Konnyaku is a rubbery, flavorless zero calorie food made of yams that’s high in fiber and added to various Japanese foods for its squishy texture.
Konnyaku (こんにゃく), also known as yam cakes, is a Japanese food product made from Konjac or devil’s tongue, a plant of the genus Amorphophallus (taro/yam family). It has a gelatinous texture devoid of flavor, and the color can either be gray with specs or white. It comes in different shapes, such as slabs, noodles, or balls.
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What is Konnyaku?
Konnyaku is a rubbery, jiggly food with almost no calories, sugar, fat, or protein. Consisting of water (97%), pulverized konnyaku powder, and seaweed powder, it’s high in glucomannan, a dietary fiber that gives its unique bouncy texture. While it lacks flavor and calories, it soaks up flavors in oden, sukiyaki, and simmered dishes.
The plant is native to warm subtropical to tropical eastern Asia, from Japan and China south to Indonesia. Since the sixth century, the Japanese have been consuming konnyaku as a medicinal food.
While most Japanese people buy konnyaku at the supermarket, you can also make it.
Different Types of Konnyaku
- Ita-Konnyaku (板こんにゃく) is a thick grey slab of konnyaku
- Ito-Konnnyaku (糸こんにゃく) or Shirataki (白滝 or しらたき) are konnyaku noodles. It can either be grey or white in color. Ito konnyaku is used in Kansai (Osaka) area and shirataki is used in Kanto (Tokyo) area.
- Tama Konnyaku (玉こんにゃく) a grey or white ball shape konnyaku. It’s a local food of Yamagata (northwest Japan).
- Aka Konnyaku (赤こんにゃく) is red konnyaku that’s a specialty of Shiga (central Japan).
- Sashimi Konnyaku (刺身こんにゃく) are presliced konnyaku eaten like sashimi with a miso sauce or soy sauce. It’s green or yellow.
- Snack konnyaku are flavored konnyaku. You can find konnyaku drinks in pouches or single-serving jelly packets.
Grey vs. White Konnyaku
Konnyaku is made through peeling, drying, then grounding the konjac root into powder. The powder is mixed with water and a coagulating agent to make firm cakes.
The color difference is due to the ingredients. Grey konnyaku includes seaweed powder, which gives its dark color. Originally, konnyaku was made with raw yam, so it had a natural brown/grey color from the yam skin. While nowadays, konnyaku is made with processed powder, the addition of seaweed powder mimics the original production method.
Grey konnyaku is found across Japan and white konnyaku is primarily used in northern Japan.
What does Konnyaku Taste?
It’s so mild that it doesn’t taste like anything, which may be puzzling at first. But it can soak up some flavors and take on a mouthfeel similar to mushrooms. It’s also light on the stomach and thus prized as a diet food in Japan.
How To Cook Konnyaku
Before using konnyaku or shirataki in your recipe, you should parboil or rub it with salt. While you can skip this step, this helps removes smell, absorb more flavors, and improve texture. There are two ways to prep konnyaku.
Cook from cold water: Konnyaku loses more moisture with this method. Hence, the texture will be firmer and chewier. Once boiling, cook for 2-3 minutes and drain.
Cook in boiling water: Boil for 2-3 minutes. The unique smell will disappear and the texture will be more jiggly and tender.
Recipes Using Konnyaku
Where to Buy Konnyaku
You can find konnyaku and shirataki at the Japanese/Asian grocery stores and some health stores. While you can keep it at room temperature in a cool and dark place with low humidity, it’s best stored in the fridge. Konnyaku will last for 30-90 days if unopened.
How to Choose the Best Konnyaku
First, check the texture by lightly pressing it. It should be firm with some bounce. Most konnyaku is made of konjac powder imported from China. The most expensive konnyaku is made of grated raw konjac, although this may be difficult to find outside of Japan.
How to Store Konnyaku
Submerge leftovers in the reserved liquid and store in the refrigerator for up to a month. The liquid is alkaline water, which has a high pH level than plain tap water and prevents bacterial contamination.
If you threw away the liquid, submerge the konnyaku entirely in water and refrigerate for 1-2 weeks, changing the water every 2-3 days.
There is no good substitute for konnyaku.
You could replace shirataki with harusame noodles or other noodles, but it won’t have the zero-calorie high-fiber content.
Konnyaku is a great source of vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. In addition, the dietary fiber in the konnyaku slows down the body’s sugar intake when eaten with other food. It also lowers blood pressure and helps control cholesterol levels. Because of all these benefits, it’s embraced by dieters and health-conscious people alike.
The nutritional benefits won’t change if eaten as is or cooked.
Q: Can I freeze konnyaku?
As konnyaku consists of mostly water, freezing it will change the bouncy texture. It’ll become spongy even if you reconstitute it in water.
However, you can use it as a meat replacement for stir-fries, soups, and stews. It’ll absorb flavors more. When freezing konnyaku, cut it into cubes or slices beforehand so you can add it directly into your cooking.
Q: Can I use shirataki as a replacement for noodles?
You can swap shirataki for ramen, udon, pasta, or japchae noodles. It does have that characteristic chew and won’t completely fool you, but it’s full of fiber and nutrients.