Last month Squid Ink told you about Skinny Noodles, a brand of shirataki noodles made from konjac or konnyaku, and it's remarkable claims – zero calorie, low carb, high fiber, low sodium and gluten free. Today, we take a look at the use of konjac in Chinese cuisine, where it turns up as noodles, in stews, salads, and even in drinks and desserts.

Produced from the corm of the Amorphophallus konjac plant, the preparation is essentially the same as the shirataki noodles. A Japanese seaweed – hijiki – can be added for color and slight flavoring. The mixture is boiled, then cooled into a small loaf of firm gel which can be shaved, sliced or diced. The end result is a texture somewhat like firmer jello and is basically flavorless until it bonds with it's surroundings. Between it's otherworldly appearance, texture and staggering health claims, konjac would seem to be a fanciful creation from the pen of either Dr. Seuss or a science fiction writer, but real it is.

After the jump, Squid Ink takes you to places in the San Gabriel Valley where you can experience a true konjac variety.

Yunnan Yam Curd (konjac) at Yunchuan Garden, Monterey Park; Credit: Jim Thurman

Yunnan Yam Curd (konjac) at Yunchuan Garden, Monterey Park; Credit: Jim Thurman

Yunchuan Garden in Monterey Park features spicy, chili infused Yunnan and Sichuan style food and both provinces are represented via konjac noodle dishes. Yunnan Yam Curd (#149 under tofu) is green hued, thick hand cut konjac noodles, well seasoned and surrounded by scallions and pepper. The other pure konjac dish is more familiar – Ma Po Yam Curd (#150 under tofu), prepared like that Sichuan staple, Ma Po Tofu. Tai An Spicy Fish (#85), more than lives up to it's name, with thin purplish slices of konjac atop a bowl of fish fillets swimming in a sinus clearing, mouth tingling broth of unrelenting green, red and dried chilis. Yunchuan's konjac items are rounded out by Duck with Yam Curd (#132). Be advised these are spicy dishes and not for the weak of stomach.

As one might infer from the name, Monterey Park's Duck House, is known for it's duck. The go to place for duck for years, the restaurant also features a six item “Healthy Konnyaku” menu, including a spicy salad of konjac noodles in plain, spinach and carrot flavor in a sesame sauce. Four of the remaining five selections mix konjac with either pork, chicken or fish.

Brown sugar konjac cubes, Bin Bin Konjac in San Gabriel; Credit: Jim Thurman

Brown sugar konjac cubes, Bin Bin Konjac in San Gabriel; Credit: Jim Thurman

For true specialization, look no further than Bin Bin Konjac. With an outlet in the same mall known for it's xiao long bao purveyors, including the site of a mayoral downfall, Bin Bin is a Taiwanese drink and dessert chain where one can get gelatinous konjac cubes – in some cases honey or brown sugar flavored – in a large selection of slushes, Taiwanese shaved ice, non-fat yogurt or as a boba substitute in hot and cold teas.

We are neither doctors nor scientists, so we can't vouch for it's claims as far as fighting cholesterol, increasing metabolism, as a dietary aide or it's ability to, as per Bin Bin's menu – “clean up the digestive system.”, but when included in foods, konjac is a great example of nothing that becomes something.

Yunchuan Garden: 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 571-8387.

Duck House: 501 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 284-3227.

Bin Bin Konjac: 301 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 380-5313 (closed); 651 W. Duarte Rd. #E, Arcadia, (626) 446-9571; 20747-8E Amar Rd., Walnut, (909) 594-2832.

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