Konjac: Koreans' Favorite Health Food!

Konjac: Koreans' Favorite Health Food!

In the world of Korean cuisine, there's a hidden gem that has been captivating the taste buds and promoting health for centuries - Konjac. Known for its incredible versatility, nutritional benefits, and unique texture, Konjac has become a staple in Korean households and a rising star in global health-conscious diets.

Join us on a gastronomic journey as we explore everything you need to know about Konjac, the Koreans' favorite health food. From its fascinating history to its numerous health benefits and innovative culinary uses, we're here to shed light on this extraordinary ingredient.

In this blog, we'll dive deep into the rich heritage of Konjac in Korean culture, where it's been cherished for its role in traditional dishes and its potential for promoting well-being. Discover the science behind Konjac's remarkable health advantages, including weight management, blood sugar control, and digestive health. We'll also share some mouthwatering Korean recipes that showcase the versatility of this unique ingredient, allowing you to bring a taste of Korea into your own kitchen.

What Is Konjac?

Konjac is the short version of the Latin name Amorphophallus konjac. It’s a root plant with a bulbo-tuber, or corm, that can grow up to 10 in in diameter. It has one large leaf (which can be 4 ft across) and some enormous flowers.

Artist's sketch of konjac plant

Image Credits: W. Fitch via Wikimedia Commons

This plant grows in China, Japan, and other parts of Southeast Asia. It’s usually found on mountain slopes 2000-4000 ft above sea level. A konjac’s roots can grow to 1-2 lbs in around three years if it’s in optimal conditions: warm temperatures, not too much water, the right amount of sun.

Harvest konjac on cleared land in mountains

Image Credits: Image via NuPasta Us

Did you know that konjac has other names? It’s also called konnyaku potato, voodoo lily, snake palm, devil’s tongue, and elephant yam, among many others. (Don't be fooled, konjac isn’t actually a yam!) 

What Are Its Health Benefits?

Konjac has a few confirmed or possible health benefits. First, it has high fiber content in the form of glucomannan. Glucomannan can prevent constipation (especially for pregnant women), increase bowel movement, and decrease blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

Chopped konjac root with leaves

Image Credits: Image via The Good Mood Co

Studies have shown that taking konjac dietary supplements can lead to decreased food intake: it makes you feel full more quickly, making you eat less. To be clear, it doesn’t directly lead to weight loss.

Bottle with tablets containing glucomannan

Image Credits: Image via eBay

Glucomannan is also prescribed to patients with Type 2 diabetes, since it slows the digestion process and allows for increased blood sugar absorption.

A diabetic pricking their finger with needle

Image Credits: Image via Today's Practitioner

Finally, konjac can help reduce acne, due to its wound healing properties and its gentleness. It’s especially recommended for oily and sensitive skin.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Like any health product, there’s debate over how effective konjac really is. However, it’s also controversial due to choking hazards. In 2010, Health Canada warned people that taking glucomannan tablets or powder with less than 250 ml of fluid could lead to a blocked throat or choking.

Person holding glass of water picking up tablet

Image Credits: Unsplash+ in collaboration with Ivana Cajina via Unsplash

But there's more risk from eating konjac fruit jellies. They form a gel that is hard to chew and which can get stuck in a person's trachea, leading to injuries or deaths. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued recalls before it finally banned the jellies in 2001. Canada, Australia, England, the European Union, and other countries have also banned them.

Four fruit jellies mainly on their sides above a metal ruler

Image Credits: Image via Food Safety News

Besides these concerns, konjac can cause digestive problems like bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea. It can also cause an obstruction in the bowel or esophagus. Finally, while it does lower blood sugar levels, it could decrease them too much, leading to problems for diabetics.

Woman clutching stomach with look of discomfort in living room

Image Credits: Healthy Eve via Flickr

Children, expecting and new mothers, older people, and those with difficulty swallowing should be very careful when taking konjac products. Some people should avoid consuming konjac altogether.

What Products Can I Find Konjac In?

The most popular konjac products are jellies and sponges. Konjac fruit jelly comes in plastic cups or sachets and are usually eaten by squeezing directly into the mouth. As mentioned earlier, it can be a choking hazard, so please chew well and completely before swallowing.

Apple konjac jelly cups and konjac fruit sachets

L-R: Japanese Foodie via Flickr / Meagan Tape via Instagram

Next are konjac sponges, which are good exfoliators for sensitive skin. They expand and become rubbery when exposed to water, and they’re also biodegradable. Just make sure to dry completely between uses and throw them away after 4-6 weeks or if moldy or smelly.

Konjac sponges on yellow background

Image Credits: hongking allwin via Flickr

You can also get konjac in the form of Japanese shirataki noodles, made with konjac flour, limewater, and water. The noodles can be eaten on their own or in dishes like sukiyaki, a type of hot pot with thinly sliced beef and other ingredients.

Sliced beef, tofu, noodles, beans, and other veggies in a cast iron pot

Image Credits: cassaendra via Flickr

Since konjac forms a gel-like substance, it’s often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin, which is usually made from animal collagen. Konjac corm powder is also used in countries like China for vegan versions of seafood dishes, like plant-based shark fin soup.

Thin slab of gray konyakku on tatami mat

Image Credits: Gleam via Wikimedia Commons

Konjac appears in Japanese hand papermaking and fish cakes (oden), Chinese jellies (“mĂłyĂč dĂČufu” or “xuě mĂłyĂč”), and Vietnamese cakes, noodles, and drinks. It’s even used for oral colon-targeting drug delivery systems (OCDDS) and other colon-related products.

Konjac plants in a garden

Image Credits: KENPEI via Useful Tropical Plants

Like any diet product, don’t rely solely on konjac for weight loss. Take it with other healthy foods and exercise. And remember: konjac doesn't work the same for everyone. Don't be disappointed if the results aren't what you expected. 

Have you tried konjac jelly or konjac supplements before? Would you recommend them? Let us know below! 

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