Konjac Jelly: A Delightful, Versatile Japanese Staple

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Konjac jelly is a nutritious vegetable that is often prepared and eaten in Japan. It is often overlooked, yet it’s an enjoyable ingredient used for a wide range of Japanese cuisines, from stews to bento boxes, and even fruit jellies. Interested in learning more about this healthy gelatinous cube? Here is everything you need to know about konjac jelly.

Devil’s Tongue Yam: What is Konjac Jelly?

Konjac jelly, offered referred to as konnyaku (こんにゃく) is made from the starchy konjac plant, which belongs to the same family of the taro and the yam. The elephant foot yam and devil’s tongue are both alternative names for the konjac plant. The plant is grown in various parts of Asia and has been in China for many centuries. It’s even used in traditional Chinese medicine and was introduced to Japan as medicinal food in the sixth century.

The konjac powder from the root is mixed with water and a gelling ingredient, which causes the mixture to solidify into a firm rubbery cake. It has a similar texture to gelatin but is significantly denser. The color of the jelly is typically determined by whether it includes hijiki (seaweed) which creates the characteristic dark greyish color, or whether it does not have additions, which then allows the jelly to be white.

A block of green-gray konjac jelly sits on a bamboo tray and kelp leaves on a black table.
It’s hard to believe that this unassuming slab can add so much to different dishes, but it does. Image via Shutterstock

Konjac jelly itself might have a subtle flavor or be altogether flavorless. Even though it lacks flavor, the bouncy texture will be a special addition to any dish and allow added sauces or broth to bring flavor to the jelly. 

Furthermore, in the case of thickening sauces, konjac flour, which includes glucomannan, is typically a better natural substitute for xanthan gum, which is fermented sugar. In general, why is konjac jelly so beneficial? Let’s take a closer look.

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Healthy Skin and More: The Benefits

Just like the incredibly nutritious Japanese tofu, the health benefits of konjac jelly are numerous. Water makes up the vast portion of this gelatinous block. As a result, it is high in fiber, sugar-free, and has no fat or protein. 

With merely water and fiber as its major ingredients, it has various health advantages. For example, it can help decrease cholesterol levels. Plus, the high in fiber promotes healthy digestion, making you less bloated and more relaxed. 

It is also exceptionally low in calories while being extremely filling. As a result, it is sometimes used as a dietary supplement as well as a weight loss food. In addition, it can also help to strengthen your immune system and promote healthy skin.

Popular Japanese Cuisine with Konjac Jelly 

Konjac Fruit Jelly

A woman holds a yuzu drink with clear and pinkish konjac jelly balls in the drink alongside a slice of yuzu in front of white flowers.
Konjac has even been used in fruit drinks the same way that tapioca is used in bubble tea. Image via Shutterstock

Japanese fruit jelly as a whole is a delicious snack and dessert that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. If you’re looking for delicious and filling healthy Japanese snacks, konjac fruit jelly might be just what you’re looking for. Peach, lychee, manga, grape, and other sweet and tangy fruits are popular flavors found in konnyaku jelly. 

What’s surprising and unique about konjac fruit jelly is that, unlike gelatin, it doesn’t dissolve easily inside the mouth. It requires chewing as if it were a gummy but with a healthier substitute that is just as tasty as regular Japanese fruit gummies. Konjac fruit jellies frequently have vitamin C and collagen, adding to the already impressive list of health benefits.

Konjac Jelly Noodles (Ito-konnyaku & Shirataki

Shirataki and ito-konnyaku are two types of gelatinous, translucent noodles created from konjac jelly. They are made out of 97% water and 3% konjac fiber. Shirataki translates to “white waterfall” in Japanese, referring to its appearance. 

Shirataki and ito-Konnyaku used to be fundamentally different from one another. The reason being that they were created using different methods depending on the region in Japan. 

The Kanto method was used to make the shirataki, while the Kansai method was used to make the ito-konnyaku. Today, however, the traditional kanto method is often used to make both shirataki and ito-konnyaku. As a result, both names are now frequently used interchangeably, the slight difference now only being in the appearance and size of the noodles. Nonetheless, both types of noodle can be used in a variety of traditional Japanese dishes.

Sukiyaki and nabe are both mouthwatering hotpot cuisines that feature boiling a variety of vegetables and meats, with konnyaku noodles as a flavorful addition. Gyudon (beef rice bowl) and ramen can both be served with konjac jelly noodles as well. In other words, it can be a wonderful addition to these delicious hot foods as well as a great low-calorie substitution. 

A black placemat with chopsticks and a black plate with shirataki noodles made with konjac jelly, cooked shrimp, green onion, and a dipping bowl of soy sauce on top.
Shirataki noodles can be served in plenty of different ways, like this dish, which uses a dipping sauce similar to soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles). Image via Shutterstock

Konjac Jelly in Soups

The simplest way to use konjac jelly is to cut the block form or ita-konnyaku into smaller pieces and add it to various soups or hotpots. It’s a popular ingredient in the Japanese dish, oden.  Oden is a traditional Japanese festival food as well as a dish that keeps one warm during the winter. 

It includes not just konjac jelly, but an assortment of fish balls, fish cakes, deep-fried tofu, and other vegetables, which are occasionally seasoned with miso. It provides great texture and a satisfying fullness to any steaming hotpot or soup dish.

Sashimi Konjac Jelly

A wooden board with kelp, onion, and konjac jelly sashimi with a grooved texture on top, and a pair of hands dipping the konjac sashimi into a yellow yuzu sauce in a blue dipping saucer.
This unique sashimi goes well with a tasty yuzu (Japanese citrus) miso dipping sauce. Image via Shutterstock

If you’re searching for an alternative to the classic, delectable sashimi (sliced raw fish or meat), konjac jelly can be a tasty vegan substitute with extra added flavors like seafood or citrus. The jelly is sliced thinly like regular sashimi and is sometimes dyed green to show that it has been flavored with citrus. 

Sashimi konnyaku has a more tender texture but is still chewy. It is usually enjoyed with wasabi and soy sauce or a sweet miso and mustard sauce. It can be as refreshing as a salad or an iced sencha green tea but is considerably more filling. 

There are numerous other ways to include konjac jelly in one’s regular diet. You can benefit from the high fiber and low calories by simply adding it to any soup or even using konjac noodles for ramen. Moreover, if you ever visit Japan, you’ll hopefully be able to tell now what those greyish cubes in your hotpot or oden are, and as a result, fully enjoy eating it even more knowing it’s healthy. Don’t forget to try the sweet and refreshing konjac fruit jelly as well.

What are your thoughts on konjac jelly? Which of these Japanese konjac jelly dishes do you want to try?

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