made of wheat flour and tapioca starch, among other things. The real hero, though, is in the tiny sachets of seasoning that predominantly contain pepper powder, curry powder, MSG and other such powders that add the spice. Dr Sundeep Shah, a Gastroenterologist, said after studying the ingredients, "Most of the listed ingredients are essential for the maintenance of normal health. However, when they are consumed in excess quantity over prolonged periods, it can lead to gut intolerance. Again, the tolerance of each individual is different based on their genetic profile. Ingredients like Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), capsaicin (the active component in chilli peppers), wheat gluten and allergens can cause digestive issues either alone or in combination, like heartburn, acidity, burning sensation of the tongue, nausea, headache, chest pain, flushing, bowel abnormalities, bloating and cramping and few reports even suggesting increased risks for development of peptic ulcer.”

Do we break up with our spicy Korean ramyun?

Despite knowing everything, especially the potential disadvantages of these spicy Korean noodles, is there a way we can give in to our cravings? Should we eat spicy Korean ramyun noodles at all? The answer to that is simple yet tricky.

“Korean spicy noodles should not be eaten daily; instead, they should be had in moderation and balanced out with gut-friendly foods like bananas, yoghurt, sour cream, nuts, whole grains, oats, garlic and mushroom, among others,” said Dr Hangloo.

Your gut will be okay with an occasional bowl of spicy ramyun. Dr. Frank B. Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, highlighted in a New York Times article: "Once or twice a month is not a problem," he said. "But a few times a week really is.”

Dr Shah adds, “Your body needs different ingredients in proper proportions for good health, which cannot be achieved solely by consuming these instant noodles. The ways to maintain balance are by using homemade noodles (e.g. whole wheat noodles, veggie noodles), adding fresh vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, spinach, corn, leek, corn etc), adding proteins (paneer, tofu, eggs, fish, chicken etc), fibres, salads, kimchi, sauerkraut, spices, salt and seasoning as per individual taste, liking and tolerance.”

All in all, your gut will let you enjoy that slurpy bowl of ramyun, so long as you keep it happy.

Medically Reveiwed By:
Dr Amey Sonavane, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist (Clinical and Transplant)

A portrait of the author, Ishani Chatterji

Ishani Chatterji, a journalist-turned-copywriter, has a rich portfolio featuring publications like The National Herald, The Times of India and The National Geographic Traveller Magazine. She has crafted compelling content and strategies for renowned brands such as United Colors of Benetton, Safari Bags, Policybazaar, Covifind, and Aditya Birla Capital. With a book in one hand and a robust cup of coffee in the other, Ishani lives in two worlds, the former being populated by words and characters, and she loves every minute of it. 

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