Konjac below ground: a healthy, vesatile food

For those who are visiting Japan for the first time, some foods like yakitori chicken skewers, a simple bowl of ramen or pork tonkatsu with shredded cabbage are usually easy to try since it is rather obvious what they are made from. However, that leaves many foods which are the complete opposite.

One such food that may perplex first-time visitors is konjac (konnyaku). Most commonly presented as cakes with a firm, chewy and somewhat bouncy consistency (as seen below), konjac is a healthy and versatile food.

masa | © PIXTA

Although many people know that the starchy corms (pictured below) are the part of the plant used to make flour and turn into cakes and jellies, less commonly known is the plant's striking appearance above ground.

Sebastian Stabinger, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Konjac above ground: striking appearance, fowl smell

Also known as devil's tongue, or voodoo lily, among other things, the konjac plant (scientific name Amorphophallus konjac) is native to Yunnan in China and also cultivated in Southeast Asia in addition to Japan.

It has a single leaf up to 1.3 m (4 ft) across, divided into numerous leaflets and a very impressive flower with a dark purple spadix (spike) that can reach up to 55 cm (22 in) in length.

James Steakley, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As impressive as it looks, you may want to cover your nose if you approach a konjac in bloom. It relies on carrion flies as its natural pollinators, so it produces the odor of rotting flesh to attract them.

But rest assured. None of that fowl odor is present in the corm from which konjac food products are made.

Konnjac (蒟蒻 konnyaku in Japanese) cakes are not only featured in various side dishes along with other vegetables and meat or fish, deliciously seasoned with things like soy, sake and mirin, but also stew like oden which is very popular in winter. In such cases, the cakes are often cut into triangles, as you can see below.

Photo by grape Japan

In fact, konnyaku is a closer part of your life than you may imagine. Just look at your smartphone. It's part of the skewer of oden which is featured as an emoji, like this:


See the triangle at the tip? You might be able to see if more clearly in other versions of it. The Facebook version is the most detailed. Here it is on an iPhone:

Konnyaku is also eaten like sashimi, and can be made into noodles, known as しらたき shirataki or 糸こんにゃく ito-konnyaku. These noodles are particularly appreciated by people with allergies or intolerances to wheat, gluten or eggs. For example, here are some shirataki noodles in a delicious-looking bowl of beef sukiyaki on rice:

しまじろう Shimajirō | © PIXTA

Finally, although young children and the elderly should be careful when eating them as they may pose a choking hazard, fruit jellies made with konjac are still manufactured and found in Japanese supermarkets. They're a low-diet alternative to rich desserts when you're hungry.

The next time you're in Japan, why don't you try some konjac?

By - grape Japan editorial staff.