Aka Konnyaku (Red Konjac)

Aka Konnyaku (Red Konjac)_1 Aka Konnyaku (Red Konjac)_2

It can be hard to guess certain Japanese foods are made of. One of such foods is the konjac potato-based Konnyaku. Its texture is between rice cake and gelatin, with a chewy composition and grayish to whitish color.

However, Shiga has red Konnyaku! Even Japanese people are surprised by the color, which isn’t seen in other parts of Japan. There are some theories behind it. One theory is based on Japan’s charismatic warlord Nobunaga Oda. He built a castle, Andojo, in the area known as Shiga today. He always had an eye for new, glamorous, fancy things.  He thus ordered to make Konnyaku red, because grey was too boring for him!  Well, this theory has a good support because Nobunaga Oda is one of the most famous and admired Samurai lords in history. Unfortunately, there is no written proof for it.

The second theory came from the Omi-merchants (Merchants in Shiga Prefecture). Local merchants were very active doing business with the surrounding areas, and it is said that some dyed Konnyaku red to distinguish theirs from that of other regions. There is a local publication completed in 1734 that indicates Konnyaku from Yawata village in Oumi was big and delicious. However, whether or not they dyed it red is not specified, and is thus still a mystery.

The last theory is based on the Buddhism cooking style called “Shojin-Ryori”.  Buddhism prohibits the killing of living beings, including animals, birds and fish. Therefore, a monk’s diet consists of vegetables, soy, and grains, and it is thought that these religious followers may have made Konnyaku red to increase their appetite for it.  The third theory might have some truth to it, because red Konnyaku is still used at times to replace red meat or fish today.  Konnyaku is a very versatile food that is used for many kinds of traditional cooking in Japan, including Oden, cooked mixed vegetables, sashimi, etc. New items like Konnyaku hot dogs, which are nicknamed “Red Kon Dog”, have also appeared on the market recently. However, despite this evidence for the third theory, nobody can say for certain which one is correct.

One sure thing is that Konnyaku is a low calorie food and great for a diet. The red color may be an extra encouragement for ones who want to lose some weight!


Photo by Biwako Visitors Bureau

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