Whether you’re on the trendy ketogenic diet or just trying to lower your overall carbohydrate intake, it can be a real struggle to find substitutes for your favorite carby delights. Sure there’s cauliflower rice, which makes a decent rice substitute. And cloud bread is easy to whip together when you want to sink your teeth into something bready. But what do you do about noodles? Pasta, ramen, pho—all these delicious treats are off-limits when trying to stick to one of the many low-carb eating plans out there. Thankfully, the secret to getting your noodle fix guilt-free lies in an ancient Japanese noodle that has been around for centuries. Meet the shirataki noodle.
Shirataki throughout history
Made from the starch of the konjac yam, these noodles—also known as ito konnyakyu—were once a delicacy that could only be enjoyed by Japanese royalty. Once konjac yams became more widely available in Japan, the noodles became a culinary staple over a hundred years ago. Foodies who love Japanese food will recognize shirataki as the noodles used for traditional dishes like sukiyaki.
Which is why it’s baffling to people who’ve been cooking with these noodles forever to suddenly find them all over the place: in health food stores, in food blogs and in the Instagram stories of health influencers. It turns out, there are many reasons to love these “miracle noodles.”
The wonders of Shirataki
Shirataki noodles are zero-carb, zero-calorie and gluten-free, a magical trifecta that is compatible with so many restrictive eating regimens like the paleo, Whole 30, or keto diets. The “starch” from the konjac yam turns out to be almost pure glucomannan fiber, and when mixed with water and a small amount of firming agent, these noodles end up being 97% water and 3% dietary fiber. Because this dietary fiber is indigestible, it washes out of your system making virtually zero impact carb- or calorie-wise.
This glucomannan fiber makes shirataki noodles a godsend for people on low-carb/high-protein diets. One of the biggest drawbacks to these diets is that they recommend eating fewer grains, fruits, and vegetables. But cutting these foods out means you get less fiber in your diet, which can lead to constipation or unstable blood sugar levels. Glucomannan provides that missing fiber and also acts as a prebiotic that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system and keeps them happy.
Not so fast
What’s not so miraculous about shirataki noodles? While these noodles are sometimes marketed as “gluten-free pasta” or a low-carb substitute for spaghetti, shirataki noodles can taste really off when used in pasta recipes. Just think about trying to eat chap chae noodles with carbonara sauce. Not so appetizing, right?
Also, because glucomannan is an indigestible dietary fiber, eating too much shirataki at once can sometimes lead to bloating and digestive discomfort. If you find this is a problem for you, start with smaller servings and work your way up as your tummy gets used to the fiber. Glucomannan fiber is also incredibly absorbent, so eating shirataki noodles right after you take important medications can end with the medication being absorbed into the fiber and washing out of your system rather than being absorbed by your body. So don’t eat shirataki noodles within a couple of hours after taking medication.
Time to eat
Now that you’ve got the skinny on shirataki, how can you try it? Cooking with shirataki noodles is actually very easy and will cut down on your prep time a lot. These noodles are usually sold packed in liquid and are practically ready to eat: just drain the noodles, rinse them, and maybe pat them dry depending on preparation or throw them straight into the saucepan to cook with the sauce.
Shirataki noodles have almost no flavor of their own (once you’ve rinsed the fishy-smelling liquid they’re packaged in) and they take on the flavor of anything you put on them. They’re much more similar to Asian rice or mung bean noodles than wheat pasta—slippery, a little gummy—so they work best with Asian-style recipes. Think pancit, noodle soups, or leaf-wrapped rolls. Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats has great recipe ideas because he loves them for their flavor and doesn’t even care about their health benefits.
Shirataki noodles can be purchased at online retailers like Lazada or at Japanese supermarkets and health food chains all over the metro.
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