Food Product

Good Ole Chicken (Schmaltz) to Pork Fat (Lard), the Instant Ramen Hack and Not So Secret Ingredient in Real Japanese Ramen

There is traditional Japanese ramen, and then there is Americanized ramen, much like real Chinese food, and the Americanized stuff for, you know, “you people.” So you can do the enoki and shiitake mushrooms, salad greens, and corn version like vegan and vegetarian influencers do, or you can go full Japanese who know FAT IS LIFE.

There is always a loss in translation any time any food in the United States gets Americanized in our young 246 year old food culture. So some of those interpretations end up in what we call “Americanized,” which is in the form of an New York style pizza, a dragon roll with sauce on top of sauce, to that hard shell taco with or without the influences of el Dorito from that small magical kingdom called Anaheim (where Dorito’s were invented).

There are five traditional elements to authentic Japanese ramen, and they are 1). noodles/ramen, 2). toppings, 3). tare, 4). broth, and 5). fat (aka “aroma oil).”

Japanese and Koreans call grilling “bbq,” and they also call fat “oil” in “aroma oil (saturated animal fat).”
Photo Description: the illustration shows a bowl of ramen with 5 viles indicating the 5 traditional components to Japanese ramen. They are toppings, broth, tare, noodles, and the ramen secret ingredient missing from most Americanized ramen, fat.
All the ingredients combined is what defines Japanese ramen, and there is really no one ramen secret ingredient although fat is what is often missing from most Americanized ramen. Original illustration by Ramen Lab, NYC.

Spice Packet, a Liquid Packet, and the White Packet

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When I was a kid, it was exciting getting an instant ramen package that contained the fat packet (yea, lame childhood) because they were often in the bougie products.

Anybody who has eaten their fair share of instant ramen knows that the most basic of instant ramen has only the spice packet, but the further you move on up the chain, and in life, you may encounter the liquid packet (soy sauce to miso). Except for the truly baller version, those versions also came with the packet filled with lard/fat.

Photo Description: a bowl of Japanese ramen, specifically Jiro style ramen which goes hard on the ingredients. A pile of cabbage to bean sprouts are piled atop with large slabs of braised pork (chashu).
Jiro style ramen goes hard on the garlic (ninniku) and pork fat (abura) and veggies (moyashi to cabbage). Image by Ken Ken.

I have to put this out there, just in case you never got the memo, but eating fat, does not make you fat (if you believe that, I would be eating some brains). [1]

Before I Go Any Further, I Know What You Are Thinking

If you have in your head that fat is bad, here is what the American Heart Association (link) and Harvard Health (quote below) have to say:

“You may wonder isn’t fat bad for you, but your body needs some fat from food. It’s a major source of energy. It helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.”

Harvard Health Publishing

Instant Ramen is Based on Restaurant Ramen

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In a Japanese ramen restaurant, the temperature of a fat laden ramen is served at is critical because once it cools, a “pudding skin” like membrane forms over the top.

At Santouka ramen, they use thick walled bowls to retain the heat.

The vast majority of instant ramen does not come close to restaurant ramen, although here is a legit ramen hack to your instant or homemade ramen broth by adding a bit of fat.

Now, you may be thinking about why you should add fat given all the negative stigma about fat, and my reasons will not reassure you because the benefits are not too compelling, such as the oil sticking to the noodles. I can not substantiate that, but I believe it heightens the taste/umami, and I consider it a texture, mouthfeel thing.

When you add some fat, add it to the bottom of the bowl, along with the tare (flavoring) and broth. Through that process, it will all blend, although the fat will eventually rise to the surface like an oil slick waiting to engulf your tastebuds like a seagull in an oil slick.

Except before preparing it all, know that you will want to eat it soon after because restaurants like Tsujita in Sawtelle Japantown take the serving temperatures seriously. I know that from firsthand experience because on one visit, the host asked us if we could move on over to another table to accommodate a larger party. When transferring over to the other table, our order had come out, but instead of having our ramen sit for less than a minute, the waitress sent our order back to the kitchen to have it redone.

That little attention to detail is so Japanese of how critical some ramen ya’s are about how long their ramen sits to the temperature their ramen is served at.

Post WWII Japan and Emergency Aid in the Form of Wheat and Lard

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Out of ramen, somen, udon, soba, and yakisoba, only ramen contains a thin layer/amount of fat added to the dashi (soup) which you can partially thank Muuuuuurica for [2].

The post WW2 grant was called GARIOA (Government Aid and Relief in Occupied Areas).

For the longest time on the internet, there was a void of information for ramen recipes, so “you people” filled that void. A hole filled with vegan and vegetarian influencers all wanting fame and the almighty dollar for their mighty influencer influence. An influence that turned ramen into an Americanized noodle salad (I mean, what did you expect?).

Missing from that Americanized noodle salad is the fifth element of ramen, the fat. The fat differentiates ramen from other Japanese noodle soups, especially since most noodle broths are fish-based or vegan/pescatarian.

China, the Originators (Respect the Chinese Foo)

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You see American food producers calling all instant noodles “ramen,” but they do not do that with pasta even though the ingredients are similar and origins are from China, thank you Marco Polo [3].

Even catsup (ketchup) has Chinese origins.

“Those people” that do this are disrespecting the Chinese by giving every instant noodle a Japanese name, and I do not want to get into the geopolitical reasons why that is eff’d up.

If you are that dumb, give it a Chinese name because you would be historically more accurate, giving the originators their due respect.

Also, Japanese and Chinese food are my top two, and it blows my mind every time I try real Chinese food from all the various regions of China, which is why I highly suggest you turn to the Chinese if you want to learn the origins of noodle soups and noodle dishes.

Now I am not saying that you should not research Japanese ramen because you should. Like so many dishes from other countries, the Japanese have a way of making things distinctively Japanese from ramen (Chinese), yakiniku (Korea), tempura (Portuguese) to Japanese curry (India via the British Royal Navy).

Natural Fat vs. (Seed) Oils

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Olive oil is great, but natural fats also have tremendous benefits in A). fish: unsaturated fats in fish are called omega-3 fatty acids [4][5], B). beef: most of the saturated fat in beef/tallow actually decreases your heart-disease risk [6], to C). pigs: most of lard’s monounsaturated fat is oleic acid [7][8].

Fat has been targeted by the sugar industry as the bad guy although I suggest you read the resources below.

Typically I cite my sources, but the sources are oddly questionable when you Google “fat vs. oil,” and I wanted to provide a definition because the two are often used interchangeably. The same also goes for many people doing the same for barbecue and grilling to magazine versus a clip because us humans are lazy although these details matter.

The best explanation for fat versus oil will have to be a loosely based in my own words although I will cite the sources:

  • Fat are usually derived from animals (fat is commonly found in food sources like milk, butter, bacon, milk products, fish, etc. Fats mostly originate from animal sources.) [9].
  • Fat at room temperature is solid whereas oil is a liquid.
  • Oil remains in the liquid state at room temperature and is lipophilic and hydrophobic. [9]
  • Most of the oil found in nature originate from plant sources and usually stored in the seeds and fruits of the plants. [9]

Rendering Fat is Super Easy to Do (and Fun)

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“If you can dodge a wrench, you can can dodge the ball.” Those wise words of wisdom also carry on over to rendering fat, and if you can melt butter, you can render fat.

If you like chicharrones, you will want to render your own fat.

Depending on where you live, that will determine how easy it is for you to render your own fat because if you have an old-school butcher, it’ll be easy to acquire the necessary pig fat. If not, you will be happy to hear about the company below.

The Easiest Way to Up Your Ramen Soup Game (Aroma Oil), Fatworks Pasture-Raised Pork to Duck Fat

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All you need is pork lard/chicken fat and your choice of aromatics from ginger, green onion, niboshi (sardines), or my basic combo of onion and garlic, which pairs well with tonkotsu ramen or as a ramen hack for instant ramen.

As for storage, lard does not have to be refrigerated although it does not hurt to prolong its shelf life.

Many recipes utilize vegetable or canola oil, but natural animal fat can be used for a ramen “aroma oil” (a combination of a vegetable oil and animal fat may also be used).

  • Scallions and minced ginger is a popular combo.
  • My aroma oil combo is garlic, ginger, and yellow onion.
  • A popular tonkotsu (pork broth) aroma oil is mayu (burnt “black” garlic oil), and you can follow this recipe on okonomikitchen.com (she’s vegan, so you won’t see lard being used).
Photo Description: what you need in your life, a pail of leaf lard on the far left, pasture-raised pork lard in the middle, and a smaller jar on the far right of chicken fat (schmaltz).
Aside from this company, Fatworks selling a product that goes back centuries in food culture, I also have an affinity for this brand because their logo looks like the Skunkworks brand logo I did before the name change to Skunk2 (they are a company in the automotive aftermarket). FYI: also, if you are not aware, the above imagery is not to scale.

To make it easier on you, I sought out this company, Fatworks. They are the only Certified Organic Pork Lard being small batch rendered and sourced from small U.S family farms (also pasture-raised).

I wanted to highlight a product/company because when I was producing my aromatic fat for my ramen pop-ups, it was difficult finding fat from local US farms/sources. I had no issue finding pork belly, but when it came to the fat/pork bones, a lot of the places sold “commodity pork” (also called “lean hogs,” are commercially raised pigs) products, a lot of which was from outside the country, and the last batch I had was from Spain.

Beyond just chicken and pork, you may want to try duck, bison, wild boar, and lamb tallow. Unlike oils which are often neutral in flavor, fats have some of the flavor characteristics of the animal the source animal. Using a variety of fat could be an interesting game-changing differentiator for your next bowl of ramen.

PRODUCTQTY
PRICE
Chicken Fat
Organic cooking oil
(kettle-rendered
chicken schmaltz)
7.5 oz
$14.30
Pork Lard
Organic cooking oil
(kettle-rendered
made from organic
pork)
14.4 oz
$16.75
Leaf (Pork) Lard
Organic cooking oil
(kettle-rendered
made from organic
pork)
14.0 oz
$17.50
The keto/ketosis roster, especially a pastured-raised lard. Prices and availability are subject to change.

It seems as though people are always looking for that magical health food, although my take is that everything should be eaten in moderation. Although, if you want to go HAM on pork fat, the BBC did rank it as one of the world’s most nutritious foods. [10]

References

Remember how I cited that I knew nothing earlier? I hope you do because I cherry-picked the above sources that I thought were very credible with how I “personally feel.” Yes, I am sharing my feelings, which are not credible, but that is up for you to decide with the resources below.

  1. BusinessInsider, A professor of medicine explains why eating fat won’t make you fat — but sugar will
  2. Slate, Waves of Grain, How Did Japan Come to Prefer Wheat Over Rice
  3. PBS, Uncover the History of Pasta
  4. MayoClinic, Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart
  5. Harvard School of Public Health, Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
  6. Men’s Health, 8 Fatty Foods With Health Benefits
  7. BabesBoneBroth, Why Cooking with Pork Lard is a Healthy Move
  8. The Star (Toronto Star), Why Lard’s Healthier Than You Think
  9. TheChemistryNotes.com, Fats vs Oils- Definition, 14 Major Differences, Examples
  10. BBC Future (ranked 8th), The World’s Most Nutritious Foods
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