At first we were repulsed by the bizarre feed bags that arrived in LA Weekly's mail bin, addressed to no one in particular, looking like they were ready to board a spaceship in some astronaut's lunchbox. We weren't really in the market for zero calorie, low-carb, low sodium, gluten-free noodles that, per the instructions, require a thorough rinsing "to remove the natural earthy scent." (More like pickled fish in formaldehyde, but whatever.) We assumed Skinny Noodles must be some sort of Olestra-esque styrofood, however, when we read the list of ingredients, expecting to see a long diatribe of unpronounceable chemicals, there were simply three: purified water, konnyaku or konjac, which is a type of root similar to a yam, and calcium hydroxide, a firming agent. Okay, so not exactly as "all natural" as they claim, but far less scary than we thought.
Skinny Noodles are a local version of shirataki noodles, which are popular in Japan, particularly in traditional sukiyaki and in Chinese-style spring rolls. They contain little in the way of additives, save for the calcium hydroxide which, per Jonathan Gold, is essential in
tofu corn preparation when making masa (which is often turned into corn tortillas), so no real reason to sound the alarms.
Unlike these Skinny Noodles, however, which are a product of Torrance-based Genki USA, Inc., shirataki noodles have not historically been marketed as diet food. The Japanese, it seems, are less obsessed with finding the next best weight-loss miracle food than we are. Still, per Ellen Sakamoto, sister of Squid Ink editor Amy Scattergood, Japan resident and writer of blog Ellen's Tokyo Kitchen, that may be changing. As she tells it, "I wouldn't say they are known 'as' diet food, because they're part of a longer tradition, especially in sukiyaki. But I do think people are more concerned about their weight these days than they used to be, and I do see various forms of konnyaku advertised as diet food."
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And by the way, Skinny Noodles also include 4 grams of soluble fiber per serving. Where was this stuff when Atkins was all the rage? Interestingly, Hungry Girl fell in love with shirataki more than five years ago, but until now, the noodles weren't available outside of Asian specialty stores, so they've floated relatively under the radar.
Officially intrigued by the elusive shirataki, we decided to give Skinny Noodles a whirl. While the packaging makes for a somewhat unappetizing presentation (though the swishing back and forth of the jelly-like, wet-noodles-in-a-bag may substitute for a stress ball in a pinch) the texture is actually much like that of any glass noodle once rinsed, rinsed again, then parboiled, as they directions instruct. (And thankfully, the pickled fish smell goes away at that point.) They're relatively tasteless on their own - basically like water in noodle form - but flavors adhere well to them, making Skinny Noodles a fairly easy figure-friendly substitute in your regular Asian noodle or rice recipes.
In the end, we were pleasantly surprised that Skinny Noodles weren't the cardboard food cutout we initially thought. Still, we couldn't help but chuckle at the recipe printed on the back of the spinach variety - a Chicken Fettucine Alfredo - that suggests you top your noodles with a slathering of jarred cream sauce. Kind of like having a double cheeseburger with a Diet Coke, but we've all got to start somewhere.
Skinny Noodles can be ordered online at genkiusainc.com.