Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Day two:
Konnyakubatake / こんにゃくばたけ
MannanLife at various pharmacies, from ¥150/bag

I *heart* konnyakubatake.

When I first stumbled across konnyakubatake I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I liked wrapping my tongue around the weirdly angular word, I liked the plastic bags labeled with soft-focus photos of various fruits, and I liked the innocuous little plastic cups shaped like lopsided hearts. But I loved their sweet, gelatinous contents, and within a couple of weeks I was buying them in bulk and slurping through a sack a day. I had favorite flavors (pomegranate! blueberry!! grapefruit!!!) and I had mood swings when I could only get second-tier apple or grape.

Finally, I joked about my habit to one of my students. Her eyes widened in shock and she shook her head; konnyakubatake, she explained, were medicine. Or more correctly, “di-e-to fu-do”. I had never wondered why I always found them in pharmacies.

It turns out that the primary ingredient in these little babies is konnyaku, an odd-looking plant also known as “devil’s tongue”. In its edible form konnyaku has almost no flavor or calories, and is nearly solid fiber.

Konnuyaku is also a respectable vegan subsitute for gelatin (and indeed here I’ve called it “gelatinous” because I just don’t know what other word to use), but with one odd and noticeable difference: it has a much higher melting temperature. Barely breathe on gelatin and it starts to go soft. But you can carry a konnyakubatake around in your pocket all day (personal experience), and when you rip off the foil top and pinch its little bottom, the jelly will surge up as firm as the day it was made. If you think of chewing as a fight between food and teeth, gelatin gives up, whereas konnyaku, with its much higher melting point, fights back--and sometimes it even wins. “Death-by-konnuyaku” is not unheard of, especially among the very young and very old, with the result that the sale of konnyaku products is controlled in parts of the states and banned in most of Europe (I’m sorry—was that “nanny state” or “ninny state”?).

After my student’s intervention, I did cut down on my konnyakubatake consumption. And I tapered off even further once I moved back to places where the only “jelly cups” available were “creamy” or had mango centers or reeked of plastic. But I never really got over my fixation, so today I peeled myself off the bed and staggered into town to score some MannanLife--for my money the best konnyakubatake brand going. Those pictured are acerola flavor, and they weren’t around for very long.


Sonya said...

Interesting! So if they're medicinal, and made of mostly fiber...are they for regularity? Did you notice any - er, differences - while you were eating so many?

Julia said...

i guess that's the idea, but as i said, i didn't notice any changes. maybe i should have eaten even more!

Julia said...

i guess that's the idea, but as i said, i didn't notice any changes. maybe i should have eaten even more!