Updated: September 17, 2019
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Additive-Free Ramen at 'Shichisai' in Tokyo uses 'Natural Kansui'


'Kansui' is an ingredient that is absolutely essential to ramen noodles, as it gives the noodles their characteristic springiness and taste. However, there are some who worry about the safety of adding artificial additives to the noodles. For those who worry, there's a shop in Tokyo that makes completely natural and additive-free noodles which use 'natural kansui.'

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Kansui - What Exactly is This Essential Noodle Ingredient?

Have you heard of 'kansui' before? It's one of the most important ingredients in ramen noodles and what makes them unique.
If you look up '中華麺' (ramen noodle) in a popular Japanese dictionary, the definition is "Flour, eggs, salt, kansui, and water, mixed together and formed into something similar to soba (noodles)."
As you can see, kansui is listed as one of the main ingredients in a ramen noodle. But just what is it?

It's said that long ago there was a lake in a remote part of China with special water, that when used to make noodles, gave them a unique taste and texture. The noodles made from the lake water gained popularity and eventually spread throughout China.
When the water of the lake was later analyzed, it was found to be rich in alkaline ingredients such as potassium and sodium carbonate. This water was essentially what is now called 'kansui,' and its discovery led to the birth of ramen noodles.
Nowadays, most kansui is artificially created by combining a variety of alkaline ingredients into a mixture that is added to ramen noodle dough.

'Kansui' is what gives ramen noodles their distinctive flavor and strong springiness. It's also what gives them their yellowish color, which is the result of a chemical reaction with the flour. Kansui also strengthens the bonds of gluten in the flour, meaning that the noodles can be stretched and made more quickly.

Additive-Free Ramen at Tokyo's 'Shichisai'

Shokudo Shichisai's 'Kitakata Ramen' ¥820
While kansui adds strength and springiness to noodles and acts as a preservative, it also contains phosphorus, which some people worry about as it can lead to calcium deficiency.
To this end, 'natural sodium carbonate' was okayed in Japan for use as kansui in 2005.

One shop that uses 'natural sodium carbonate' instead of conventional kansui to make their noodles is called 'Shichisai.' The shop's soup, toppings, and noodles are all completely natural and additive-free. They even go as far as to make the noodles right in front of the customer as each order of ramen is placed! For those who take great care to eat healthy and natural ingredients as much as possible, this is an awesome ramen shop!

Maybe natural kansui will eventually become more popular at other ramen shops as well, but for now, conventional kansui is still the norm. If you're curious to see if there's a difference, check out 'Shichisai' the next time you're craving a bowl of ramen.
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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