Formulators find new uses for konjac in baked goods, snacks, more

A root vegetable native to Asia, konjac is used in modern food products like noodles, baked goods, snacks and alt-seafood. Learn more about the health benefits from five companies utilizing it to create healthier food and beverage products.

Heather Carter, Associate editor

December 22, 2023

6 Min Read
konjac

At a Glance

  • Konjac flour, derived from an ancient Asian root, is a versatile and health-rich ingredient booming in popularity.
  • Konjac boasts health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, supporting weight loss and regulating blood sugar.
  • Several companies are leading the charge in utilizing konjac, showcasing its adaptability and potential.

Konjac (Amorphophallus konjac) has been used as a food source for more than two millennia. Its corm — an underground stem that stores nutrients and food in certain plants and vegetables — is used to create konjac flour, utilized in a variety of plant-based foods, from noodles to baked goods to alt-seafood and alt-meat.

Over the last two decades, purified konjac flour, commonly known as konjac glucomannan, has been used as a food additive and dietary supplement in the United States and Europe. In 2020, FDA added the ingredient to its list of acceptable dietary fibers, consisting of nine other nondigestible carbohydrates that can be declared on the Nutrition Facts label and Supplement Facts panel.

Konjac glucomannan has been scientifically proven to help to reduce blood cholesterol, blood pressure and enable weight loss. It also has the potential to regulate blood lipids, blood sugar, inflammation, oxidative stress and intestinal microorganisms — and can also help reduce the harm of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, scientific research shows.

Though konjac flour has been used in foods for thousands of years, more companies are taking advantage of the ingredient as of late — formulating healthier versions of household staples such as noodles and pasta, as well as baked goods and snacks.

Noodles, pasta, rice

Plant-based food company Miracle Noodle, founded in 2006 by Jonathan Carp, M.D., introduced the ingredient to the U.S. market almost 20 years ago. “In 2004, I had a patient, Karen, who healed herself of lupus with diet and lifestyle changes, and she inspired me to investigate how lifestyle interventions can do amazing things, including complete disease reversal,” Carp said. “There was literature that I wasn’t exposed to in medical school and a whole host of doctors that had dedicated practices to this.

“Later that year, I took a trip to Japan and my friend took me to a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant where they served shirataki noodles [made from konjac] in differing shapes, including noodles,” he explained. “When I learned of the nutritional makeup and researched the health benefits, I immediately thought of how this could be beneficial for my patients who were just learning to eat healthy, allowing them to enjoy noodles and pasta again without the high starch content of regular noodles and pasta.”

Miracle Noodle creates a range of low-carb, high-fiber products using konjac, including noodles, pasta, rice alternatives, ready-to-eat (RTE) meals and soups. “For our RTE meals, which combine Miracle Noodle with sauces, we worked with a food science team so that we could duplicate the textures that would allow us to make products like pad Thai noodles and pho,” Carp said.

Carp is currently in the process of forming a konjac association in the U.S. so that he and other professionals can standardize and increase awareness of the plant and its health-promoting properties. “Most people are not that good with taking a supplement, but if you can make a delicious bowl of spaghetti marinara, that makes it a much easier and delicious way to get this beneficial fiber,” he said.

Baked goods

Gillian Hu, founder of baking mix brand Moyu, is also dedicated to promoting the health benefits of konjac. A third-generation entrepreneur, Hu grew up in the Yunnan province of China, where konjac is believed to have originated and where it is widely planted and consumed.

“There are 17 edible varieties of konjac in the world and Yunnan has 10 of them,” Hu said. “Konjac primarily grows in hilly areas and concealed mountainous regions, with elevations ranging from 250 meters to 2,500 meters above sea level. The temperature typically ranges from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F), and the soil moisture content falls between 60% and 80%. It thrives in loose, fertile soil with excellent drainage. Suitable planting areas can be found throughout the entire province in Yunnan.”

Though konjac was ingrained in her childhood, it wasn’t until later in life when Hu was training as a competitive athlete that she discovered the ingredient’s potential, which ultimately led to the creation of Moyu’s first product. The proprietary superfood batter and baking mix features 9 grams of protein and fiber per 1.4-ounce serving.

The company currently produces the mix, as well as three flavors of RTE cakes—The Dali (Jujube Date Banana Walnut), The Yunnan (Cacao Reishi Mushroom) and The Kunming (Orange Blossom Goji)—which all incorporate konjac as an ingredient. The RTE cakes are also dairy free and gluten free, and feature between 25 grams and 34 grams of protein each.

“Moyu is derived from the Chinese name for konjac, 魔芋 /mó yù/. Another name is 蒟蒻(jǔruò),” Hu explained. “In English, Moyu sounds like ‘more you,’ which captures the essence of our brand philosophy. Moyu is about nourishing the authentic ‘you,’ feeding both body and spirit; it’s a celebration of genuine self-expression and a journey towards a more vibrant you.”

Snacks

After encountering konjac in a jelly format while visiting Asia, a trio of friends who met in grad school — food scientist John Kim, as well as James Moon and Jet Cessant — were also intrigued to create a healthier snack using the centuries-old ingredient. Tastelli, their company that offers a range of flavored konjac jellies, was born in 2021.

“The decision to focus on a jelly product stemmed from the desire to introduce a unique, health-conscious and convenient snack option to consumers,” Kim, co-founder and CEO, said. Tastelli produces four different flavors of drinkable konjac jelly: Peach, Mango Pineapple, Apple Grape and Double Berry. Each 5.3-ounce pouch contains only 10 calories, no sugar, and beneficial ingredients such as collagen, antioxidants and vitamins.

Creating the product, however, was no easy feat, Kim admitted. “Formulating the product posed challenges, especially in achieving the ideal balance of taste and texture,” he explained. “The process involved extensive trial and error to fine-tune each aspect and arrive at the perfect formulation.

“Crafting a sugar-free product that maintains a delicious taste was indeed a challenge,” he added. “We experimented with various sweeteners, including erythritol and sucralose. Additionally, we explored alternatives such as monk fruit and stevia to strike the right balance. However, the combination of erythritol and sucralose ultimately was successful in achieving the desired taste, maintaining sweetness without compromising on affordability.”

Alt-seafood

The capabilities of konjac aren’t just limited to noodles, baked goods and snacks. More companies are venturing into the alt-meat categories utilizing the versatile ingredient, including The Plant Based Seafood Co., which has been in the seafood business for the last two decades.

The female-owned company, run by mother-and-daughter duo Shelly Van Cleve and Monica Talbert, ventured into the plant-based seafood industry in 2020 with its Mind Blown products. After realizing the harmful impacts the real seafood industry has on the environment, Van Cleve and Talbert decided to utilize their expertise to craft healthier alternatives that look and taste like their ocean-dwelling counterparts.

The Plant Based Seafood Co.’s Mind Blown products include plant-based shrimp, scallops and crab cakes. The shrimp (offered in two flavors: dusted and coconut) and scallops are created using konjac, while the crab cakes utilize wheat and pea proteins. In 2023, the company partnered with the world’s largest coral reef restoration organization Coral Restoration Foundation to donate 1% of profits from all Mind Blown products.

Another company making waves in the alt-seafood space with konjac is Beleaf. Founded in 2016 by husband-and-wife duo Jason and Mary Chiu, the company develops plant-based shrimp as well as plant-based tuna and salmon sashimi products.

The California-based business also offers alt-bacon, made using a combination of non-GMO textured soybean protein and wheat protein concentrate, as well as konjac powder, to offer a healthier alternative to traditional sushi products.

About the Author(s)

Heather Carter

Associate editor, Food & Beverage Insider

With over a decade of diverse professional experience under her belt, Heather has journeyed from the bustling world of local news reporting to the intricate realms of trade publishing. She has covered a wide array of topics, ranging from architecture and design to the food and beverage industry.

During her illustrious career, Heather also ventured into the realm of public relations, where she gleaned invaluable insights into the art of strategic communication and brand storytelling. Yet, her heart has always been anchored in the vibrant world of F&B, a passion deeply ingrained in her roots as the daughter of a seasoned chef. She has always held a profound appreciation for the role food plays in shaping cultures and connecting people.

With each story she tells, Heather seeks to illuminate the profound impact of food and beverage on people’s lives, celebrating its ability to evoke emotions, foster connections and weave the fabric of our shared human experience.

As Food & Beverage Insider's associate editor, she co-publishes a weekly news column, Business Bites, which showcases the latest industry news, highlighting key business updates, food and beverage innovation, industry events and more. Some of her other articles touch on important topics, such as ultra-processed foods, plant-based foods primed to change the food landscape, international flavors and ingredients, as well as better-for-you CPGs. She also frequently covers top trends at various industry events and has moderated first-of-their-kind education sessions at Informa events.

She can be reached at [email protected].

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