Japan has a lot of intriguing things that you usually can’t find anywhere else in the world. They have many unique relics like the artifacts from the time of the samurai. They also have interestingly unique works of art like the Ukiyo-e. Aside from all these things though, food is definitely something unique in the culture of Japan and among their many distinctive dishes, there is this healthy jelly-like Japanese food called Konnyaku that exemplifies this notion.
The History, Benefits, and Uses of the Konnyaku
A lot of people think that the konnyaku is a type of potato because it grows from the root of a plant called Konjac, Devil’s Tongue, Voodoo Lily, Snake Palm, and many other names that aren’t as cool as those just mentioned. This is a misconception because the part of the plant that is turned into the konnyaku flour is the actual root of the plant which is referred to as the Konjac corm.
This plant was not originally a dish of Japan. It came to Japan in the 6th century through the Chinese who introduced it as a medicinal food. Since then, it has continued to grow in popularity. This growth in popularity was evident when in the 17th century, during the time of the Edo period, the Japanese would even import konnyaku and konnyaku noodles called Shirataki from China because they loved it so much. Another momentous event that further established the konnyaku’s growing popularity was a book published in the year of 1846 that was purely about recipes to make konnyaku dishes.
Konnyaku may not be blessed with a distinctive taste and it gained a lot of its fame because of its very unique texture but do not forget that It has been a well-known dietary food since it first came to Japan and this is true until this very day. This is because konnyaku is food that is actually the closest thing to “zero calories”. It is known to have a very good amount of a soluble fiber called ”Glucomannan” as well which helps the body process vitamins and minerals from the food eaten by an individual and also helps the body cleanse itself. It makes it a perfect fit for those who are trying to control their weight.
Being a great food for diets isn’t the only health benefit you get from eating konnyaku. The majority of the food nowadays lean towards being acidic. Konnyaku, on the other hand, is an Alkaline food so it counters the effects of the acids from other food which may cause damage to the body over time. Since it is practically just made of flour and water, it holds little to no oil and does not necessarily require oil for it to be cooked or prepared (depending on the dish being made with it) because all you really need to do with it is boil it for it to be cooked.
Konnyaku is also a reliable source of vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Aside from providing these vitamins and minerals while also giving no fat to the consumer, the glucomannan fiber in the konnyaku does more wondrous things for the body. This fiber has been tested and was proven to slow down the sugar intake of the body when being eaten with other food. This is very important because it technically makes it a food that also prevents diabetes in a sense. If these facts aren’t enough to convince you of how healthy a food this konnyaku is, it has also proven to lower blood pressure naturally over time.
Considering all that has been said about the health benefits of the konnyaku, it is also used in making food that is less healthy like fruit jelly snacks. These snacks are commonly referred to as lychee cups which is basically a cube of lychee suspended in konnyaku jelly. Since it still has the properties of a normal konnyaku, it can easily be said that these jelly snacks are still a better option than the majority of snacks you can pick up for your kids in the market today.
Aside from it being used as food and medicine, research on the konnyaku has led to the creation of products like Lipozene, which is a dietary supplement that maximizes the effects of the glucomannan fiber. Another use for the konnyaku that is slowly becoming popular too is it being used for facial massages. These types of facial massages are made possible through the use of a sponge made from konnyaku. It has been a successful treatment for many because the konnyaku sponge can be used on the most sensitive skin without triggering any irritations to the skin.
The Process of Turning the Konnyaku Plant into Flour or Powder which Leads to the Making of the Konnyaku Jelly
If you research about the konnyaku plant, you will encounter details like how it only produces an economic crop after 4 seasons or cycles of the corm’s development which is equivalent to 4 years in total. This is absolutely true and very important if you plan to make the konnyaku powder from the actual plant. If you reap the corm in its earlier seasons, you might not have the proper quality and volume to produce a lot of the konnyaku flour/powder.
Once you have your corms ready, you can start the process of making the konnyaku powder. The first thing you need to do is peel the corm. After peeling them, slice the corms and skewer them onto a stick. The length of the stick should be proportional to the number of corms you will be using. Make sure to leave a gap between each slice and then leave the stick under the sun to air dry for about a week.
Once the slices have dried up, crush them and ground them in a mortar and pestle. When you are doing this, make sure to filter out the cell debris to have a smoother consistency for the flour. You can filter it again if you feel like you haven’t taken out what you need to take out after grinding but that is completely up to you at that point.
Now that you have your konnyaku flour, you can now proceed to the steps to turn the flour into the famous jelly from which all other forms of the konnyaku like noodles and rice are made from. Worry not because this part is a lot simpler than making the flour.
You start off with a hot water in a bowl and add the konnyaku flour while constantly stirring the bowl until it forms a soft gelatinous mixture. Allow the mixture to cool all around by continuing the stirring to make it easier for the heat to escape. After it has cooled down to around 90° C, a dilute of slaked lime is mixed in and stirred with the gel until it makes the mixture thicker.
At this point, you have the konnyaku jelly in the best state to mold it into whatever form you want it in. For konnyaku noodles, just place the soft jelly into a pastry bag or a sieve and then squeeze out threads of konnyaku gel into a boiling pot of water. You can squeeze the noodles individually if you want but squeezing a continuous noodle should be just as good since you can cut it up once it’s cooked. Creating the konnyaku rice makes use of the same process. The only difference is in the shape you form with the sieve.
Some Recipes You Can Use For Konnyaku Imo Noodles and Konnyaku Rice
Konnyaku is a great addition to any dish because it essentially makes it a healthier meal overall. You can opt to make a konnyaku dish with fresh konnyaku made from the corm of the plant or with premade konnyaku blocks, noodles, rice, and many other forms of it that you can buy from your grocery store. You don’t have to worry about using fresh or processed konnyaku because their nutritional values do not differ by a lot so it is still a healthy choice whichever way you go.
As stated above, the konnyaku comes in many forms and among those many forms are the packets of konnyaku sashimi that are now also available in stores. These sashimi are pre-sliced and come in the colors of green or yellow depending on the flavor of the konnyaku. The green sashimi is usually flavored with seafood while the yellow sashimi is usually the citrus flavors. This konnyaku sashimi can also be charred a little on a pan to add some crisp to this chewy jelly. With just a little bit of wasabi paste and some soy sauce or mustard sauce, you can be assured to have a meal that is both healthy and satisfying.
If you are looking for a dish that requires more work, you can attempt to make the “Simmered Konnyaku with Beef”. What you will need for this dish is 1 block of konnyaku or 1 pack of shirataki or any other konnyaku type that you prefer to use, 4 ounces of stewing beef (cut into half inch cubes), 3 tablespoons of cooking oil, 3 cups of dashi, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of mirin, 2 tablespoons of sake, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of miso paste.
After gathering all the ingredients, the first thing you’ll have to do is cook boil your konnyaku in a pot of water. Boil it for 10 minutes and then drain and get rid of the water. If you are using a konnyaku block, cut the block into smaller blocks and make sure to cut the top of each piece with a pattern so that the sauce seeps into the konnyaku pieces better. If you are using any other form of the konnyaku, just set it aside and proceed to the preparation of the other ingredients.
You have your konnyaku on standby so now you cook your cubed beef on a pan that has the cooking oil. Once your beef is cooked, toss everything into a saucepan including the konnyaku and the oil from the beef that was just cooked. Add in all the other marinating ingredients as well and let the dish simmer over a low heat for about an hour and a half.
After an hour and a half, add the miso paste and let it simmer once again for a couple of minutes while your stir it gently to spread the flavor better. This would also be the perfect time to reevaluate the taste of the dish to make corrections if needed. If you find it too salty, you can add more sugar. If you find it lacking saltiness, add a bit of salt or more miso paste. It’s completely up to you and how you want your dish tasting.
If you aren’t satisfied with this dish for the konnyaku, you can easily search the internet and find other recipes that make use of the konnyaku like the “Konnyaku Acqua Pazza with Root Veggies” or the “Konnyaku Chocola” which is a dessert dish that might be the healthiest dessert you can ever eat in your lifetime. Since Konnyaku is primarily a substitute for the usual carbohydrates that are used in meals, you can play around with any recipes as long as you know how to prepare the konnyaku to get the texture that fits the meal you want to create.
It wouldn’t be surprising to find more konnyaku dishes and forms being sold in the market nowadays because the world is now moving towards having healthier and longer lives and considering all the benefits you get from the konnyaku, it is a no-brainer that a lot of people will utilize it in their diets. It is also a great substitute for vegetarians because it is a plant after all. If after all this discussion about the konnyaku, you still find yourself wondering why it’s so popular, the best way to quench your curiosity is to go out and try it out for yourself. You will surely have everything to gain and nothing to lose.