If you’ve started a low-carb diet, you may occasionally (or constantly) find yourself pining after the carby foods you used to eat: chocolate, bread…and pasta. Thankfully, just because you’ve given up carbs doesn’t mean that you have to completely say goodbye to pasta. Well, sort-of. Let me explain about a zero-carb pasta alternative – konjac noodles.
Konjac pasta – what is it?Konjac pasta (also known as Shirataki) is a pasta substitute made from konjac flour, which, in turn, comes from the Konjac tuber (sometimes incorrectly referred to as the konjac yam). When made into pasta, no grains are added, and the flour itself contains no sugar. In fact, essentially the only nutrient that it contains is soluble fiber – it has effectively zero net carbs, zero protein, zero fat…and basically zero calories. If you can find a food with the same amount of calories and more fiber, well…I’ll be impressed, that’s for sure.
The pasta itself comes in a variety of forms – you can get most types of common long pasta (I haven’t seen spirals or shells yet): fettucine, noodles, angel hair, etc. The appearance is generally a translucent white, and the texture is gelatinous. All the stuff I’ve bought has come pre-cooked and sealed in a plastic bag with water – to cook, all you need to do is rinse and heat (incredibly convenient). There’s generally a slight fishy smell about them, which goes away if you rinse them enough (and they’re actually totally vegan, so I assume it’s just what konjac flour smells like).
Benefits of konjac pasta
Well, the obvious one is the calorie and carb count – both effectively zero. So it makes a fantastic alternative/pasta substitute (mostly – I’ll get to that). It’s essentially flavourless (once thoroughly rinsed), so you can cook it with whatever you like, and it should absorb the base flavour. This makes it ideal for use as a base in dishes that would normally use pasta/rice (I recently used it as a base for green curry, and it worked perfectly).
Then there’s the fiber content – for the calories it contains, the amount of fiber is just insane. Definitely a bonus.
But what about other health benefits? Well, the good news doesn’t stop there – research has shown that it lowers LDL (the bad cholesterol), triglycerides, body weight, and fasted blood glucose (probably less applicable to people in ketosis, but good to know). Would I call it a super food? No, because I hate the phrase, but it’s certainly got a LOT of benefits, and very few downsides. Speaking of downsides…
Can there even BE anything bad about it?
I know, I know, I’ve made it sound like a miracle food. It’s not ALL fun and games though. So what could possibly be wrong with this amazing pasta-substitute?
Well, first of all, there’s the taste – while it doesn’t REALLY have a taste, there is that slight fishy taste – it’s not a problem, as long as you rinse thoroughly. But if you don’t, it is noticeable.
The texture – this is obviously down to subjective preference, but you don’t really get a choice of how you want your pasta cooked. Want it al dente? Too bad. Because what you’re getting is something akin to rice noodles – slightly chewy and rubbery. It’s not terrible, but some people would like the choice.
And that’s about it. There are no negative health effects (there have been some reports of diarrhoea and gas, but that was after excessive consumption. Keep it under control and you’ll be fine), and a ton of health benefits. Overall, I would definitely recommend them.
How do you cook them?
As I mentioned above, all the konjac noodles I’ve ever bought have been pre-cooked, and come sealed in a packet with water (shelf-life is apparently up to a year). So in it’s simplest form, all you have to do is put them in a sieve or colander, rinse them thoroughly, then soak them in hot water for a minute. Yes, that’s really all you have to do. So from a convenience point of view, they pretty much can’t be beaten (even ramen needs longer!).
After “cooking” them, you can then stir through whatever pasta sauce you want, and hey presto, you have a meal. Or put them in a bowl and pile curry on top of them, like I did.
Or, if you want to be a bit more adventurous, you can use them as a base for a noodle-dish, like pad thai. Just drain, rinse, and throw them in a wok like you would with a normal pad thai. Honestly, they are one of the simplest pasta substitutes I’ve ever found – no need for spiralizing or real cooking, just drain, rinse, heat, and eat.
A lot of supermarkets are starting to stock these (at least in Australia) in the health-food section, and I’ve heard reports of similar findings in the US. However, I’ve also ordered online for more variety, as my local supermarkets tend to only stock the angel-hair style. Given their incredibly long shelf-life (they don’t need to be refrigerated), ordering online doesn’t really pose a problem – they’re not going to spoil on the trip.
In case you didn’t get it from the rest of the article, I’m a huge fan of konjac noodles as a pasta substitute. No, they don’t taste or feel quite like real pasta, but they’re close enough, and the list of benefits to them is astounding. Think of them as effectively a zero-calorie, zero-carb, fiber-supplementing vehicle for whatever pasta sauce you want to whip up (I do a really nice garlic prawn and chicken creamy sauce that I may post a recipe to soon).
If you’re on a low-carb diet, I cannot recommend these highly enough.
As always, if you have any comments or cooking suggestions for these (or just want to share your opinion of konjac noodles), leave a comment below!
Additional note: One of the products linked below is apparently konjac rice, which I haven’t yet tried. If anyone has, let me know how it went!