Pasta and noodles are only as good as their ingredients. Wheat is what makes spaghetti and fusilli so delicious and versatile, while soba gets its signature earthy flavor from buckwheat flour. But there’s another flour that does heavy lifting in the noodle world, and deserves your fullest appreciation: konjac flour.
Konjac flour, in case you’re unfamiliar, is made from the starchy root of the konjac plant, which is native to Japan, China, and other East Asian countries. “[Konjac root] appears in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisines in the form of cakes, noodles, and jellies—as well as several other non-food uses—and it has also been used for vegan seafood alternatives,” says Cara Harbstreet, RD, of Street Smart Nutrition.
The root is milled or mashed into a powder (aka konjac flour), then boiled in water with lime (or another source of calcium hydroxide), which then turns the mixture into a gel. This gel is then used for a variety of different dishes, from being pressed into shirataki noodles, formed into cakes, or even acting as a plant-based version of gelatin. “While this process can be done at home using traditional methods, most people purchase the finished product in the form of wet-packaged shirataki noodles,” Harbstreet says.
Konjac and foods containing it definitely aren’t new; as mentioned, the ingredient has been a staple of many East Asian cuisines for generations. But if you’re just know being introduced to all things konjac, here’s a primer for you on why it’s such a great healthy ingredient:
5 health benefits of konjac flour
1. It might lower cholesterol
“Konjac is hailed for its high fiber content,” says Megan Wong, RD, a registered dietitian for AlgaeCal. Specifically, its fiber comes in the form of gloucomannan, a soluble fiber that is present in high quantities in konjac roots. “Soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol, causing it to be excreted rather than staying in the body.” That can help lower bad HDL cholesterol levels and supporting healthy LDL cholesterol levels—which is important for cardiovascular health.
2. It could help you poo
Thanks to the high fiber content of konjac flour and most products containing it, consuming konjac could help you keep things moving through the digestive system. “Some research indicates a glucomannan supplement may help regulate digestion by improving stool consistency and frequency,” says Harbstreet. “However, it was also noted that the addition of glucomannan alone did not always result in improvement,” she says, and no human studies looking at how foods with gloucomannan affect digestion have been performed, so further research is needed.
3. It fills you up
Additionally, foods made from konjac flour (like shirataki noodles) are super filling without being super calorically dense, Harbstreet says, thanks to its high fiber and water content. (The fiber also ensures that they’re low in net carbs, too.) However, you may feel less satisfied than if you ate a similar or smaller portion of another food, so it’s worth keeping in mind when considering a potential swap.
4. It might help with diabetes management
“Many people with diabetes believe they must avoid traditional noodle or pasta dishes. Shirataki noodles may offer an alternative for them to enjoy these recipes with less concern about the impact on their blood sugar,” Harbstreet says. That’s because they are low in carbs and sugar, so you can enjoy more freely. Plus, the high soluble fiber content of konjac can help keep blood sugar stabilized. “Soluble fiber slows down digestion and is helpful for preventing blood sugar spikes,” says Wong.
Are there any downsides to konjac flour or foods that contain it?
While konjac is generally a fairly healthy ingredient, it’s always possible to overdo it. “Overconsumption of shirataki noodles or other forms of konjac could result in GI upset, such as bloating and gas,” says Harbstreet.
And because of the high fiber content, there could be a potential delay in the absorption of certain prescription medications. “This is especially relevant for those with diabetes who are taking medication to help regular blood sugar,” she adds.
How to enjoy konjac flour at home
There are a couple ways to go about incorporating konjac flour into your diet if you’re interested in trying it. To dip your toe in the water, Wong suggests incorporating konjac flour into your baking. “Konjac flour is typically used to help with thickening and texture. You can use it whenever you would use cornstarch—think pie fillings, puddings, or even sauces and gravy,” she says. “It also helps lend a soft, tender texture, perfect for cookies, brownies, cakes, and breads,” she adds.
FYI: Konjac flour is not interchangeable with wheat flour, but can be added to wheat flour for a softer product. Try adding half a teaspoon of konjac flour for every cup of flour for a more tender product (plus a fiber boost!), but don’t add more than one teaspoon per recipe. (Otherwise you might affect the final taste and texture.)
You can also make your own shirataki noodles, Wong says. “You’ll need water, glucomannan powder, baking powder, and a noodle press. You’ll first form a gelatinous mixture by combining the water, glucomannan powder, and baking powder. Then simply press this mixture through a noodle press and boil the noodles.” If you’re not feeling the DIY route, you can just buy from the store instead—they’ve gotten more common in grocery stores thanks to the continued interest in low-carb eating and alt-pastas.
“Because of the texture and high water content, the most ideal use [of shirataki noodles] is in dishes that involve broth or other liquid for serving, like the traditional Japanese oden it’s commonly used in,” says Harbstreet.
“These noodles are delicious in soups, as stir-fries, cold with peanut sauce, and even as part of salads. They’re relatively tasteless and have a fun, chewy texture,” adds Wong.
To use, remove from the packaging and rinse. Heat in a skillet to remove excess water and help the noodles hold their shape. Then add your desired seasonings, sauces, and other ingredients. “The noodles themselves are virtually tasteless so they will take on the flavor of any seasonings and sauces they’re served with,” Wong says. Have fun experimenting in the kitchen!