Momofuku Ando, 96, a Japanese businessman whose later-in-life invention of instant noodles revolutionized how people eat one of the world's oldest foods, died Jan. 5 of a heart ailment in a hospital near Osaka, Japan.

Mr. Ando's entrepreneurial genius was to shuck off centuries of tradition and realize that noodles did not have to be cooked fresh and served only after being steeped in a vat of boiling water. After tinkering for a year in his backyard shed, he discovered that noodles could be dried, packaged and rehydrated in a bowl of boiling water in just three minutes -- and served almost anywhere.

His gamble with flour, palm oil and MSG created a food that appealed to tastes across Asia and in the United States. He began exporting instant ramen into the United States in 1970 and a year later created Cup Noodle -- noodles that could be sold and prepared in the same container -- inspired by the way U.S. consumers plopped their noodles into a cup and ate them with a fork.

The focus on convenience, taste and price turned Nissin Food Products, his small Osaka company, into a $3 billion multinational corporation with 29 subsidiaries in 11 countries.

As recounted in his 2002 autobiography, "How I Invented Magic Noodles," Mr. Ando's eureka moment occurred in 1957, when he noticed a long line of customers waiting for service outside a noodle shop. He asked himself whether there might be a faster way to serve all those busy-but-famished construction and office workers who were working late shifts and overtime hours to rebuild Japan after the war.

A year later, he introduced what was first called Chicken Ramen. He tested the product in one store in Osaka Prefecture and began mass production after Japanese customers proved they were prepared to defy the sneering of Japan's traditional udon and soba noodle makers. They were also, initially at least, willing to pay up to six times more than they would for fresh noodles in return for the convenience of the quick serving.

Within a year, the company was selling 10,000 portions daily, and competitors began crowding a market in which each consumer in Japan, a country of 126 million people, now eats an average of 45 portions of instant noodles annually. Worldwide, the industry sold 85 billion packages in 2005.

Under Mr. Ando, who remained chairman until 2005 and was still listed as chairman-founder when he died, Nissin has maintained its market leadership in Japan with a steady stream of new products. Instant noodles now come in such flavors as picante shrimp and Cajun chicken.

The company has branched into frozen foods, soups and desserts. And in 2005, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, aboard the shuttle Discovery, chowed down a bowl of Nissin's Space Ram, whose vacuum-sealed packet was developed with Japan's space agency.

Mr. Ando was born to Taiwanese parents in Taiwan, then a Japanese colony, in 1910. Orphaned, he was raised by his grandparents and as a boy worked in the couple's fabric store. The experience stirred a spirit for business, he recalled in his autobiography, and, after moving to Japan in 1933, he tried his hand at a variety of enterprises through the years of Japan's Pacific wars, selling salt, magic-lantern projectors and prefabricated houses and running a school.

In 1948, he was arrested and convicted of tax evasion. In his biography, Mr. Ando said he had provided scholarships for students, which at the time was a form of tax evasion, and he spent two years in prison. After his release, a credit union on whose board of directors he served went bankrupt, and Mr. Ando lost all assets but his house.

His invention arrived at the precipitous moment that Japan, too, was getting back on its feet.

Survivors include his wife, Masako; two sons; and a daughter. His son Koki Ando is president of Nissin Food Products Co. Ltd.