Konyaku (こんにゃく、蒟蒻, Konjac in English) is made from Konyaku root vegetable and has many health benefits. It is a traditional food which has been enjoyed in Japan for more than 1000 years. In Japan, it has been called ‘Chono Sunaoroshi (腸の砂おろし)’ which means the brooms of intestines. We have reckoned from our lengthy experience that it cures constipation and cleanses the body by sweeping away the waste. Recently some research into Konyaku has been made and this experience based knowledge is mostly supported by them. Further health benefits are claimed like appetite reduction, weight management, treatment of obesity, high cholesterol, acne vulgaris and type 2 diabetes.
I would like to mention these health benefits in the second part of this article. Now, I will start with the history of Konyaku and see how it has been enjoyed by people of years gone by.
There are various theories about when it was brought from Mainland China but it seems to indicate sometime between 538 and 894 when there was trade. Konyaku was used mainly for medical purposes and only popular for a few rich people. The interesting thing is that Konyaku is not only apparently brought from Mainland China but it is also only eaten by the Japanese and not by the Chinese now. (Although It is eaten in a small part of southern China.)
In several old Chinese and Japanese books (*1), these same kind of sentences mentioning Konyaku can be found.
“When you grate and simmer Konyaku with lye, it becomes a glutenous food and it can be eaten with some seasoning. It cools the inner bodies and cures diabetes.”
It is quite surprising that they already knew that Konyaku was good for diabetes treatment before 10th century! I was not aware of this and I believe this is due to all of these books being medical books.
Later in 1712 during the Edo era, the book ‘Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会)’ was published and it was a dictionary with illustrations. Konyaku was already popular as a food at that time and this book was widely read by common people. That is why the expression ‘The brooms of intestines’, which is mentioned in this book, is popular now.
It seems Konyaku was established as a food and not a medicine around that time. In 1846, the recipe book ‘Konyaku Hyakuchin (蒟蒻百珍)’ which only specializes in Konyaku was published. There are 82 recipes using Konyaku. It is amazing! It means Konyaku was already quite popular at that time. I would like to introduce some of these recipes to our website some day!
*1: ‘医心方, 986, Japan’, ‘政和本草, 1090, China’, ‘本草綱目, 1578, China’, ‘宜禁本草, 1629, Japan’