It’s hard to imagine a time when eating rehydrated noodles out of a plastic container was considered the height of exciting cuisine but in 1977 that’s exactly what a lot of people in the UK started believing when the Pot Noodle was created. (Well, the Pot Noodle website that says it all began in 1977; the Unilever - who now own the brand - website states it was 1979 – but hey, what’s two years between noodle-slurping friends?)
Actually, the journey of the all-in-one noodle meal really began just after World War II. Momofuku Ando (born in Taiwan in 1910 but who moved to Japan in 1933) invented the instant snack as a way of combatting the massive food shortages left in his country following the conflict. The product was developed for a number of years by Ando’s company, Nissin Food Products, before the Chicken Ramen hit the shops in 1958. Other products followed this and the Cup Noodle was launched in 1971.
Golden Wonder (the crisp and snack food company) began UK production of the 90g Pot Noodle from a factory in the lovely-sounding Crumlin, South Wales, in either 1977 or 1979, depending on who you believe. By 1995 they reckoned that approximately 300,000 were being scoffed every week – that’s a whole lot of slippery carbohydrate fun.
The original recipe consisted of dehydrated noodles, a variety of dried vegetables and flavouring powder which you turned into an edible potful by pouring boiled water onto the contents, stirring and waiting for four whole minutes. In 1992 Golden Wonder started popping little sauce sachets onto the top of the food that could be added in to increase the flavour (for example, in the current Original Curry flavour a sachet of sweet mango chutney is included).
In 1995 the Pot Noodle range expanded: Fun Pots (55g pots aimed at children), Pot Rice (fairly self-explanatory), Pot Light (can’t find any information about this one but as a guess I’m presuming it was your usual Pot Noodle only but with fewer calories) and Pots of the World (again, any mention of these seems to have been wiped from the internet but an intelligent deduction would be that they were adorned with flavours from across the globe) hit the shelves.
In 2000 Unilever bought the Pot Noodle brand from Golden Wonder and celebrated this with the launch of the King Size Pot Noodle, which gave you an added 24 grams of noodle excitement. By 2002 the company were producing 175 million pots every year, which they calculated meant five pots being eaten EVERY SECOND.
2006 saw the introduction of the ‘Fuel of Britain’ strapline on their advertising. Meant to promote the idea that it was actually Pot Noodle that was supplying all the hard workers of Britain with their nutritional needs, they created a memorable advert featuring miners discovering ‘Noodle Fuel’ in their mine in Crumlin. The actors playing the coal-covered, pick-axe wielders were actually all people who really worked for Pot Noodle. Which was nice for them.
There have been many different Pot Noodles on the market over the years, with many linked to specific occasions. Christmas time seems particularly popular for new varieties: 1996 saw the limited edition Turkey and Stuffing pot arrive for the yuletide season and in 2010 you could buy the Pot Noeldle (geddit?). The beauty of the latter was the lid could also double as a bauble for your Christmas tree (albeit a bauble that smelt of poultry-flavoured starch)! Another limited edition was produced in 2008: the Poulet & Champignon Pot Noodle was sold in Harrods for £29.95, the proceeds of which went to charity Action Against Hunger.
In 2013 Pot Noodle introduced their new flavour – the spicy Piri Piri Chicken – with the dubious and decidedly sexist strapline ‘Peel the top off a hottie’. Also that year, according to the website, Wayne Rooney ordered ‘£2,000 worth of Pot Noodle and drink’ to be delivered to his tent at Glastonbury. Although, to be fair, that statement is fairly vague and he could actually have spent 75p on one Pot Noodle and £1,999.25 on beer.
The Brazilian BBQ Steak Pot Noodle was introduced to tie in with the 2014 World Cup. I never tried it but hopefully it was more impressive than the England team’s pitiful efforts in the competition.
For 2014’s National Chocolate Week (there’s a National Chocolate Week? Why has nobody ever told me this?) Pot Noodle collaborated with Paul A. Young (not Paul Young of ‘Wherever I lay my hat’ fame – this one is a ‘world-famous celebrity chocolatier’ apparently) to create a Choc Noodle. Now, I love chocolate and I’m pretty fond of noodles but I’m not entirely convinced the two should go together, especially as Pot Noodle’s website informs me they also threw fudge and maple-covered pecans into the mix as well. Fortunately (or not I suppose, if you have the kind of palate that is happy with the thought of casually melting a Cadbury’s bar into your pasta), the website also says ‘Unfortunately, Choc Noodle was a flavour trial so it isn’t in any shops at the moment,’ which I guess you could possibly read as ‘Unfortunately, Choc Noodle was, in fact, hideous and not many people liked it, so we threw the recipe away.’ Possibly.
Other tastes that have come and gone include Seedy Sanchez Mexican Fajita, Southern Fried Chicken, Spaghetti Bolognese and Chicken Tikka. The range currently (in 2015) has eleven different Pot Noodles in their range: Sausage Casserole, Beef & Tomato, Bombay Bad Boy (hot curry with a sachet of hot fire chilli sauce), Brazilian BBQ Steak, Chicken & Mushroom, Chilli Beef, Chinese Chow Mein, Original Curry, Piri-Piri Chicken, Sticky Rib and Chinese Sweet & Sour.
All are listed as being suitable for vegetarians so you can be reassured that despite the name you will find no real beef, steak, sausage or chicken inside. Unilever still produce approximately 155 million pots every year, however, so unless Pot Noodle’s customers are exclusively veggies the lack of a real protein is obviously not an issue for all those instant-noodle-lovin’ carnivores out there.