Column Reprint: Shirataki

Pasta and I parted ways a long time ago. The traditional white flour pasta is nearly devoid of vitamins and minerals, low in protein, and way too carb-heavy for me. Whole wheat pasta is modestly better, with a little more fiber and a few more nutrients, but it’s still awfully rough on my blood sugar. The low carb soy “pastas” that showed up a few years back were expensive and nasty.

But there is one truly low carb pasta that has won a regular place on my table. It’s a Japanese noodle called “shirataki.” Made of fiber from the konjac plant (also called glucomannan, and often erroneously referred to as a “yam”) these noodles can be found in the refrigerator case at Asian markets and some health food stores. They can also be ordered online.

There are two types of shirataki: the traditional variety, made just of konjac fiber, and tofu shirataki, which combine konjac with tofu. Both varieties of shirataki are very low in both carbs and calories. Better yet, the soluble konjac fiber appears to have health benefits, lowering cholesterol and dampening blood sugar swings. Capsules of konjac fiber have long been sold as a diet aid.

A few things to know about shirataki:

* Both traditional and tofu shirataki come in a liquid-filled pouch. The liquid smells fishy, but don’t be put off by this. Dump your shirataki into a strainer and rinse well. Now soak for a few
minutes, either in water or –– my preference –– in broth. Treated this way, I have not detected any fish flavor in my finished shirataki dishes.

* For some reason, shirataki noodles are long. Really long. Snip across the mass of them a few times with your kitchen shears to make them more manageable.

* As an imported specialty product, shirataki are not dirt cheap. I’ve been paying $1.50 for an 8-ounce pouch. That’s a lot more expensive than generic elbow noodles! Shirataki will not work as a cheap “filler” food. Instead, they’re a nutritionally superior option.

* Unopened and refrigerated, shirataki will keep up to a year. So if you find a good buy, stock up.

* Both varieties of shirataki are very bland on their own. They need a flavorful sauce or soup to make them really tasty.

* Traditional shirataki have two grams of carbohydrate per serving, and both those grams are fiber –– NO usable carbs –– and 0 calories. Around here we call them “Nothing Noodles.” Skinny like spaghetti (but a lot longer!) traditional shirataki are otherwise different from Italian pasta. They’’re clear, with a gelatinous texture. Traditional shirataki are excellent in Asian dishes, such as a ramen-style soup, sesame noodles, or a cold noodle salad. However, they’re too –– well, Asian –– to go well with an Italian tomato sauce or Alfredo sauce.

* Tofu shirataki have a big 20 calories and 3 grams of carb per serving, with 2 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 1. They have a look and texture much more similar to the pasta we all know and love. Tofu shirataki come both long-skinny and in a wider “fettuccine” version. I find the fettuccine width more versatile, but I have both in my fridge. I’ve tried tofu shirataki with cheese sauce, Alfredo sauce, and tomato-based spaghetti sauce, and also as a “bed of noodles” with other dishes. I think I’ll try tuna casserole next! They’’d be good in chicken noodle soup, too.

(NOTE: I have since tried shirataki in tuna noodle casserole, and it was awesome.)

Here’’s my favorite shirataki dish so far.

Blue Cheese -Walnut-Pesto Chicken with Noodles

16 ounces fettuccine-style tofu shirataki
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon butter, divided
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons pesto sauce
5 1/2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (I can buy a tub just this size at my grocery.)

Open shirataki, dump into a strainer, and rinse. Put in a small saucepan and stir in the chicken broth. Let this sit while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Melt a teaspoon of your butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat, and stir your walnuts in it until they smell toasty. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut your chicken into 1/2" chunks, dice your onions, and crush your garlic. Melt the rest of your butter in your big, heavy skillet over medium heat, and start the chicken and onions sauteing in it.

Put that saucepan of shirataki over medium-low heat, to warm.

When all the pink is gone from your chicken, and the onion is translucent, stir in the garlic, half- and-half, and pesto. Now add all but a couple of tablespoons of the blue cheese. Stir until the
cheese is melted and the sauce is thick.

Using a tongs or slotted spoon, lift the noodles out of their broth and pile on three plates or in two bowls. Divide the chicken mixture and sauce between them. Top each with a third of the reserved blue cheese and walnuts, and serve.

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3 servings, each with: 456 Calories; 36g Fat; 27g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber

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shirataki tofu noodles

I am interested in trying these but hesitant to eat tofu after having fallen into the routine of eating TVP as "oatmeal" for a month and fattening up like a cow being led to slaughter. Possible thyroid problems with tofu, etc. There's a reason they feed soy to animals. Anyhow is the amount of the tofu small enough as to not make a difference?

Tofu?

I am suspicious of soy, as well, and certainly don't seek out soy foods. And I eat tofu shirataki maybe once a month or less. (Had some in chicken noodle soup when I first came home from the hospital; it was very comforting.)

Tofu shirataki don't have a ton of tofu in them, though. The label on mine says that they have 1 gram of protein per serving. Mastercook tells me that tofu itself has 2 grams of protein per ounce, so we're looking at a half-ounce of tofu per serving. I wouldn't eat 'em every day, but a half-ounce of tofu once a month or so? Not a big worry, at least to me.

Remember, the first rule of toxicology is "Dose is everything."

Noodles

Hi Dana - do you know anything abt the shiritaki noodles called skinny dip noodles ? I just got an e-mail from them - (didn't know I was on their list!)
The website is skinnydipnoodles.com

Skinny Dip Noodles

They look fine, but overpriced, unless that $38 for 12 bags includes shipping and handling and such. I pay $1.49/packet at a local Asian grocery store.

Keep in mind that freezing does shirataki no good, so if you're ordering them during the winter be sure the company guarantees they'll arrive in good condition.

Rubber Bands

The taste of the noodles is fine however, do they ever break down or does it always seem like you're chewing rubber bands?

cooking the noodles.

You have to be very carefull not to overcook them. Usually I have just rinsed them and then warmed them in whatever sauce I am using. If you can get the noodles made with tofu, they are a better texture. Good luck!!

Thanks for your input

Thanks for your suggestion: the noodles that I purchased are the Shiritaki tofu noodles and I rinsed them and boiled them for 2 or 3 minutes as most people had advised. I wondered if the noodles not made with tofu would have been different but I guess you answered that question for me! I'll make myself get used to them. After all, noodles without carbs? Yeah!

Found shiritaki noodles

I received a reply from our local supermarket chain Martins (northern Indiana) that they had the noodles in stock. The location is the Granger store and the price is $3.99 a pack. I gulped at the price but bought them, hardly wanting my trip there to be worthless since that isn't my local store.
If these are everything that everyone raves about, I'll have find them a little less expensive. If anyone from this area has found them, please let me know.
p

Where to buy?

I have contacted Martins, our local supermarket chain here in the northern part of Indiana and they have found the noodles and agreed to stock them soon. When and where I'll add to the blog when I find them. I'm anxious to try them.

Good Luck Dana

By the time you read this you will likely be done with the surgery and a new improved you. Hope you're sleeping like a baby -- a really peaceful, well baby.

Sally

Shirataki Noodles

I find they are a good sub for rice after a few pulses in my mini chopper. They work very well in a stir fry. I also make a mean mac & cheese by mixing with egg, Hood or cream, and cheese.
Add meat and veggies to that and you have a wonderful one dish casserole.
I guess you can tell I'm a major shirataki fan.
Vikki
www.vikkiskitchn.space.live.com

Shirataki "Rice"

I've also seen at least one etailer advertising shirataki "orzo" -- little rice-sized pasta grains. I used to use regular, high carb orzo in salads about a million years back; I bet the shirataki version's good.

Give me a while and I'll look up some websites. Right now I'm on the countdown to surgery Wednesday morning. Ask me if I'm sleeping much. (Answer: It's 12:24 am and I'm writing this, aren't I?)

Shirataki Noodles

Thanks so much Dana , I am going to try the tofu noodles . I can't wait to use them in my Tuna Casserole and other dishes as well .