Shirataki (白滝,しらたき), Ito Konnyaku (糸蒟蒻), or Zero-Calorie Noodles

Categories Chicken and Turkey, Japanese, Pasta, noodles, Vegetarian

This title is not a joke. Of course the above bowl’s content doesn’t have zero calories, but the white, slightly transparent threads have zero – or almost – calories. They are also healthy, natural and I still remember being totally blown away when I discovered them at my Japanese grocer’s. Shirataki (白滝 orしらたき), sometimes called konnyaku noodles or ito konnyaku 糸蒟蒻 (see Hiroyuki’s and Nami’s comments below), are made from konjak (Amorphophallus konjac, also called devil’s tongue, yam or konnyaku), which is transformed into flour and then mixed with water to produce a sort of gelatinous, transparent substance. The latter is sold most often in two basic forms: noodles (shirataki or ito konnyaku) and rectangular, often brownish, blocks (ita konnyaku). Both are sold in bags filled with water and, kept in the fridge, they have a very long shelf life.

In Japan noodles and rectangular blocks are usually used in stews and soups. The blocks are often torn into pieces to increase the surface which will absorb more flavours and juices. See how in the Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂) opening (my beloved tv series), Master tears into pieces a block of konnyaku to prepare tonjiru (a pork soup):

If you want to see a detailed and well explained tonjiru recipe, go to Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking. His post and appetising photos made me crave a bowl of shirataki and gave me the idea of today’s post too! Thank you, Hiroyuki, for the inspiration!

Konnyaku is very rich in fiber, and so are shirataki. Visually they resemble the Chinese glass noodles: they are also transparent, have hardly any taste and absorb the flavours from sauces and food products they are cooked with. The main difference is that shirataki’s caloric value approaches zero (to be exact it’s about 3 kcal per 100g, which beats even the cucumber)! The high fiber they contain regulates the digestion, makes one feel they are very filling and suppresses the hunger, while the low-calorie and low-carb intake allows even the biggest diet freak to enjoy a fabulous bowl of noodles. I have also read on many websites that konnyaku is called in Japan “the broom for the stomach” due to its high fiber content. Both, noodles and block, keep for a very long time in the fridge, so it’s easy to have them at hand. In short, it’s THE wonder food!

Before passing to the recipe I would like to show you the wonderful knife I won a couple of weeks ago in 5 Euro Food‘s giveaway and which I am thrilled to use every day. I don’t want to make a free ad for this brand, but just say that if you still don’t have a high quality knife, do get you one! Cutting is easier, quicker, lighter, the grip is perfectly comfortable… This knife is also a particularly beautiful object with its unusually coloured, slightly reddish wooden handle (it also has my initials engraved on the other side of the blade!). Needless to say, cutting is now my favourite pastime! Thank you, Charles, for this lovely gift!

This recipe is just one of the cook-what-you-have-in-the-fridge examples of stir-fried noodles I make. It is not particularly Japanese, nor Chinese, it’s just a simple dish I had for my lunch yesterday  and if it wasn’t for shirataki, I would never post such an ordinary stir-fry.

UPDATE: Hiroyuki and Nami, thank you so much for your precious feedback!

Preparation: 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 package shirataki

50 g chicken breast

1 small green chili

1 small courgette

1 big shallot or small onion

1 garlic clove

1 cm fresh ginger

salt, pepper

grilled sesame seeds

oil for stir-frying

Sauce:

4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce)

2 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon corn starch

Rinse the noodles with cold water and boil for 2-3 minutes (dont’ be scared of the initial unpleasant smell; it will disappear).

Rinse them once more and put aside.

Combine all the sauce ingredients.

Cut the chicken breast into thin strips. Season with salt and pepper.

Peel the garlic clove and ginger and chop them finely.

Slice the shallot and the chili.

Cut the courgette into long pieces.

Heat some oil in a pan. Add first the garlic and the ginger, then after a minute, add the onion.

Fry it about a minute, stirring.

Then add the chicken and the chili pepper.

Stir fry until the chicken is cooked.

At the end add the courgette and fry it for about two minutes to keep it crunchy (or more if your prefer it soft).

Finally, add the noodles and the sauce with corn starch.

Fry everything, constantly stirring, until the sauce thickens.

Serve sprinkled with grilled sesame seeds.

34 thoughts on “Shirataki (白滝,しらたき), Ito Konnyaku (糸蒟蒻), or Zero-Calorie Noodles

  1. Healthy, natural and zero calorie – sounds too good to be true, but it seems to be. I don’t want to make fun but when I read zero or low calorie the first thought that comes to mind is beer with 0% alcohol – I think whats the point:) But the 0 calorie noodle is different, I should not compare. A broom for the stomach is a good phrase. And also good to hear cutting is your favourite past-time. Just don’t destroy things in the house:) Sharp knife is actually safer also

    1. Mr. Three-Cookies, I totally agree about 0% alcohol beer. On the other hand if someone invented a zero-calorie, full-alcohol Guinness, I would be delighted to have it in my pub 🙂 Reading all the health and food scientific discoveries you publish on your blog I always realise most of us (me too) eat too many calories and too many carbs. Shirataki make my bowl of noodles high-protein and very low-carb (and of course low-calorie). Whenever I have shirataki and don’t feel I need more carbs, I think that all the need I have for carbs is just psychological.
      I have also heard about the sharp knife’s safety: it makes neat cuts, easier to make stitches in case anything happens 😉 Today I’m going to test the knife on a whole fish. I hope I will finish it with ten fingers!

  2. What an imaginative dish!!! I could never use shirataki like you did!

    Let me just point out that the one shown in the photo is ito (lit. thread) konnyaku, not shirataki. “What’s the difference?”, you might ask. Looking at the first photo, I think it’s the same as shirataki. Confused? As a matter of fact, there is a lot of confusion about ito konnyaku and shirataki even among the Japanese! Some say that the former is thicker (and shorter) and the latter, that they differ in manufacturing method (cutting a block of konnyaku into thread vs. extruding still soft konnyaku through tiny holes into hot water), and that the former is used in Kansai (Western Japan) while the latter is used in Kanto (Eastern Japan). BUT, according to the Nihon Konnyaku Kyokai (Japan Konnyaku Association), “At present, there are no factors that clearly distinguish one from the other.”

    Maybe it’s a good idea to ask the Japanese shop if they have shirataki. They may answer that shirataki and ito konnyaku are the same thing.

    1. Thank you so much, Hiroyuki! As always you teach me all the mysterious and complex characteristics of the Japanese cuisine. Ito konnyaku and shirataki is very confusing then… My noodles didn’t look like shredded, but rather like the ones which passed through tiny holes (they are all round, without angles).
      I have also sbought green noodles with konnyaku and a vegetable (I didn’t like their taste), which weren’t transparent, had rough angles and I suppose they were shredded rather than passed through tiny holes. Next time I go to my Japanese shop I will ask them. I wonder what they will tell me 🙂
      Thank you for this informative comment.

      1. The reason why Nami-san (or maybe Nami-chan? sorry, just joking!) and I think of your dish as imaginative and innovative is that it’s hard for a native Japanese to think of shirataki as noodles.

        In Japan, konnyaku deserves its own category (and uses). I recently used “tsuki kon” (short for tsuki konnyaku), which is as thick as udon noodles, in bibimbap
        http://hiro-shio.blogspot.com/2011/07/bibimbap-recipe.html
        Tama (lit. ball) konnyaku is usually considered a specialty of Yamagata pref., but can be found in Niigata, too.
        http://hiro-shio.blogspot.com/2008/09/konnyaku-balls.html
        You may think it’s nothing, but actually it tastes really good!

        I think of myself as a Kanto person (I was born and bred in Tokyo, and came here in the Snow Country in Niigata pref. at 30). My wife, native to this snowy area, once asked me to buy some ito konnyaku, and I ended up buying the wrong one (similar to tsuki kon). I had never heard of ito konnyaku until then. Niigata has both Kanto and Kansai cultures mixed up. For example, sakura mochi is of Kansai style (domyoji), but the “toshi-tori zakana” (fish to be eaten on New Year’s Eve) is salmon (Kanto), not yellowtail (Kansai).

        1. Hiroyuki, I hope I haven’t committed a sacrilege, using shirataki/ito konnyaku as ordinary stir-fried noodles 😉
          Thank you for the further fascinating explanations. I have never seen tsuki kon here.
          Will you believe me if I say I have now tama konnyaku in the fridge? They have some dark spots (like the konnyaku block) and look a bit like Italian gnocchi. I bought them a couple of weeks ago because I saw them for the first time and thought they looked funny (I buy most foreign food because of such strange reasons…). Thank you for the link to your recipe! I now know how to prepare my funny balls 🙂 All I need is dried squid.
          I cannot believe the Japanese cuisine is so different in every region and city… I hope you don’t suffer too much because of the cold in Niigata 😉
          I only hope the Japanese language doesn’t vary so much 😉 I really appreciate you take time to explain to me such things, obvious for a Japanese. Thank you!
          By the way, I have grilled today 3 ko aji. Only for me. Every time I make aji no hiraki, I think I would never attempt it without your instructions and help!

          1. Tama konnyaku made its way to Switzerland?! That’s both funny and interesting!

            Here’s one recipe, if you are interested (Japanese only):
            http://cookpad.com/recipe/445142
            20 tama konnyaku
            1 cup (= 200 ml) soy sauce (I think it’s too much!)
            10 cm long dried squid
            Karashi (Japanese mustard)

            Wash, dry heat in a frying pan for 2-3 min., and add soy sauce and dried squid. Serve with karashi.

            Here is a “safer” recipe (Japanese only):
            http://cookpad.com/recipe/306806
            12 tama konnyaku
            1-2 tbsp sugar (sugar??? I don’t want to add any sugar!)
            Small amount of sake
            3-4 tbsp soy sauce
            Karashi, if required.

            Put water and tama konnyaku, bring to a boil, drain, add the seasonings, and stir-fry on medium heat.

            I think you can replace dried squid with some dashi.

            ***
            You mean your husband doesn’t like aji. That’s good for you. You can have all the aji then!

            1. Hiroyuki, thank you so much for the links and recipes. I even have the Japanese mustard (powder) at home! I don’t have dried squid, but if you say I can substitute it with dashi, that is perfect! My husband likes aji in tempura, but when I have aji no hiraki he prefers to take a snack for himself. Meanwhile I have all the aji for myself 🙂

  3. What a coincidence. I just had some fried glass noodles for lunch. Similar style with vege and toasted sesame seeds but I used the korean daemyun instead. Heh, sorry, not japanese. These are a lot thicker than what you have and probably made with something else and not konnyaku.

    1. It’s funny, but as I said my stir-fried noodles have nothing exceptional, except for the kind of noodles… Ok, the sesame seeds are a coincidence! Not everyone puts sesame seeds on top of their noodles 😉 I also love the Korean noodles (the sweet potato starch noodles??? They are irresistible!)

  4. I’ve heard of this but never got to try them but I really would love to! I love glass noodles and dangmyeon, all the super soft smooth and slurpy types of noodles. The fact that it’s zero calories make it even more tempting!

    1. Thank you, Shuhan! I admit, they have nothing exceptional in taste. They are just like any glass noodles, minus the calories 😉 Plus the fiber.

  5. Zero calories!!!!!????? I’ve not noticed this particular noodles before, but it will definitely be on my shopping list the next time I go to the big Asian market. Ever since I started food blogging, grocery shopping has become quite the treat!

    1. Jeno, I have them often after a very rich and heavy lunch (or previous night’s dinner). Good luck! I am sure you will find them in Japanese shops!

  6. I think Hiroyuki-san explained already but I believe both are the same. In Kanto (Tokyo area) area we call it Shirataki and in Kansai (Osaka area) they call it Ito Konnyaku (sorry we and they, I am from Kanto…). Depending on manufacture, the quality (size, texture etc etc) is different but they are made of the same ingredients. Have you eaten Sukiyaki or Nikujaga? We put shirataki and the noodle sucks up all the flavors and it’s so good… I hope to share Nikujaga recipe soon (already have photos but not written up recipe yet). I really like this shirataki noodles Sissi. We never eat it as stir-fry. Very innovative!!

    1. Nami, thank you for complicating even more the mysterious side of the Japanese cuisine 😉 I am joking of course! I am so happy to learn all these details and am so impatient to learn this “live” in Japan one day! In the meantime I will modify my recipe title. It’s funny that you and Hiroyuki think my recipe is imaginative 😉 I have never had these noodles served the Japanese way (I have learnt only recently they are served in stews), so I have always treated them like glass noodles, e.i. used in stir-fries. I have never had sukiyaki and even haven’t heard of Nikujaga (I will check the latter now and I am impatient to see it on your blog!). Thank you, Nami, for making me wiser!

  7. Oh dear. All this talk of konnyaku and shirataki by the experts has got me feeling quite outside my depth! 🙂 Either way, this dish looks great and I have to say, I never find stir-fries – zero noodles or otherwise – boring. They are so wonderfully versatile and practical. The ginger and chili sound delish and I just love the sprinkle of sesame seeds on top. I would so enjoy this right now. My tummy is grumbling and I’m on my way out to sit in a cold hockey arena for 2 hours! (you think they’d give us till October… :))

    1. Thank you, Kelly! Actually I think it took me a long time to start cooking Japanese exactly because of all the complicated terms… (This is why I started to learn Japanese 😉 ) Japanese cuisine is so healthy, full of wonderful products that I still often feel lost (like today when Hiroyuki and Nami explain the inexplicable details of the Japanese cuisine, the regional differences, etc.). I totally agree noodles are versatile. Like fried rice. I just thought it would be boring to insist on my totally improvised recipe.
      I see Canadians are really crazy for hockey! Did you know the Swiss are big fans and players of hockey too? At least in my city. Hockey matches are very frequent!

  8. Zero calories!!! that got me reading…and while I was wondering where would I find these ingredients and how to make it vegetarian, I stumbled onto the highly technical discussions about the nitty-gritty of japanese cuisine…I am lost now and have so much to learn….I really want to have more japanese food in our daily diets…it is so healthy and still so yummy…I will get there – thanks to Nami and you….

    1. Thank you, Shilpa! I am only a humble beginner with the Japanese cuisine. Hiroyuki and Nami are specialists. You are right, the Japanese cuisine is delicious, healthy and so coplex!
      You can easily make this dish vegetarian by putting some mushrooms or tofu instead of the chicken. “Nitty-gritty”? I love this expression!

  9. Are these similar to the noodles used in the Korean dish Japchae? (Which reminds me, I should post my friend’s recipe for that one day – she has a wonderful recipe!). Beautiful dish though Sissi – you keep posting such exotic sounding things, makes me feel like I need to “up my game” a bit and break out of the usual stuff I seem to be making these days. It looks so fresh and tasty – perfect for a delicious lunch, and glad you’re enjoying the knife! 😀

    1. Thank you so much, Charles! This is not a very exotic dish… Just a simple stir-fry. Only noodles are really unusual.
      They are not similar to the Korean noodles. Korean noodles are brownish, while these are almost completely transparent and clear (a bit like glass noodles). Of course there is the calorie and fiber difference 😉 The knife is really fantastic! I have even stopped using a plastic board which was my favourite: apparently it make the blade bland very quickly. Now I use only wooden boards and one very soft plastic fish board.

      1. Hi Sissi – I know the Korean noodles you speak of. Often served cold right? But in fact in Japchae they use a glass-like translucent noodle which seems similar (Here is a picture – the brown hue comes from adding soy sauce in to the dish). I’ll get the recipe from my Korean friend. Pay day is soon coming up so I think a visit to the Japanese supermarket is finally on the cards! I’ll be able to post sukiyaki finally and can maybe get some japchae noodles for some of that at the same time 😀

        1. Thanks for the link. Some of the colour comes from the sauce, but the Korean potato starch noodles aren’t completely translucent like the Chinese glass noodles (I have them practically always at home because we both love them, and they are never white-translucent). When they are dry, they are brownish-greyish. See the beautiful photo of these noodles when still dry: http://www.quitehungry.com/jap-chae-korean-glass-noodles/
          I am impatient to see your recipe and photos! I have only used these noodles in stir-fries, but never really bothered to use them exactly the Korean way.

          1. Ah, you’re right – I never realised, thanks! I thought maybe you were thinking of the cold “soba” style noodles but indeed not. It’s been a long time since I had sukiyaki myself too – looking forward to it 😀

            1. Ah, soba! No! I remember the first time I bought these Korean noodles: they didn’t look very appetising 😉 The greyish-brownish colour is not the most appealing, but they have such a great taste, don’t they? Actually, contrary to most glass noodles, they do have a slight taste even without sauce!
              You make me crave sukiyaki now… (I have never had it in my life!).

  10. The noodles look wonderful. I love all the ingredients in this dish. So glad too that you’re putting that knife to use. Having a good one does make all the difference.

  11. Yummy konyaku noodles! I saw them in superstores here in Hong Kong, but never knew that they have such low calories and high fibre content! Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    1. Purabi, you are lucky to find them where you live! Do give them a try. They are very healthy and the taste depends entirely on the way you cook them.

Comments are closed.