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Can Instant Noodles Be Too Spicy?

Published Jun 15, 2024
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For fans of spicy food, instant noodles can be a satisfying, if not entirely nutritious, snack. Many people seek out the hottest varieties, often in bright-red packaging adorned with pictures of flames and chili peppers.

Many of the ramen noodle packets produced by South Korean brand Samyang Foods certainly fit that description, but perhaps they should come with a warning alongside the picture of a chicken holding a bomb with a lit fuse on the packaging. According to regulators in Denmark, several of the company’s instant ramen noodles shouldn’t even be on the market due to their excessively high levels of capsaicin, the compound in chilis that produces a burning sensation by attaching to receptors in the mouth. Danis officials recently recalled three ramen products: Buldak Hot Chicken 3x Spicy Instant Ramen, Buldak Hot Chicken 2x Spicy, and Buldak Hot Chicken Flavor, and encouraged customers who have already purchased them to return them to stores or simply throw them away.

In a statement, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration noted that symptoms of capsaicin poisoning can include high blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting, as well as sensations of burning and discomfort.

Samyang’s original Buldak Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen was released in 2012 and soon gained worldwide popularity due to the viral Fire Noodle Challenge on YouTube. That product has 4,404 Scoville units (roughly the same as a jalapeño pepper), while subsequent varieties have significantly exceeded that threshold.

It seems likely that the dangerous effects of high capsaicin levels have come to the attention of health officials after numerous reports of young people needing medical assistance after consuming extra-hot products (specifically chips) in other viral challenges.

Samyang’s ramen noodles were particularly concerning to the Danish authorities, as their capsaicin level exceeded that of a brand of spicy chips banned in Bavaria last year. A similar product sold in the United States, Paqui’s “One Chip Challenge,” was pulled from shelves after the death of a Massachusetts teen in September 2023. That product—a single tortilla chip covered in spice from Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper chilis—was sold in a coffin-shaped box and came displayed with a QR code to scan as a warning. An autopsy later revealed that the teen, who had an enlarged heart and a congenital heart condition, had died of cardiac arrest and noted the high capsaicin concentration of the food he had consumed hours before his death. Other middle and high school students who tried the One Chip Challenge have been hospitalized for symptoms ranging from vomiting and breathing difficulties to skin and eye irritation.

Turning up the heat:

  • Unsurprisingly, the ban has provoked a heated (excuse the pun!) discussion online, with many people expressing the opinion that consumers should be able to make decisions about what foods they eat for themselves. Some spicy food lovers chimed in with various anecdotes about the product’s spice level, with contrasting reports about how they were affected (or not affected) by consuming the ramen.

  • Samyang owes much of its international success to the Fire Noodle Challenge. Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen is the company’s best-selling product, reaching total sales of 4 billion units by August 2022.

  • On Amazon, the product description of the 3x Spicy Ramen admits that it may be challenging for some individuals. "While the Samyang 3x Spicy Noodles can be quite intense, they also have a unique and addictive flavor that many spicy food enthusiasts enjoy. It's important to note that they may not be suitable for those with a low tolerance for spicy food or sensitive palates."

  • Four Guardian Australia employees taste-tested the three banned varieties. Although they described the original hot flavor as "piquant" and noted that their lips were burning with the 2x flavor, it was the 3x spicy that really stood out for its heat and gave them pause to consider whether it could potentially qualify as a poison. According to writer Yvonne Lam, "I do remember seeing into the apocalyptic future when the world is on fire – just as my mouth and body was at that moment."

  • The Carolina Reaper, with 1.64 million Scoville Heat units (SHU), was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chili pepper from 2017 to 2023, when it was dethroned by another cultivar, known as Pepper X, which has more than 2.69 million SHU. Both peppers were created by American chili pepper breeder Ed Currie.

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