Shirataki Noodles

Japanese diet noodles can be substituted in many dishes

Shirataki Noodles
Photo by John Anderson

There is a new diet food out there, but the Japanese have been eating it for centuries. Known as shirataki, meaning "white waterfall," these white, thin, round noodles are made from the large bulbs of the subtropical konjak plant (Amorphophallus konjac, aka devil's tongue or snake palm). The starchy bulbs are very high in a water-soluble dietary fiber called glucomannan, which has the benefit of making one feel full while promoting gentle regularity. The big bonus is that noodles made from the starch have no calories, gluten, fat, carbs, or sugar. Essentially tasteless, they absorb the flavors of what they are cooked with.

You may have eaten shirataki noodles in your past and not known it. The Japanese use them in sukiyaki and gyudon (beef noodle bowl), while a block-shaped form called konnyaku is sliced and used in a dish known as oden, a fish-cake stew eaten as a side dish with udon noodles. Shirataki also come in a dark form, grayish with dark speckles; the color and speckles come from the addition of hijiki seaweed. This darker form is used most often in stir-fries.

Shirataki noodles are cooked and packed in water, and they need only to be well-rinsed and added to a dish right at the end of the cooking process, just to be coated with the flavor of the sauce; cook them too long, and they can become rubbery. I tested them several ways and liked each version. Thrown into a heated Bolognese, they deliciously adopted the role of an al dente cappelini. Tossed with slivered carrot, scallion, bamboo shoot, and dried tofu and topped with a spicy soy dressing, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish them from thin rice noodles. Added to steaming bowls of chicken soup, they were a delight.

Do a search online, and you'll find many recipes adopting shirataki to standard dishes, and to find them here in town, visit Asahi Imports, in the strip center on the northeast corner of Burnet Road and Koenig (6105 Burnet Rd., 453-1850).

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shirataki noodles, konjak plant, glucomannan, Asahi Imports

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