Japanese agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food
Highlighted Japanese IngredientKonjac
Konjac is made from the bulb of the konjac plant
Konjac, being high in dietary fiber and low in calories, is a popular ingredient for people who are dieting, wish to detoxify their body, or want beautiful skin. It has also gained popularity in the United States as a low-calorie gluten-free food.
Glucomannan is a dietary fiber of konjac contained in the bulb of the konjac plant. Konjac is a processed food made from glucomannan that solidifies into jelly. Konjac bulbs were originally grown in Southeast Asia and consist of many species. Many of them are different from the konjac bulbs cultivated in Japan; non-Japanese bulbs do not contain glucomannan, and therefore, do not solidify even if they are processed. In recent years, konjac’s popularity has led other countries in Asia to cultivate Japanese konjac bulbs.
Konjac bulbs are corms of the Araceae plant and must be grown for three years until they can be processed into konjac. After they are harvested, the bulbs are carefully stored and planted in the spring of the following year. This process must be repeated three times, making konjac a time- and labor-intensive crop.
Many benefits besides weight loss
Since konjac is mostly made of water, it is low in calories, containing only about 7kcal per 100g. Furthermore, since glucomannan expands when it is mixed with water, it promotes a feeling of fullness. It is well known that konjac is beneficial for weight loss.
But the health benefits of konjac are not limited to weight loss. Dietary fiber boosts the activity of probiotic bacteria in the intestines and is thought to help maintain a healthy bowel. For this reason, konjac is expected not only to prevent skin problems but also reduce the risk of various diseases. It is also found to prevent increases in blood cholesterol.
Perhaps surprisingly, konjac helps prevent osteoporosis and high blood pressure. Konjac and cabbage contain the same amount—43mg per 100g—of calcium, a mineral that plays an essential role in the growth of bones. Furthermore, every 100g of konjac contains 33mg of potassium, a mineral that promotes the excretion of excess sodium (salt). Excess intake of salt is considered one of the causes of high blood pressure. While both the calcium and potassium contents are not very high, its low calorie content still makes konjac an outstanding food that can prevent osteoporosis and high blood pressure all the while minimizing calorie intake.
※The mineral contents in konjac and cabbage are those in powdered “ita konjac” and raw head leaves, respectively.
Konjac is recommended also for beautiful skin
Ceramide is another konjac ingredient that is gaining attention recently. Ceramide fills the gaps in the cells of the horny layer, the outer most layer of the human skin. It prevents moisture loss from the body and helps keep the skin moisturized, while protecting the skin from external stresses. It is known that while dietary ceramide does not turn into ceramide in the skin, eating foods containing ceramide stimulates humans’ ability to make ceramide inside the body.
Konjac is processed into various shapes. The most standard shape is the rectangular block-shaped konjac called “ita konjac.” It is cut into pieces suitable for cooked foods, stir-fry, and other dishes. For Japanese New Year’s food called “osechi,” slices of konjac are cut and shaped into a braid-like form and placed in nishime, a simmered vegetable dish often served with chicken or pork. “Tama konjac,” or konjac in the shape of a round ball, is placed in a Japanese hot pot dish called “oden.” It can also be fried in miso or other ingredients and eaten.
“Tsuki konjac” refers to ita konjac that has been pushed through a special tool, similar to tokoroten (seaweed noodles), and cut into thin, long strips. It does not require cutting so it is easy to use and nicely complements other ingredients used in cooked dishes and stir-fry. “Ito konjac” in the shape of thin strings allows the flavor to seep in in a short amount of time and is therefore used for sukiyaki, Japanese side dishes, and other flavorful dishes.
There is also “tsubu konjac,” which is konjac processed into the size of rice grains. It can be cooked with rice to reduce calorie intake. “Sashimi konjac” that can be eaten without heating can be seasoned with a combination of yuzu, a highly fragrant Japanese citrus, and miso, or other combinations such as vinegar-soy sauce and wasabi-soy sauce. These condiments impart a refreshing flavor to sashimi konjac.
Enjoy contemporary recipes
Konjac is a processed food that has been part of the Japanese diet for many years and has been used in cooked foods, stir-fry, and other dishes. In recent years, konjac has been used for not only Japanese cuisine but also dishes of various other cuisines.
For example, ito konjac is often used as an alternative to pasta or Chinese noodles or for Japchae, a Korean noodle dish, as part of a weight loss menu. Sashimi konjac goes well with salads and Japanese side dishes. Tama konjac with its slippery, chewy texture is great for Spanish-style garlic sauce. It can also be eaten as a dessert, in “zenzai” style with sweetened red beans or in fruit compote.
Since its flavor is bland, konjac can be used for all kinds of cuisines with a little bit of creativity. It may not be too long before konjac is served on tables across the globe.
To ensure reliable quality, there are producers that make organically grown konjac bulbs and use natural materials in the processing process. Konjac produced according to the certification standards of Organic JAS of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is printed with the Organic JAS logo.