As governments and food experts ponder over how to feed a ballooning global population, researchers claim to have found a possible solution: instant noodles.
Instant noodles serve "an important role in satiating hunger and in sustaining lives for many worldwide, including those hanging on under difficult circumstances," according to Deborah Gewertz, Professor of Anthropology at Amherst College in US and her two colleagues.
In their new book, Gewertz and her colleagues examine the history, manufacturing, marketing and consumption of the ubiquitous foodstuff and make the case that instant noodles will have an increasingly significant global role in the coming years.
"As a protean food designed for quotidian consumption, instant noodles have already shown a remarkable capacity to ease themselves into diverse lives," she said.
"We expect that the calories provided by the tasty, convenient, cheap, shelf-stable, industrially prepared instant noodles will remain important" as food becomes scarcer in the future, said Gewertz.
Gewertz and co-authors describe the biophysiology of human taste, provide insight into how marketers penetrate new markets with industrial foods and analyse what it takes to feed billions of people.
"Instant noodles thus far have been virtually unstoppable and, as such, their accomplishments are worthy of serious attention," researchers observe.
To understand better the impact that instant noodles have had on the world's diverse populations, the authors homed in on three world markets.
The noodles, the authors observe, are transforming the poor into aspiring consumers of modern goods.
The book concludes by examining the inner workings of the manufactured food industry and discussing what manufacturers could do to make instant noodles a healthier option for the world's population: for example, baking instead of frying them, adding iron or using spices in place of salt and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
"With 9 billion people in this world by 2050 and most of them living in cities, we know that it is going to take some kind of industrial production to feed them," said Gewertz.
"Instant noodles, as they are right now, are certainly not going to make people healthy. But they do fill bellies, and they will keep people alive. And I can't say that is a bad thing," she said.