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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Konjac and Shiritaki Noodles

I have heard and read this question many times: "what food can I eat to lower my blood glucose levels?"

My standard answer has always been to advise that there is no such food and the dietary way to lower blood glucose levels is to select carbohydrate portions that do not raise blood glucose levels excessively. 

I may have to add a caveat to that response in future. For the past three years I have been making occasional experiments with an unusual food called Konjac. This food has several other names in different parts of the world.

Scientific: Amorphophallus konjac. Also known as:
  • Konjac
  • shiritaki
  • Glucomann
  • devil's tongue
  • voodoo lily
  • snake palm
  • elephant yam
You can read more about the plant and its variants here on wiki: Konjac and Shiritaki noodles.There are several forms: powder, noodles, gel and cake. The version available locally to me is noodles, which are packaged in a brine solution.

The noodles look like pasta but are quite different in texture. After draining, separating and rinsing to remove the slightly fishy odour they have a slippery feel and are more chewy than the equivalent spaghetti or fettucine. They do not soak up sauce juices in the same way as pasta, consequently I have learned to reduce my sauces more when preparing konjac dishes.

Despite those differences, my experiments show that for me they are a taste worth acquiring.  These are extracts from posts on the ADA forum since I started experimenting with konjac. 

I rinsed 120gm (4oz) Konjac several times and then let it drain in a sieve for 30 minutes. In my wok I stir-fried 2/3 cup of shredded cabbage and half a medium sliced onion in a splash of peanut oil. When the onion was starting to caramelise I added 50gm shredded ham, warmed it through and then transferred the ham and veges mix to my serving bowl.

I fried the Konjac in a tablespoon of peanut oil until the noodles started to separate and dry out and occasionally "popped". They never went hard or dry, but became a little more springy and less moist. I returned the veges and ham to the mix. I continued to stir as I cooked for a couple of minutes until the veges were softened and thoroughly mixed with the noodles. I transferred it to the bowl, adding 15gm (1/2 oz) of shredded cheddar and a splash of cream, stirring it well. 

It was surprisingly good. The noodles shape was similar to thin spaghetti but the texture was chewier and springy. The noodles seemed to have no flavour of their own but took on the flavours of the other foods in the recipe.

Here comes the good news.
  • Pre-meal: 5.8 mmol/L (105 mg/dl)
  • 45 minutes post-meal: 5.3 mmol/L (96 mg/dl)
  • 75 minutes post-meal: 5.3 mmol/L (96 mg/dl)
The post-meal numbers may have been aided by 150ml (5oz) of Shiraz between the end of the meal and the 45 minute test.

The next experiment with Konjac was not quite as successful. But it was educational.

I made up my usual bolognaise sauce, using some mince steak (ground beef to the trans-Pacificans). I browned the meat, then added a cup of my Napoli Sauce and cooked it for a while to incorporate it. When used as a sauce with pasta it is delicious with a dusting of grated parmesan.

I prepared 200 gm of the Konjac noodles in the same way, rinsing, draining, separating and lightly frying in olive oil. However, when I added the sauce and tried to “cook it in” as I usually do with wheat pasta the mixture stayed too liquid. Unlike pasta, Konjac noodles do not absorb the sauce liquid.

The result was edible but chewy and not terribly appetising. Next time I will cook the Konjac longer and reduce the sauce a lot more, to thicken it and remove a lot of the liquid. After the meal I drank my usual glass of Shiraz.

On the other hand, the good news was:
  • Pre-meal: 5.7 (103)
  • 1hr post-meal: 5.5 (99)
Two days earlier I bought a Thai green Chicken curry for dinner. It was a large serve and I only ate half of it, followed by my usual glass of wine post-dinner. I was 5.4(97) pre-meal and 6.9(124) after. I expected that because there is always some starch in the local Thai curries.
We decided to have the leftover Asian meals for dinner two nights later. This time I prepared about 125gm of Konjac noodles first by rinsing, draining and pan-frying until they were dried out but still supple. I added them to the re-heated Thai chicken curry, which was exactly the same size as the previous serve. The resulting dish was quite tasty, although I still prefer other noodles for taste and texture at the moment. 
I was a little high before the meal at 7(126); I can't recall why but presumably had a forgotten snack. Or maybe it was gremlins. Here is the surprise:
  • 1hr: 5.8 (105)
  • 2hr: 6.3 (114)
Continuing the trial...

I had leftover meatball casserole for lunch. It is a fairly low-carb recipe, but I had it on a slice of toast which added about 15gms of carb. On past experiments at that time of day I would have expected that combination to raise me from my usual pre-meal of 5.5-6 (100-108) to somewhere between 7(126) and 8(144).

I added 120 gm of Konjac noodles, preparing them in the same way as before.

  • Pre-meal: 5.8 (105)
  • 1hr Post-meal: 6.8 (123)

I still can't form any definite conclusions, beyond the fact that Konjac definitely does not increase my blood glucose levels and may limit or even decrease the effects of other foods. But still only "may".

Since those early experiments I have continued to use konjac once or twice a month together with low-carb ingredients. In almost every case my post-meal blood glucose was equal to or lower than my pre-meal. 

Last night I ate the same recipe as experiment #1, using 150gm of chopped bacon instead of ham. I also added a few strands of my wife's wheat fettucine to provide a better texture; probably about 15gms of extra carb. I probably made the portions too large, we were very "full" when we finished the meal. My pre-meal level was a little high at 7.6 (134) as I had indulged in a cookie half an hour earlier. My one-hour post-meal was 6.7 (120).

I emphasise that these experiments were personal and may only apply to me. My only recommendation is to do your own experiments if you are interested in trying this food. I have no commercial interest in any firm selling konjac in any of its various forms.

Cheers, Alan, T2, Australia.
Everything in Moderation - Except Laughter