Figuring out Food: Instant Noodles

Part 1

For this assignment, I chose something a lot of students probably eat on the regular – a package of instant noodles. If you’re not familiar, this dish is typically made up of a brick of dried noodles in a plastic pouch, accompanied by a packet of seasonings and occasionally a second packet of broth or oil. This food product has always fascinated me, because I have always been curious about the nature of its contents. How can one little packet contain an entire (albeit not very rewarding) meal, simply waiting to be activated by hot water? Are the little flakes floating around in the broth really dried vegetables, or something more sinister? What is “beef flavor”? Since it was specified that our food product of choice cannot list too many ingredients on its nutrition label, I opted for a simpler version of the instant noodle cup I tend to reach for when I’m desperate for a snack, which consists of an array of vegetables, flavorings, and powdered broth. Instead, this package supposedly contains plain rice noodles with green onions and spices. By investigating this simple product, I can hopefully gain some insight into the more complicated version I normally eat.

Taking a glance at the nutrition label, I already have a couple of questions. How can this little package of noodles contain nearly 20% of one’s daily recommended sodium intake, if salt is only present in the seasonings packet? And where is the protein coming from? It’s not the noodles, because they’re made from rice flour and are therefore gluten free. Are the 3 grams coming entirely from the soy contained in the flavorings?

Here is a PDF copy of the USDA’s full report on this particular product:

Part 2

In this part, I’m going to examine two of the components of this nutrition label: protein and fat.

What is protein?

Protein is a macromolecule, made up of chains of amino acids that are joined by peptide bonds. A protein has both hydrophobic (nonpolar, water-repelling) and hydrophilic (polar, able to form hydrogen bonds with water) parts, giving it the capacity to act as an emulsifier, binding oils with liquids. When a protein interacts with an oil and a liquid, the protein folds in on itself, exposing its hydrophilic regions and hiding its hydrophobic parts, so it is able to bond with both water and lipids. Proteins can be found in eggs, soybean, and animal products.

How much protein is this food item contributing to the % DV? What does that mean?

This nutrition label does not list the contribution of its protein content to the recommended daily intake of protein ascribed by the FDA. According to regulations, labels are not required to display this information regarding protein content unless very specific circumstances apply, so it makes sense that this information does not appear here. However, we can still calculate this noodle package’s contribution to the percent daily value of recommended protein by hand.

The 2018 FDA Daily Value Guide lists the recommended amount of protein in a 2000 calorie diet as 50g. This instant noodle package provides 3g total. Therefore, it provides 3/50 = 6% of the recommended DV.

What ingredients in your food item are contributing the protein?

Though this is a package of vegetable noodles, meaning it will primarily consist of carbohydrates, the primary source of protein in this noodle package is hydrolyzed soy protein. The USDA states that hydrolyzed soy protein isolate contains 88.32 grams of protein for every 100 grams. The rice noodles and dried vegetables are also stated to contain protein in very, very small quantities.

How many calories in your food item are due to protein? How can you tell?

Every gram of protein contains 4 calories. Therefore, the 3 grams of protein contained in this noodle package contribute 12 total calories to the meal.

What is fat?

Fat is another macronutrient. A fat molecule consists of a chain of lipids, and is generally chemically composed of triglycerides – three fatty acids bonded to three OH groups in glycerol. As fat molecules are primarily comprised of carbon and hydrogen atoms, fats are hydrophobic by nature. Fats can be saturated or unsaturated, depending on their structure – a saturated fat contains no double bonds, as it is already “saturated” with hydrogen molecules, whereas unsaturated fats contain double bonds that cause bends in the structure of the macromolecule. This is why saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and unsaturated fats are liquid; the structure of saturated fats make it easy to form Van der Waals attractions and “stack” into solid structures, while the kinked formation of an unsaturated fat molecule makes this more difficult. Trans fats are often formed via the addition of hydrogen molecules to unsaturated fats (in a process known as hydrogenization) in order to chemically saturate the fat and prolong a product’s shelf life.

How much fat is this food item contributing to the % DV? What does that mean?

The total fat in this product contributes 4% to the FDA’s recommended daily value. This means that one package of noodles constitutes four percent of the amount of fat the FDA would recommend in a daily diet of 2000 calories.

What ingredients in your food item are contributing the fat?

As previously mentioned, carbohydrates are the most prevalent macronutrient that can be found in this food product. However, the primary source of fat in this product is the included packet of soybean oil. Soybean oil is 100% fat, containing 14g of fat for every 14g of oil according to the USDA database. Other minor sources of fat may include the dried vegetables and hydrolyzed soy protein included in the seasonings packet.

What types of fats does your food item contain? Consider fatty acids, total saturated, fatty acids, total monounsaturated, fatty acids, total polyunsaturated and fatty acids, total trans. What are these different types of fat and why should we care?

Saturated fat = 0.5g
Unsaturated fat = 2g
Trans fat = 0g
Total fat = 2.5 g

As explained earlier, saturated fats are solid when stored at room temperature and unsaturated fats behave as liquids when stored at the same temperature. This makes sense when considering the breakdown of fats contained within this product, as the primary source of fat in the noodle package can be attributed to the packet of liquid soybean oil it contains, which would manifest as unsaturated fat (2g). The saturated fat, on the other hand (0.5g), may be derived from the minor sources of fat (soy protein and dried vegetables) which are solid ingredients. The absence of trans fats implies that none of the fats in this product have been hydrogenated to improve the noodle package’s shelf life. This is most likely because the main component of this product is the dried rice noodles, which do not contain any fats and last quite a long time on their own.

How many calories in your food item are due to fat? How can you tell?

Every gram of fat found in food contains 9 calories. Therefore, 2.5 grams of fat contain 2.5*9 = 22.5 calories – this product contributes 22.5 calories from fat when consumed. The package, however, states that 20 calories in this product can be attributed to fats. Whether this is the result of rounding, miscalculation or perhaps misrepresentation on the part of the nutrition label’s creator I cannot say.

Part 3


green onion
soybean oil
red chili pepper


modified tapioca starch: fat replacer
sugar: sweetener
salt: flavor
natural flavor: flavor
hydrolyzed soy protein: flavor enhancer
disodium inosinate: flavor enhancer
disodium guanylate: flavor enhancer
citric acid: preservative/pH control
tocopherol: preservative/nutrient


This is the chemical structure of tocopherol, otherwise known as vitamin E. It is present as an additive in this packaged food, and likely serves the function of a preservative in this good as well as a vitamin. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which also aids in the formation of blood vessels and immune functionality. Vitamin E deficiency can cause a weakened immune system, as well as muscle weakness and nerve issues.

Disodium inosinate
Disodium guanylate

These are the chemical structures of disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate, since this packaged noodle product doesn’t have much in the way as far as vitamin and mineral additives! These two molecules are commonly found as additives in packaged Asian foods, flavor enhancers that make up MSG. MSG has long been associated with health issues in the Western world, but lately these detriments are being called into question.



The added sugar most obviously contributes sugar to this dish. This sugar is most likely sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. The dried fruits and vegetables contained in the noodle packet (onion, garlic, green onion, and chili pepper) also contribute sugar, likely fructose.


This product contains 0 grams of dietary fiber. Safe to say, there is nothing in here that contributes fiber to the dish.


Modified tapioca starch has starch in the name – this is regular cassava starch that has been altered chemically to act as a more effective thickening agent. The rice (which contributes the rice flour contained in the noodles) also contributes starch: amylose and amylopectin, specifically.

Calories from carbohydrate: 34*4 = 136 cal

Here is the calorie breakdown of this noodle package! Ultimately, you can see that the total number of calories listed has been rounded down by half a cal. This is not a particularly significant amount of calories, but what makes a bigger difference is that the calories from fat have been rounded down by 2.5 cal. Additionally, this calorie breakdown is entirely dominated by carbohydrates – they make up about 80% of the total product!