Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"They Actually Eat That:" Konjac.

Related to Amorphophallus titanum is a much smaller, hardier plant called Amorphophallus konjac. It is also called "devil's tongue," "voodoo lily," "snake palm," or "elephant yam." It's not a palm or yam, but is still sold as such in India, China, Japan and Korea. It has a much longer range than its giant cousin. You'd think that numerous references to the devil and voodoo would deter people, but this is one seriously amazing plant in Asian cuisine.

It also reeks like its cousin, by the way, so do NOT grow it in your house.

Dick jokes aside, the result of jellying the corm (like a tuber but not) of this much smaller plant produces a mottled gray gelatinous substance. Looks are deceiving; Japan has made every shape imaginable out of konjac ('konnyaku').

They Actually Eat That?!

And how! Konjac is extremely good for you. It is high in fiber and low in calories - a perfect diet food and something that should probably be a vegan staple. It is darn near impossible to tell the difference, visually, between properly-sliced konjac and genuine raw fish:

I likely had konnyaku in Japan without realizing it. It has to be dipped in a sauce to get any real flavor. The texture is like nothing in the States and was probably my main deterrent; imagine a jellied noodle. It was not delicious, but really did have a firm feel. (After getting over the texture, it probably would have been fine.)

At this point, you are probably wondering exactly why we are not munching it like crazy in the U.S./Europe. The answer is not xenophobia; konjac has killed people.

For your own safety, do not suck these.

Unlike other gelling agents like gelatin, konjac does not melt in one's mouth. It has to be chewed thoroughly or one risks suffocation. Because people were unfamiliar with the gel's strength, they got tiny candies lodged in their throats. The FDA has since been strict about konjac and the European Union has banned it entirely. I am sure that more people have died from eating McDonald's, but konjac is a foreign plant species and McDonald's is a multi-billion dollar corporation. Which party do you think law firms would side with: Money or an army of vegans?

Just wait, you'll get yours...


  1. I've had konjac jelly candies before, they are delicious! And also a little messy. Not a good idea to eat one while wearing a white skirt, there is some juicy stuff on top of it in the little cup that can spill out onto whatever you're wearing.