Sun's Spectrum of Noodles
These are just samples of Sun Noodle's 40+ ramen recipes. Featured here are spinach-flavored ramen noodles.
Overlooking the Factory Floor
From a perch above an elevated platform with two mixing machines, you can see the rolling and cutting machines that produce everything in the factory.
Sun's Dough Mixer
A half flight above the factory floor, this machine is where the ramen dough first comes together.
Mixer Control Board
Precise control of the entire process allows Sun Noodle to make drastically different styles of noodles on the same equipment within hours of each other. Depending on the desired density of the noodle, some recipes are even mixed under a vacuum.
Two Types of Noodles
These noodles, going to different ramen shops, vary in recipe, color, shape, and texture, but were made at the same time on parallel production lines.
Starting from Scratch
The process starts with clean, pure water. This series of filters removes particles as fine as five microns and uses reverse-osmosis to remove solutes in the water. All the Sun factories have these filter systems, so the water they start with is consistent in LA, New Jersey, and Hawaii.
Seasoning the Well
The water used in noodle production is then treated to adjust the salinity, alkalinity, and temperature before being pumped to the next room to be used to make ramen. Controlling the alkalinity of the water provides ramen noodles with much of their distinctive snap.
The alkaline water does lend a slightly yellow cast to ramen noodles, but more intense yellow color comes from a blend of riboflavin and vitamin B12, which is dissolved in the water per batch of ramen.
These are the standard ingredients used to make ramen. The salt, kansui (a common alkaline solution), and riboflavin are all dissolved into the water. Sun then uses a blend of ten different flours in its basic recipe. Depending on the needs of the client, Sun conditions the texture of the noodles using wheat gluten, egg whites, and egg yolks.
The LA factory goes through about 5000 pounds of flour a day. Their ten-flour blend is a trade secret.
In the Mix
Inside the mixing machine, one batch of flour and other dry ingredients get mixed by these arms, then dropped into the kneading machine below.
It's in the Details
Sawakawa-san and his staff take special care to note the details of every step of the process. Here they are checking the temperature of dough after mixing to ensure that their controls are working properly and that the ramen is developing correctly.
Mixed dough drops down a half-story into the kneading machine, which churns the dough and extrudes it as thick sheets.
All up in Rollers
The rolls of ramen are wrapped in plastic to prevent moisture loss and allowed to rest before being fed into the production line.
Here, a roll of dough bound for Daikokuya is fed into a machine to help shape it. It takes about an hour and a half to make 25 cases, but only 30 minutes of that time is actively rolling and cutting all the noodles.
The new dough is pulled through a series of rollers that gradually reduces the thickness of the dough. It's then cut and packaged in one continuous line.
Thinning by Degrees
This composite shows the sweep of dough passing through progressive steps of the rolling process, becoming thinner with each step.
Coming Down the Line
After the dough is pressed to the desired thickness, it's fed into a cutting machine that cuts the noodles apart and to length.
Cut by Tooth
The shape of the noodle depends on the thickness of the dough when it is cut, and the size of the cutting teeth it's fed into. Here you can see an 8, 14, 20 and 28. The higher numbers have more teeth and therefore cut thinner noodles.
This 28 makes very fine noodles, although the factory does have a finer set of teeth. Sun keeps cutters in its LA factory from 8 to 30.
Without any further adjustment, the noodles feed through the teeth and make very straight noodles.
A Tale of Two Cutters
The curl of noodles at the LA factory is generated by the silicon flaps on the cutter on the left. Any set of cutters can be fitted with these flaps.
Curly Peel Back
Sawakawa-san illustrates the flexibility of the flaps. They provide just enough resistance to the noodles as they exit the cutter to form the wavy noodles seen earlier.
With the flaps in place, these noodles now have a distinctive waviness.
Just a Little Dusting
After cutting, the noodles are dusted with corn starch to keep them from sticking together during shipping and storage.
A wide band of noodles is gently cajoled into a thin stream to be bundled for shipping.
The thin streams of noodles enter these rollers and get bundled together before packaging.
Bundles of noodles are packed into a plastic wrapper by a robotic arm.
Sealing the Deal
The plastic wrapping is sealed as the noodle packs feed through this machine.
A Gentle Massage
After sealing, a soft foam pad gently presses each bundle to make a uniform shape that packs easily.
Pack in Hand
Sawakawa holds a pack of noodles headed for Tatsu in Los Angeles' "Little Osaka" neighborhood.
In the Box
Ten packs fill each labeled box, marked with the vendor, type of ramen, and production date. Depending on the ramen shop, the noodles are either stored at Sun or sent directly to their final destination.
Each stack of 25 boxes on a set of rollers represents about 1,500 orders of ramen.