Konnyaku ‘diet-friendly superfood’ craze in Japan sees theme park, more exports

Visitors to Konnyaku Park in Japan can tuck into a buffet of konnyaku dishes and try their hand at making konnyaku products. - NAVITIME JAPAN

TOKYO (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Some may find Konnyaku, a jelly-like zero-calorie food made from a starchy root vegetable, boring and tasteless, but a theme park in Japan is hoping to change that.

Konnyaku Park, located in Gunma prefecture, north-west of Tokyo, is a veritable trove of all things konjac, as the diet-friendly superfood is also known as.

Getting right to the heart of it, visitors there can tuck into a buffet of konnyaku dishes – including fried and stewed konnyaku, curry konnyaku and Chinese-style konnyaku noodles – free of charge. It also features desserts such as konnyaku agar jelly.

Workshops are also available for visitors to try their hand at making konnyaku products.

Yokoo Daily Foods, a konnyaku producer that operates the theme park, told Japanese daily The Mainichi that its buffet was a hit, with visitors queueing for up to two hours for their turn.

The park also features a mini Ferris wheel, games and other rides for small children.

Plans to expand the park are in the works, and it aims to accommodate 1.5 million visitors annually by autumn 2024.

Konnyaku is processed from the edible tuber of the konjac plant and dates back to the 14th century.

It is considered a superfood in Japan as it is high in a type of fibre that helps to lower blood sugar levels, which can prevent conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Today, the rubbery-textured food is gaining popularity outside of Japan, with Japanese companies increasing exports of konnyaku-based products such as noodles.

Inazawa-based food exporter Nakaki Food started exporting konnyaku noodles and other food products about seven years ago. Its konnyaku rice – made of a mixture of konnyaku and unpolished rice – was a success in South Korea, selling six million packets yearly.

Nakaki president Toshikazu Nakamura, 70, said konnyaku may seem boring, but this is “quickly becoming a thing of the past”.

“The image of konnyaku having a peculiar smell but no taste no longer applies. I want young people to learn about the allure of konnyaku,” he said at a lecture in Nagoya Bunri University in November 2022.

Nakaki plans to launch a konnyaku-based alternative to white rice targeting people with diabetes and other conditions that requires limited carbohydrate intake.

“We hope to make konnyaku into one of the world’s dietary staples,” Nakamura said.

According to the Japan Konjac Association in Tokyo, konnyaku is “the saviour of problems with obesity today”, as it is low in calories and fibre-rich.

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