Last Friday, some pretty momentous news hit the interwebs: Cup Noodles, the favored dinner of dorm-dwellers and strange museum enthusiasts everywhere, had changed its formula in honor of its 45th birthday (and, more precisely, in honor of the marketing splash the change would make, as all mass-produced foodstuffs scramble to seem semi-healthy). No more would we be subjected to MSG headaches and sodium-induced hypertension in exchange for our 75-cent cup of ramen! No more would the flavors that hit our tongues be artificial!
In general, I’m not a Cup Noodles consumer. Even still, the first thing I wanted to do when I found out about the new flavor change was pit the old against the new. Because I’m all about pitting foods against one another, especially when there are only minor differences to be observed. (Say what you will about me. I still contend that Shake Shack’s cheeseburger is better than In-N-Out’s.)
And so, using my crafty means of string-pulling, I secured an Original Formula Chicken Flavor Cup Noodles and a New Recipe! Same Great Taste! Chicken Flavor Cup Noodles.
The first impression one gets with Cup Noodles is, of course, the packaging, which I examined while my water was on the boil. The new formula still comes in the styrofoam container everyone knows and loves, but the exterior wrap has been updated somewhat. More orange, larger Cup Noodles logo, giant blue sticker proclaiming “No Artificial Flavors” and “NO ADDED MSG.” The cartoon chicken of old is gone. RIP, cartoon chicken. You will be forever missed.
Nutritionally, I noticed, the new formula is somewhat changed as well. Yes, there’s still a long list of weird ingredients (sodium alginate?), and in fact, on closer observation, the new recipe appears to have more strange, unpronounceable additives. But, as promised, it’s free of the monosodium glutamate we all love to hate, as well as various flavors described only as “artificial” on the packaging.
Calorie-wise, the new formula packs in an extra ten calories, with two extra grams of carbohydrates and a gram less of protein. But all that technical stuff probably isn’t enough to make anyone abandon their go-to convenience lunch. One notable nutrition-label change: the sodium content is down to 1070 mg from 1430 mg. Definitely a start, but it’s still 45% of your daily sodium recommendation.
Looks-wise, the dehydrated ramen looked fairly similar. The new recipe appeared to have more dehydrated carrots and spice powder, but that could just have been due to the distribution in ingredients.
But enough of the nitty-gritty. My water was boiling. It was time to bring the soups to life. I filled the styrofoam cups to the designated lines, stuck the lids back on, and set my timer for three minutes. After which I poured my noodles into bowls, because I am not a heathen.
(Read: I have the luxury of working from home, and also, I am an adult and have adult things like pretty bowls and fancy chopsticks.)
So how did the new noodles stack up against the old, flavor-wise?
First of all, there is definitely a difference in flavors. Take the MSG out of something and you’re bound to lose that special umami je ne sais quoi. Reduce the sodium further, and you’re really left hurting. Quite simply: the new soup tastes more bland than the old.
Would it be something I’d notice on its own? Probably not. If I were a daily Cup Noodles consumer, maybe. Side-by-side, though, my tastebuds were more drawn to the old formula. (But can I blame them? MSG is notoriously good at making us develop cravings.) What’s more, the new formula seemed to lack a distinct flavor of chicken. Maybe that flavor is what’s lost with the elimination of artificial flavoring, I don’t know. All I know is that the word that sprung to mind when I tasted the new broth formula next to the old was thin.
To put a positive spin on it, though, one could also view the new broth as refreshing. Yes, the old-formula broth is rich and salty, but after a whole bowlful, a person is bound to have regrets. (And also, probably intense thirst.) Not so with the new formula. It may be thin, but it’s also light. And it definitely won’t give you the MSG aftershocks that may or may not be all in your head.
Taking it all together, it’s tough to say whether there’s a clear winner here. Nissin has definitely rid its Cup Noodles of some serious flavor, but after a whole bowlful of said serious flavor, that might actually… be a good thing ?
Which means that, now, it’s up to you to try out the new formula and decide whether you like it better or not. One thing is for certain: it’s definitely going to be an easier meal than making it from scratch at home.