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Konjak, konjaku, konnyaku potato, devil's tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm, or elephant yam, konjac is a yam like perennial plant that goes by many names. Widely used in the kitchen in its native Japan you are more likely to have heard nutritionists or faddy dieters sing this plants praises in the Western hemisphere.
So just what is it that about this cross cultural ingredient that makes it so interesting in the kitchen? We take a look from the ground up and discover what it is, where it comes from and above all how to turn it into a tasty dish.
First up - here's what it looks like - giving an obvious clue as to where the nickname voodoo lily came from.
Where's it from?
The konjac plant (Amorphophallus konjac) grows in Japan on slopes 2000 to 4000 feet above sea level. The edible part of the plant is the root which resembles an oval shaped yam potato or taro.
How Should we eat it?
After being harvested, the tubers are dried, grated and ground into flour, often made into the popular shirataki noodles, boasting close to zero calories.
Why Should we Eat it?
Prized for its nutritional qualities konjac contains amino acids, minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and mangnesium and is high in fibre as well as easily digestible. Benefitting the gastrointestinal system konjac helps you stay fuller for longer making it partuclarly appealing to dieters.
Its most interesting feature, which has attracted alot of attention, is for its low calorie count. In a decade of diets and demonization of carbohydrates, it is no wonder that konjac root is having its moment in the spotlight as a carb substitute.
How Should we cook with it?
Konjac forms the main ingredient in the extraordinary low calorie pasta of shirataki which is both easy to prepare as well as having excellent nutritional credentials. As with most things good for you there's a down side. And in this case it's flavour. Yes, that's right, we can't have it all, shirataki are virtually tasteless but on the plus side their jelly like consistency lends them perfectly to absorbing any kind of seasoning they are put with and they're extremely easy to cook with no starchy residue.
Seeing as you're saving all those calories in the shirataki the time to go a bit mad is with the condiments and sauces to pump up the flavour. A nice tasty meat sauce or anything that you would usually use with ramen and noodle ingredients is ideally suited.
Konjack is also commonly seen in its gelatinous form, though it also can be produced with a stiff, rubbery finish similar to Western fruit leather. Some common foods that include konjac include vegan gelatin, flour, and herbal supplements.