How to Cook Shirataki, the Japanese Noodle That Never Gets Mushy
One thing that seems to move product off shelves in any country is the promise of slenderness, thinness, and a ripped physique. And in an era where carbs have been villains, the notion that plants could serve as a replacement for starchy noodles has moved many mountains of zoodles, zucchini and spaghetti squash. The latest noodle replacement to gain popularity in the United States – shirataki, a food that has been consumed in Japan for centuries.
Shirataki comes from the root of the konjac plant, which resembles a purple peace lily and is also known as devil’s tongue or voodoo lily. Because of that, shirataki are naturally low-carb, low-calorie, and high-fiber noodles. Such descriptors may seem cheerless when used to sell you a 1:1 spaghetti replacement (looking at it, packaging for House). But shirataki are absolutely delicious if you treat them well. Like other healthy and delicious foods that have been bullied into the role of a virtuous but tasteless replacement (see: tofu), shirataki star in absorbing flavors, whether it’s a sauce or a broth. They are lighter than a starchy noodle and can be enjoyed alone for a lighter meal or combined with something more substantial.
If you’re new to shirataki, here’s what you need to know.
What are shirataki?
Shirataki, poetically, means “white waterfall” and is the noodle-shaped form of what the Japanese refer to as konnyaku, a product that is derived from the bulb of the konjac plant. Konnyaku food product (unlike root) is a slippery, chewy mass that is formed by combining the root of the konjac plant with water. While konnyaku is generally white in color, it is often also colored a mottled gray with seaweed hijiki. Then, when the konnyaku cake is formed in the form of noodles, it is called shirataki.
It is available made only with konnyaku starch. However, shirataki in non-Japanese supermarkets often combines konnyaku starch with traces of tofu, including the prolific House brand. The resulting noodles have more than one standard udon-grade white and are softer in their bite. All forms of konnyaku come packaged in water and have a distinctive saline odor, which is caused by trimethylamine, a natural compound found in konjac bulb.
Tofu shirataki are available in thicker (
fettuccine) and thinner (angel hair) forms, while standard non-tofu shirataki are generally available in a thickness similar to spaghetti
How to prepare
Whether you choose to proceed with tofu shirataki or traditional shirataki, the noodles will be very moist, with a funky saline smell. While they don’t technically require cooking, they do require a bit of persuasion to reach their full potential. The first step is to rinse them thoroughly.
Next, because shirataki are very long, make them more manageable by cutting them into halves with kitchen scissors.
If you plan to serve the noodles cold, blanch the noodles to get rid of the saline taste. If you are serving the noodles hot, they should simply be simmered long enough for them to acquire the flavors of whatever cooking liquid you are using. Unlike starchy noodles, which can become floury when cooked for too long, shirataki don’t lose their texture, so they can withstand simmering.