I know that the classic sandwich from childhood was a P, B & J. Maybe it was strawberry,
perhaps orange marmalade, my personal favorite was grape. However the jelly I speak of today
wasn’t meant for PB, in fact I’m pretty sure even Elvis didn’t use this variety of jelly. I’m
speaking about konjac jelly or in Japanese culinary terms; konnyaku. This firm jelly derived from
the corm of Amorphophallus konjac can ultimately produce a wide variety of products from
noodles to block jellies to fruit flavored sweets and has a culinary benefit second to none; it has
virtually no calories! That’s right, zero, nada, none! Why? The starch that’s extracted from the
corm is indigestible so basically it’s a jelly fiber. But it produces a firm texture that perfectly
complements other ingredients and “fools” our stomachs into thinking we’ve had enough to
eat. Psyche!

The Science of Konnyaku

What plant produces a food that has no calories and what is konjac or konnyaku anyway? The
name of the genus; Amorphophallus basically translates to misshapen… ahem… misshapen male
private part. There are literally dozens of individual species but most of the… misshapen private
part emits a pungent odor meant to attract insects and hence perpetuate pollination. However,
konjac or konnyaku comes from the “less” glamorous end of the plant, namely the corm.
Now that you’re totally lost, “what the heck is a corm”? A corm is a fleshy underground stem
meant for storing energy – if you’ve ever seen a whole taro plant, the corm is the bulb of taro
used for that Hawaiian staple, poi or sliced and deep fried for chips. Once the corm is processed
with water and limewater, it produces a firm jelly known in Japanese cuisine as konnyaku.
But how can it be calorie free? Well, the monosaccharide or individual sugar molecule in
konnyaku is simply glucose. The same glucose that is found in table or milk sugar… and those
can pack on the pounds if not consumed in moderation. True, it’s the same glucose but in the
case of milk sugar, table sugar or starch these glucose molecules are connected via alpha bonds
which our digestive enzymes can readily hydrolyze or break, thus rendering digestible and
absorbable sugars. The glucose in konnyaku (also known as glucomannan) is connected via beta
bonds which humans can’t hydrolyze or digest. Therefore it flows right through our intestinal
tracts in essence being non-caloric.
However, since konnyaku does have a firm jelly structure it does have the added benefit of
stretching our stomachs during consumption thus sending signals to our brains that we’ve
consumed enough food for that particular meal – actually any bulky foodstuff does the same
but konnyaku is as hearty a texture as they come. So along with zero or negligible calories and
fooling our stomachs that we’ve had enough to eat, konnyaku is a perfect weapon to combat
the battle of the bulge. And I don’t know about you but I’m at that age where just looking at
food widens my waist.

The Many Forms of the Magic Jelly

For starters, konnyaku’s basic form is a block that can be cubed to smaller bite-sized pieces for
oden, nishime or any braised dish. In its native form it simply is white though it can be colored
with hijiki to produce a speckled, ashen hue. I always incorporate cubed konnyaku in my
nishime and oden which gives the dish another dimension of texture (I won’t say flavor since
konnyaku is basically flavorless).
Konnyaku is also produced in noodle form – either white or brown – which can be stir fried
with vegetables or added to the perfect sukiyaki. These noodles can also be mixed with
traditional ramen noodles for a bowl of contrasting textured ramen.
Konnyaku also comes prepackaged as konnyaku sashimi. Wait! Isn’t sashimi raw seafood? Yes,
but because of its firm gelatinous texture, konnyaku falls between the texture of raw mirugai
(geoduck clam) and a very firm maguro (tuna).  To make the “sashimi” a little more attractive,  
the konnyaku are usually flecked with bits of shiso for a pleasing green tint or flavored with
citrus (once again since konnyaku is flavorless) and packages usually include a dipping sauce.
Finally as previously mentioned konnyaku can be made into a dessert or candy especially when
flavored with litchi though konnyaku does present a possible choke hazard especially with
children. These litchi flavored sweets usually were in individual cups that you had to “suck” out
of the cup. Given that konnyaku doesn’t melt like traditional gelatins, if you inadvertently
inhaled one of these morsels it could end with a very BAD outcome, enough so that the
European Union banned these sweets for a while and the US FDA issued choke warnings with
these products. I personally endorse block konnyaku products but icks-nay on the candied

One of the Gochiso Gourmet’s favorite konnyaku applications is nishime or a hearty vegetable
based “stew”. Additional ingredients like gobo, shiitake and bamboo also increases the “bulk”
factor and keeps the caloric factor to a minimum for those of us who have long fallen off the
“New Year’s Resolution” bandwagon. You can modify the solid ingredients to your own palate
though I’ve chosen high bulk, low calorie items for my personal nishime.

Konnyaku Nishime

1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp Hondashi
2 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp mirin

1 to 2 cups water
2 cans bamboo shoots cut to bite sized pieces
3 carrots cut to bite sized pieces
1 medium size daikon, peeled then cut into bite sized pieces
1 package nishime kombu tied into bite sized knots
1 to 2 gobo, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1 package dried shiitake rehydrated and quartered
2 packages colored konnyaku cut into bite sized pieces
2 packages white konnyaku cut into bite sized pieces
2 packages aburage or fried tofu cut into bite sized pieces
1 small hasu, peeled cut into bite sized pieces
1 to 2 sheets of dashi konbu

Place the sheets of dashi konbu on the bottom of a non-stick Dutch oven then simmer the 1 to
2 cups of water and add the solid ingredients. Mix the first 5 ingredients then add to the gently
simmered solid ingredients. Cover Dutch oven and keep on low simmer until all of the
ingredients are tender – about 30 minutes.

Konnyaku Sukiyaki

2 packages konnyaku noodles
1 can bamboo shoot strips or 1 can bamboo shoot sliced into ¼” slices
1 cup sliced dried shiitake rehydrated
1 large head of napa cabbage cut into ½” strips
1 bunch watercress cut into 2” length
1 bunch green onion cut into 2” length
1 round onion cut with the grain into ¼” slices
1 block extra firm tofu cut into bite sized pieces

2/3 cup shoyu
1/3 cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup mirin

In a 5 quart Dutch oven, sauté the four fresh vegetables with non-stick spray. Once the
vegetables have softened, combine the last four ingredients and add to the Dutch oven. When it
begins to simmer, add the first three ingredients and the tofu. Simmer for another 10 to 15
minutes adding extra water if necessary.

The Wonder Jelly

It’s easy to incorporate this “magic” jelly into a variety of dishes and the best part is that it’s
totally guilt free. With a pleasing contrasting texture to fresh ingredients, negligible calories and
a variety of shapes to complement any dish, konnyaku should be a regular ingredient in your
home cooking. Just remember to keep the peanut butter in the bottle
Not for Peanut Butter Sandwiches