Following a vegan or keto lifestyle takes discipline. This is especially true when you have steamy bowls of ramen noodle soup staring you down on your Instagram feed. It’s almost enough to make you break. You may think to yourself, “Is ramen vegan?” You’re in luck — we have a remedy for your cravings.
Vegan and keto-friendly ramen recipes are a dime a dozen across the web. If you want to make some ramen that truly knocks your socks off, then you’ll need to understand a few ramen basics. You can then incorporate some basic ingredients to boost your broth and obtain umami-rich flavors.
In this article, we’ll discuss traditional ramen ingredients and vegan alternatives to one of your favorite Japanese meals. We’ll also go over how you can make a vegan version at home or buy it from local grocers near you.
Breaking Down the Core Ingredients of Ramen
Before diving into how you can eat a scrumptious vegan version of ramen, we should first give you a little ramen 101. Let’s go over the three components of ramen — noodles, broth, and toppings.
There are four traditional ingredients used to make ramen noodles — wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui.
Kansui is alkaline mineral water made from sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate. It’s a traditionally used ingredient that gives ramen its yellowish color, firm texture, and bouncy quality.
There may also be additional additives depending on which instant or restaurant ramen you’re eating. You can expect to find additional fillers like salt, potato starch, or baking soda as a substitute for kansui.
The basis of ramen stock that you make at home or buy from the popular ramen shop on the corner is built upon a pork, chicken, or fish broth. Other ingredients like kombu (dried sea kelp), katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna), dried sardines, dried shiitake mushrooms, and an array of vegetables are added to up the flavor.
Instant ramen soup stock comes in small flavor packets inside the packaging. It will be in either powdered or liquid form depending on which instant ramen you buy.
The powdered seasoning packets are typically dehydrated meat or yeast extracts and come in seemingly endless flavors. Powdered chicken, beef, and shrimp tend to be the most popular options lining up the shelves of your local grocery store.
The pouches of liquid will vary depending on the flavor you choose. You’ll find different flavorings like soy sauce, sesame oil, miso, or chili oil.
This is where things get interesting. Ramen toppings are like the icing on the cake. They provide an extra texture and punch of flavor that perfectly compliments your springy noodles and robust broth.
Honestly, what can’t you add to your bowl of ramen? Your options are endless, but here are some of the more traditional Japanese toppings:
- Chashu (braised pork)
- Nori (dried seaweed)
- Negi (green onion)
- Menma (fermented bamboo)
- Hard-boiled egg
- Bean sprouts
Now that you understand what goes into traditional ramen, let’s go over some of your vegan options.
Is Ramen Vegan?
Traditional ramen as a whole is not vegan. But don’t lose your marbles just yet. Some components of ramen, like the noodles, select toppings, and certain broths can be prepared for a vegan diet.
Let’s break down each component of ramen and explore some vegan alternatives to one of your favorite treats.
Vegan Ramen Noodles
When it comes to noodles, you have nothing to worry about. As mentioned above, the basic ingredients are wheat flour, salt, water, and alkaline mineral water — completely vegan.
There are even noodle alternatives for those who follow low-carb or keto diets. You can use spiralized veggie noodles, spaghetti squash, or shirataki noodles.
Shirataki noodles are one of the more popular low-carb choices. They are translucent noodles made from the konjac plant, which is a type of yam. Shirataki noodles are a serviceable replacement for standard carb-heavy ramen noodles, but they do have some drawbacks.
They have a slight resemblance to actual ramen noodles but don’t really come close to the real thing when it comes to taste and texture. They have a chewy texture, almost as if you’re chomping on a jellyfish. It’s somewhat like comparing apples to oranges. They also have a funky fishy smell that’s potent enough to clear out a room.
They do offer heaps of fiber which is what draws people in, but other than that, they lack additional nutritional value. A good alternative is immi ramen, a reinvention of traditional instant ramen that doesn’t use traditional ingredients like kansui, but offers a noodle high in protein and fiber that has the chewy texture you love.
Vegan Ramen Broth
The main offender for vegan ramen fanatics is the broth. Most broths are built on meat-based ingredients, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any vegan options.
For example, miso ramen can easily fit into a vegan diet. Miso is a fermented soybean paste that provides full-bodied flavor and a jolt of umami. There are various misos you can choose from ranging from light-colored mild miso to a dark red saltier miso.
If you would like to make your own vegetable broth at home, you can use some of the following ingredients:
- Kombu (dried sea kelp)
- Dried shiitake mushrooms
- Soy sauce
- Soy milk
- Tomato paste
- Doubanjiang (spicy chili bean sauce)
- Various vegetables
Alternatively, you can try immi ramen, which has 100% plant-based broth seasonings.
You’re in the clear as long as the base of the broth is meat-free. But remember, most restaurants include some form of meat products in their stock.
Vegan Ramen Toppings
The tricky part about making or finding delicious vegan ramen is the broth. Choosing vegan ramen toppings is the easy part.
You can easily opt out of toppings that include meat and choose nutritious plant-based alternatives. Here are a few ingredients to get the ball rolling that will take your bowl of vegan ramen to the next level:
- Bok choy
- Menma (fermented bamboo)
- Nori (dried seaweed)
- Bean sprouts
- Sesame seeds
Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you. There’s little that’s off-limits when it comes to concocting the perfect bowl of ramen.
Finding Vegan Ramen Options
Ramen cravings seem to arise more often than not. For us, it’s almost a nightly occurrence. You have three options when you get a hankering for a piping hot bowl of noodles — make it at home, buy instant ramen, or visit your local ramen shop.
Preparing Vegan Ramen at Home
The secret to making a flavorful homemade vegan ramen starts with the broth. A hearty vegan broth provides the much-needed backbone to your bowl and should be the star of the show.
You’ll then need to replace your toppings and proteins with plant-based options, like tofu, edamame, or tempeh. The toppings are the easy part. Most ramen toppings are already plant-based, so pick your favorite ones and start cooking.
This vegetarian ramen recipe relies on shiitake mushrooms, kombu, tomato paste, and Korean red pepper powder to create a spicy tonkotsu-like broth. Simply substitute butter with your favorite plant-based alternative and you’re ready to chow.
You can also give this avocado miso ramen a shot. It incorporates avocado tempura, light miso paste, corn, and bamboo shoots to form a creamy broth and nutritious meal. You can up the ante and throw in some extra chilis if you’re looking for an extra kick.
We took it one step further and made a list of the seven best vegan ramen recipes to scratch your ramen itch.
Buying Vegan Ramen Online or In-Store
Many vegan ramen fanatics will buy instant noodles, throw away the flavoring packets, and cook up their own tasty broth. It’s an easy and cheap way to stock up on instant ramen for quick midweek meals. However, these noodles still contain the carbs you may be trying to avoid.
Some common vegan instant ramen noodles include Nissin Top Ramen Soy Sauce Flavor and Chili Flavor, but these are far from healthy meals.
Instead, there are other options with more nutritional value and fewer carbs. Namely, immi ramen. The first low-carb, high-protein, and high-fiber instant ramen, immi is a delicious guilt-free meal that offers the familiar noodle experience you’ve grown to love over the years.
Even better, you can easily buy immi online and have it delivered right to your door — no need to make a trip to the market.
That said, you can also head to your local grocery store or Asian grocer to find some instant noodles. You may also find fresh noodles at stores like Whole Foods.
Ordering Vegan Options at a Ramen Shop
You’ll have to be careful if you want to order a bowl of vegan ramen at your local ramen shop. Some places will provide a vegan option, which makes life a lot easier.
You should be wary if it’s not clearly stated on the menu that the bowl of ramen is vegan. Some menu items may seem like they’re vegan friendly, however, in many cases, the chefs use some sort of animal products to prepare the broth.
Do your due diligence and ask before ordering if you’re unsure.
You shouldn't have any shame in your ramen slurping game. Just because you live a vegan or keto lifestyle doesn't mean you need to give up one of your favorite meals.
There are plenty of ways to replace meat products and create a vegan ramen that rivals the rest. If you're more concerned about your carb intake, then make sure you check out our guide to low-carb noodles.