The Scovie Awards, which recognize high achievement in hot and spicy foods, annually gives out prizes in categories including wing sauce, salsa, popcorn, alcoholic beverages and olives. But there isn't a dedicated division for instant noodles, which may help explain why event organizers are so interested in an Edmonds ramen blogger's new spicy ramen round-up.
The Ramen Rater
Although instant noodles produced in the U.S. are generally mild, Hans Lienesch says as many as 95 percent of the ramen sold in South Korea - the world's top ramen-consuming country - could be classified as spicy, a tantalizing statistic for chileheads on the hunt for their next capsaicin high.
"With the whole instant noodle market, people don't really get it here," says Lienesch, who's sampled more than 800 ramen varieties for his Ramen Rater project. He recently compiled a list of the "top 10 spiciest noodles of all time," including eight brands available domestically. Lienesch says a blogger associated with the Scovies has asked for permission to feature the story.
Although there aren't any warning labels on the package of Paldo Teumsae Instant Noodles With Soup, which earned the number one spot on his list, Lienesch is confident its heat wouldn't disappoint the bravest tongue.
"It's blazing hot," Lienesch says. "It's mind-blowing. I used to have a site where I did hot sauce reviews, back in the day, and this is up there."
Lienesch compares the soup's punch to Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce, rated at 180,000 Scoville units. (By comparison, Tabasco clocks in at 2,500 Scoville units.) "This is heavy duty stuff," he says.
Like most Korean ramens, Paldo Teumsae draws its heat from chile peppers, although an increasing number of the country's spicy instant noodles are made with "white broth," a dehydrated clam or chicken broth flavored with plenty of jalapenos.
South Korea is the only noodle-making nation represented multiple times on Lienesch's list, but Indonesia, Thailand, China and the U.S. also scored mentions. Lienesch calls the American entry, Nongshim Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup, a "standard of the spicy noodle world." Still, the powder in its seasoning packet is tame compared to its Korean compatriots: Lienesch admits he had to perk up his serving with Tabasco Buffalo-style sauce.
A careful observer of the ramen scene, Lienesch believes American instant noodles could get hotter in coming years. "The Hispanic market has hugely embraced instant noodles," he says, adding that Nissin - the company responsible for Top Ramen and Cup Noodles - is already courting Latinos with chili and beef picante flavors.
For noodle slurpers who inadvertently encounter unbearable heat, Lienesch suggests stirring a spoonful of peanut butter into the soup bowl.
"Slapping a piece of Velveeta in there doesn't hurt either," he says. "That's really popular in Korea."