Friday, January 29, 2010

Diet Secret of the Orient

Photo of shirataki noodles, etc. by Naotake Murayama via Wikipedia

I recently read an article about a Japanese food that is quickly making inroads into the bellies of dieters across America. At zero calories a serving, is there any wonder why? Made from the root of the konjak, or konnyaku plant, shirataki noodles have long been a familiar food in Japan. In America these "miracle noodles," which happens to be the name of one US company that markets them (available here on Shirataki Noodles), are being billed as a low calorie replacement to spaghetti. If you haven't tried them but are thinking about it, get that thought out of your head. I've eaten spaghetti and believe me shirataki is no spaghetti.

That's not to say these so-called noodles aren't good. They're plenty good and, what's more, maybe good for you. I'm certain they have a flavor, I just haven't been able to exactly find it yet. They have a firm gelatinous texture that is slightly reminiscent of, well rubber. Don't stop reading. They're not all that bad. Sautéed with a little sesame seed oil (there go the low calories), some garlic, maybe a little pork and just a dash of soy (or better yet fish, preferabaly bonito, stock-flavored soy) and  you've got a cookin' meal. They also go terrific with tonjiru, a robust pork-based miso soup, and a host of other Japanese culinary delights.

If you are looking for a replacement to a high calorie food that will deceive your taste buds, shirataki may or may not be up to the task.  My family eats a lot of white rice and I've found at least one way to cut the calories without cutting out any of the flavor. Just chop up some shirataki noodles to the same size of the grains of rice (it's not as difficult as it sounds) and substitute up to a third or more of the rice you need for your recipe with the grain-sized shirataki. I've only tried it with steamed white rice but I'm sure it would work with a bevy of rice dishes from fried rice, to paella, rice gratin, and more.

It's sure not spaghetti, so if you're still thinking about having it for dinner, just get that out of your head. In Japan shirataki is also known as ito konnyaku. "Ito" means string while "konnyaku," meaning konjak (the plant from which the food is made), has over the years been most often translated as "devils' tongue jelly." If you're still thinking about having it for dinner try to get that out of your head too.

Photo of Konnyaku by Gleam via Wikipedia

Oh and another thing I read: "17 children and elderly people have choked to death on konnyaku jelly since 1995."


  1. Devil's toungue advocateJanuary 29, 2010 at 9:17 PM

    I think more people in Japan choked on candy than konnyaku jelly last year.

  2. That's very reassuring Devil's Tongue Advocate.
    Thank you for the input.