Return to udon or how to survive lunch

What started as a health story turns into a consumer story. Look for udon in a store near you. Buy them in moist packs rather than dry. Add your own soup and enjoy them at home. Leave the Styrofoam bowl in the store.

A few weeks ago I went on a bit of a tear against an udon noodle bowl produced by Nong Shim, a Korean company.

The subject of the post was how education alone won't solve our obesity epidemic, that the supply side is important. Food purveyors need to sell healthier food.

The Nong Shim rant was a bit extraneous, since the issue in this case was salt, not fat, but it was what my dear wife (whom I do not want to lose) was having for lunch that day so I used it as an example.

The nutrition label on the package said the bowl contained 54% of a daily allowance of 2,300 grams of salt. It also said the single bowl contained two servings of soup.

That's what set me off.

In the spirit of fairness, I decided today to give the product another try. When I opened the package, the picture is what I saw. A Styrofoam bowl, the cover you saw before, and the three packages shown.

My mouth immediately watered because udon noodles, which are Japanese in origin, are delicious. (That's OK. Genetic studies say Japanese are largely Korean in origin.) The freeze-dried flavor packet on the upper right has salt, but it also has some tiny fish cakes and a lot of flavor.

The problem is the "soup base" on the upper left. That's where most of the salt is living.

The package directions are to steep the noodles in boiling water for two minutes,  up to a line in the bowl, then add the two packets and steep for a minute more. In theory this makes it a meal for use in a college dorm or an office break room. But as I noted, if you do it that way you're going to overdose on salt.

What I did today was boil some homemade chicken stock and let the noodles steep in that. You might add a few cooked vegetables and even some cooked chicken if that makes you happy. (It made me happy.) College students or busy workers might consider some good stock-in-a-box, but check the salt content before you buy.

After two minutes, I added the dry flavor pack and a tiny bit of the base. I reheated it a bit and was very happy.

Now I'm not letting Nong Shim off entirely. You're paying $2.50 for a Styrofoam bowl. The udon I buy costs $3 for three packs. That includes some solid soup base, and my kitchen scale says each is the same size as the pack Nong Shim is selling in its bowl.

So what started as a health story turns into a consumer story. Look for udon in a store near you. Buy them in moist packs rather than dry. Add your own soup and leave the Styrofoam bowl in the store.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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