It’s ‘summer’ time again, or rather, the hot season in Singapore, which means that refreshing cool snacks like jellies are very suitable for tempering the heat. Last year I experimented with the wonderful agar-agar, which creates jellies that do not melt in the tropical heat, making them ideal for putting in bento. The texture of agar-agar is firm and crisp.
In contrast, konnyaku jellies are chewy or “QQ” in Chinese slang. Several years back, konnyaku jellies were all the rage in faddish snacks in Singapore; many stalls sprung up and soon disappeared (just like bubble tea, Portuguese egg tarts and Roti Boy). These days, you’d probably have to make konnyaku jelly at home if you want to eat it, which from my point of view, is a much healthier way to go, allowing you to bypass all those nasty artificial colourings and flavourings.
While agar-agar and kanten are derived from seaweed (the terms are often used synonymously, but technically they are derived from different strains of seaweed), konnyaku, also known as konjac, is derived from a starchy root vegetable or corm. According to Wikipedia,
Konjac (Amorphophallus konjac; syn. A. rivieri; Japanese: 蒟蒻/菎蒻; こんにゃく; konnyaku; Korean: 곤약; gonyak; Chinese: 蒟蒻; pinyin: jǔ ruò), also known as konjak, konjaku, devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm, or elephant yam (though this name is also used for A. paeoniifolius), is a plant of the genus Amorphophallus. It is native to warm subtropical to tropical eastern Asia, from Japan and China south to Indonesia.
Just Hungry has a good introduction to the varieties and usage of konnyaku here. I love to use the noodle form, shirataki, in hotpot meals because unlike regular noodles, they do not go soft and soggy if cooked for a long time,
Konnyaku goes through various kinds of processing to make the different form it appears in commercially. This article provides a recipe for turning konnyaku flour into a versatile firm jelly, by adding an alkali, such as calcium hydroxide, usually in the form of pickling lime, or in traditional Japanese methods, extracted from eggshells.
Konnyaku is often promoted as a healthy food as it is virtually zero-calorie and is high in fibre, rich in minerals and is alkaline (read here) as well as absorbing toxic substances during digestion and elimination (see here).
However, so far all the brands of konnyaku jelly power I have come across in the shops contain various additives, sometimes in the form of colouring and flavouring, but many include carrageenan as the main ingredient, not konnyaku! Seaweed-derived carrageenan is used as a thickener and gelling substance. While carrageenan does not generally cause food sensitivity problems, it has been reported to be carcinogenic. However this article from the organic company, Eden Foods, clarifies that while chemically-treated ‘degraded carrageenan’ (non-food-grade) is a known carcinogen, food-grade or ‘undegraded carrageenan’, has been shown to be safe for consumption. Don’t forget that consumer agar-agar powder is also chemically bleached of colours and seaweed smells (see my earlier post).
Konnyaku jelly made with ‘Pinglin Baozhong’ oolong tea and kiwi seeds
Making konnyaku jelly is easy as one simply needs to follow the instructions on the packet of the jelly powder. One packet is enough for one litre of liquid. About 250g of sugar is included in the recipe but this isn’t necessary at all, just add however much you wish.
Having had great success with my earlier tea jellies – Pu-Erh agar-agar and mugicha agar-agar, I used the same idea to make konnyaku jelly. The Pinglin Baozhong tea is a very fragrant variety of oolong and the delicate aroma came through very well in jelly form. I added in a small amount of sugar — about 50g — which was perhaps unnecessary as it wasn’t enough to make the jelly sweet or add to the taste.
For visual effect, I also used kiwi seeds, which are sold in dehydrated form right next to the packets of konnyaku powder in Phoon Huat. As you can see from this Phoon Huat video on how to make konnyaku jelly, for some reason kiwi seeds are presented very much as an integral part of the way to make konnyaku jelly – I have no idea why. The seeds are easily rehydrated by soaking in water for twenty minutes. The suggested amount was half a teaspoon of dehydrated seeds for 1 litre of liquid jelly, but in retrospect, I think twice that amount would have been fine too.
The recipe for konnyaku jelly on the back of the packet says to use one-eigth teaspoon of citric acid. This makes the jelly more chewy. I forgot to add it in! but the texture was still very satisfactory. I wonder if the tannic acid in tea helped with that.
The photo shows my snack bento with two konnyaku jellies. The good news is that I found that, like agar-agar, they don’t melt either. Yay!!
I’m in a big konnyaku jelly craze right now. The other day, in the organic cafe at Fu Lu Shou Complex, Yogi DIY, I had a soya milk drink with flaxseed powder and cubes of honey (?) konnyaku jelly. The combination of flavours was very nice but I thought the preparation was rather sloppy as the flaxseed powder was in clumps and not properly stirred into the soya milk, while the jelly had obviously been made in a regular ice cube tray and the moulds overfilled such that the shapes were very untidy. It would have been much nicer to use ice cube trays in decorative shapes ☺ (plenty in Daiso!).
As honey is high in salicylates, I might try making a maple syrup konnyaku jelly next…. [Speaking of maple syrup, be careful not to end up buying maple-flavoured syrup by mistake; the real stuff is more expensive, but doesn’t have to be exorbitantly so – Carrefour sells organic pure maple syrup for just $9 a bottle, whereas it’s usually $15-$21 for other brands in health food shops.]