Konnyaku, commonly referred to as yam cakes, is a Japanese dish produced from konjac, also known as devil’s tongue. Konnyaku is a rubbery, jiggly delicacy that contains nearly no calories, sugar, fat, or protein. It is largely made of water (97%) and contains a high concentration of glucomannan, a dietary fiber that gives it a distinctively bouncy texture. It also contains seaweed powder and powdered konnyaku.

Though the benefits of konnyaku are usually extolled by dieters or select Japanese food enthusiasts, konnyaku should be appreciated not only for its low-calorie properties, but also for its deliciousness. Even though konnyaku has no flavour at all, no other item has its distinctive chew—a wonderful, bouncy texture that is intriguing enough to stand out in a soup or simmered meal, even though it frequently takes a backseat in sukiyaki and oden stews.

The taro root used to make konnyaku is heavy and old (it is left to mature for years before harvesting), weighing up to five pounds per root and expanding to a diameter of six inches. The root is stripped, dried, and powdered. The powder is then mixed with water and a coagulant, most often hydrated calcium, to form a hard cake. Shirataki is merely a gelatinous konnyaku combination that has been molded to resemble noodles, although having nothing in common with its texture.

To allow the entire taste of the boiling liquid to be absorbed, I like to cook my konnyaku for at least one and a half hours. Because both the meat and the konnyaku take a long time to cook, beef is an excellent accompaniment. If konnyaku is given time to simmer in a soup or stock beforehand, hearty vegetables like daikon and lotus root also go well with it.

Another variety of konnyaku, intended for raw consumption, is available as well. Sashimi Konnyaku is sold in packages with ordinary sashimi; it is pre-sliced and frequently green or yellow depending on whether citrus or seafood flavourings have been added. Typically, sashimi konnyaku is eaten with a sweet miso and mustard sauce or a little wasabi paste and soy sauce. Sashimi konnyaku has a much more soft, though still chewy, texture than the konnyaku that needs to be cooked. Sashimi konnyaku is far more filling than a salad but is just as delightful on a hot day.



  • 1 block konnyaku or 1 package shirataki
  • 4 ounces stewing beef, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or fat, for pan-frying
  • 3 cups dashi
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown or red miso paste



  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Parboil the entire block of konnyaku or the package of shirataki for 10 minutes. Drain and dispose of the water.
  2. Cut the konnyaku lengthwise into two rectangular blocks, then slice each block into pieces that are each 1/2 inch thick. To let the boiling liquid’s tastes permeate each piece more thoroughly, score each one in a cross-hatch pattern. Put aside. If using shirataki, set aside also.
  3. Heat up a large, sturdy pan, such as a cast-iron skillet. Add lard or cooking oil to the pan. Cubed beef should be added to the pan and lightly browned on both sides before being taken out with a slotted spoon. The parboiled and drained konnyaku or shirataki should be softly sauteed in the pan’s leftover fat until the surface is blistered and barely browned. Take out and place aside.
  4. Put all the ingredients for the marinade in a medium saucepan with the beef, konnyaku, or shirataki. After bringing the saucepan to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook the beef and konnyaku for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until soft. Daikon and lotus root can be used in place of the beef, and the veggies can be added at the end of boiling time for a vegetarian option.
  5. Stir in the miso paste to dissolve it. Simmer for a few minutes, then taste and adjust. You may need to add a teaspoon or more of sugar, depending on how salty your soy sauce and miso paste are. Serve warm.


Note: To recrisp the surface of the konnyaku squares, brown them in a hot cast iron pan or place them under the broiler for a few minutes.


By Elijah Hughes

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