YES, THEY ARE packed with carbs and calories, and pack enough salt for an entire day, but instant noodles are such a quick, cheap go-to meal that they are worth having on hand -- if you promise a few things.First, don't eat them too often, as the dehydration process used to make the noodles cook fast uses a petroleum product that's not good for you. Second, throw out half the flavor packet. Third, always add lean protein and vegetables. Last: DO NOT settle for the cheapest ones you can find. Here are details on some of the best and worst intant noodles I taste-tested for a recent Taste-Off column published in the San Jose Mercury News and it's sister newspapers. Menraku Japanese Ramen Miso: A hefty tablespoon of red miso stirred in just before serving adds great flavor to this authentic version of delicate, yet chewy Japanese ramen noodles. If salt is a concern, omit part of the seasoning and miso packets. A 90-gram container has 390 calories, 18 grams fat, 2,240 mg. sodium, 8 grams protein. $1.99 at Marina Market. (4 stars)
JML Instant Noodle Artificial Spicy Beef: This brothy noodle bowl made by Nissen has it all. It’s spicy hot, packed with flavor and includes a spoonful of dehydrated cabbage and greens. The noodles are more dense and flavorful than most. A 119-gram container has 551 calories, 24 grams fat, 2,352 mg. sodium, 10 grams protein. $1.19 at Marina Market. (4 stars)
Kim Ve Wong Vegetarian Instant Noodles Mixed Flavor:Tangy broth and a generous packet of cooked Asian veggies in sauce that are added just before serving make for a fresh, slightly more nutritious bowl . A 540-mg. container has 547 calories, 33 grams fat, 1,872 mg. sodium, 12 grams protein. $2.59 at Marina Market. (3½ stars)
Nongshim Bowl Noodle Soup Hot & Spicy: These Japanese-style noodles lack vegetables or herbs, but the broth has deep flavor and the noodles have nice chew. An 86-gram bowl has 380 calories, 14 grams fat, 1,740 mg. sodium, 8 grams protein. 99 cents at Safeway. (3 stars)
Paldo Fun & Yum Bowl Noodle Hot & Spicy: The flavor on this mildly spicy bowl from Korea is good, but the ultra-white noodles are flabby and have little flavor. An 86-gram container has 392 calories, 16 grams fat, 2160 mg. sodium, 8 grams protein. 89 cents at Marina Market (and by the case at some Costco stores.) (2½ stars)
Unif Bowl Instant Noodles – Artificial Spicy Beef Flavor: Balanced flavor and just a touch of hot oil make these slightly soft, Chinese-style noodles pleasant, but not standout. A 110-gram container has 500 calories, 25 grams fat, 2,330 mg. sodium, 9 grams protein. $1.99 at Marina Market. (2 stars)
Sapporo Ichiban Oriental Noodle Soup Chicken Flavor: A pouch containing a spoonful of corn and peas earns extra points for this otherwise ordinary, salty cup of noodles. A 64-gram container has 300 calories, 15 grams fat, 1,200 mg. sodium, 5 grams protein. $1.29 at Marina Market. (1½ stars)
Noodles to avoid: Hao Hao Sate Onion Flavor, Little Cook Instant Noodles, Dr. McDougall's Vegan Ramen.