The stakes have been raised, and the market has responded. There’s now a large range of premium packaged ramens available in the frozen aisle of many grocery stores—and increasingly, online.
These frozen ramens are generally thought to be a cut above your average dry, shelf-stable package. We wanted to know more, so we looked into the premium ramen we’d heard the most about—Sun Noodle’s line.
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What Is Sun Noodle?
Founded in Hawaii in the 1980s, Sun Noodle is the preeminent commercial manufacturer of fresh ramen noodles in the United States, supplying restaurants around the country from its factories in Hawaii, California, and New Jersey.
In total, Sun makes about 300,000 servings of ramen every day, as Sun’s Marketing Coordinator Joyce Chuk and Director of Marketing Elizabeth Krojansky said.
While restaurant sales have always been their main source of income, Sun also makes noodles for retail. For decades, home cooks have been able to buy Sun’s premade ramen kits in the frozen section of Asian markets around the country.
A second line of retail products—vegan, though not advertised as such—has been available at Whole Foods for about eight years. (You can now find them at Wegmans and Central Market as well, among other large chains.) During the pandemic, Sun Noodle started selling these same kits directly on their website, so people with no access to any of those grocery stores could still get their craft noodle fix.
Curious to see how these noodle kits stacked up, we ordered three of Sun’s ramen kits—shoyu, miso, and tantanmen (or, spicy sesame)—from their website to taste them for ourselves.
How Does Frozen Sun Ramen Compare to Instant Ramen?
Let’s cut to the chase: Short of making ramen yourself, Sun’s kits are the best ramen you can eat at home.
They’re more expensive than your average instant ramen, but not prohibitively so—a two-serving package of miso ramen at Whole Foods costs $5.99. And their quality more than justifies their price. They’re more expensive because they’re not truly instant ramen.
They include fresh noodles—the same kind you’d get at a restaurant—that have been frozen, not the fried, dehydrated noodles you’ll find in a Cup-o-Noodles or Shin Ramyun. (They still boil up really quickly, though—Sun says two and a half minutes is all you need, though in our experience it took a little longer.)
Predictably, perhaps, the noodles really shine. They’re tailored to fit each soup base—chewy and curly for the miso ramen, slippery and straight for the shoyu.
Sun also sells noodles by themselves if you’d prefer to make your own soup and tare.
No powder packet here, either—you get a pouch with a liquid soup concentrate, which you dilute separately with boiling water before adding your cooked noodles.
The soup concentrate packets don’t quite meet the high standards of the noodles—they lack the depth, complexity, and body of homemade ramen broth. But they’re still a heck of a lot more flavorful than what you’d get in your typical ramen set.
Here’s my ranking, from least to most exciting. (Note: Beside the noodles and broth, all the accompaniments pictured are my own. But I think these kits are worthy of the best add-ons you’re willing to make, whether that’s homemade chashu or just some scallions, spinach, or a soft-cooked egg.)
3. Shoyu Ramen
The shoyu (soy sauce) ramen was tasty, but perhaps the least impressive of the varieties I tried.
- Broth: The least impressive. Surprisingly sweet and mildly gingery, like a dilute teriyaki—not as savory as I’d like for a soy sauce-based broth. Thin consistency.
- Noodles: Thin, tender, and a little slippery–great for slurping.
- Slurp or Skip: Slurp, but mostly because the noodles are so good.
2. Miso Ramen
I liked the miso ramen a whole lot better—it's the type that's easiest to get at Whole Foods, and it's a great option for many.
- Broth: Not the most complex, but has mild miso flavor and a strong undercurrent of garlic powder, which you may or may not like. Has some body to it but could be thicker.
- Noodles: The best of the lot. Thick temomi (curly) noodles, with nice chewiness and a rustic, slightly rough texture that helps the miso broth stick.
- Slurp or Skip: Slurp!
1. Spicy Sesame Ramen
The spicy sesame ramen was my favorite by far. I would go out of my way to buy these.
- Broth: The most interesting of the three, this is essentially tantanmen, Japan’s version of Chinese dandan mian. Very savory, thanks to the addition of a little red miso, and a touch spicy.
- Noodles: Thick, smooth, slightly slippery.
- Slurp or Skip: Slurp, for sure.
Why Does My Packaging Look Different?
If you buy Sun Noodle ramen at an Asian grocery such as Hmart, you may notice that the packaging looks different—the kit comes in a white or black plastic pouch instead of the brown cardboard box that you’ll find at Whole Foods, Wegmans, or on Sun’s website. That’s because, as we mentioned earlier, Sun actually makes two different retail lines, with slightly different formulations.
The line sold at Asian markets is bigger, with a greater variety of flavors (tonkotsu, garlic miso, etc.) and styles (mazemen, tsukemen, Okinawa soba). It also includes special ramen kits made in collaboration with specific ramen chefs. These kits sometimes have MSG and meat or fish products in their ingredient lists.
The line sold at Whole Foods and directly by Sun is more limited, vegan, and contains no MSG.
We compared the two lines. The good news: While there are small differences, both lines have delicious ramen. We think either type is worth seeking out, though if you want to try more flavors than the basic miso, shoyu, and tantanmen, you’ll need to visit an Asian grocery. (Or order them from other online Asian groceries!)