Shirataki noodles are a type of Asian noodle made from the root of the konjac plant. The noodles are very high in fiber, but have a low carbohydrate content, making them very popular with certain dieters. Like other foods high in fiber, Shirataki noodles may have other health benefits as well, including a reduction in the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Shirataki noodles are available at most Asian specialty stores, as well as major grocery stores in areas with a large Asian population.
The name shirataki means white waterfall in Japanese, a reference to how the noodles look when removed from their packaging. They are usually packed wet in plastic, meaning that they are ready to use immediately and can be stored for up to one year at room temperature. When opened, the noodles should be drained and rinsed before use. Texturally, the noodles are a little bit rubbery and springy, and the noodles do not have a strong flavor. In appearance, shirataki noodles resemble rice noodles, with a white and somewhat translucent color.
The konjac plant is known by a variety of other names, including Amorphophallus konjac, konjaku, konnyaku, and elephant yam. The plant is actually not related to any members of the yam family, so the belief that shirataki noodles are made from yam flour is erroneous. The plants can reach 30 inches (76 centimeters) in height, and have dark green leaves with white spots. When the konjac flowers, it produces large purple to brown blooms. Konjac is cultivated from Indonesia to Japan for its edible tubers.
Shirataki noodles can be used in a wide range of dishes. They are delicious in Asian stir fries, because they will take on the flavor of the sauce and seasonings used. Many dieters have also used the noodles successfully in Western style dishes as well, including noodle salads and pasta dinners. The somewhat bland shirataki noodle reflects taste very well, and the only real limitation on its use is the imagination of the cook.
Diners should be aware that shirataki noodles tend to expand in the stomach as digestive enzymes act upon the glucomannan, the primary ingredient extracted from the konjac root. If you are experimenting with shirataki noodles for the first time, it is recommended that you try a small serving first, to avoid feelings of bloat and discomfort. If the texture of shirataki noodles is not to your taste, you may want to try tofu shirataki noodles, which are blended to create a more familiar noodle texture.