Thursday, December 22, 2011

Buzzy Noodle from Japan Boasts Zero Carbs, Zero Calories

'Tis the season for over indulgence, but soon visions of sugar plums will be crowded out by New Year's resolutions to cut calories and lose the cookie belly. Is it possible to have your cake, or at least your pasta, and eat it too?

Shirataki noodles from Japan contain zero calories and zero carbs and are gaining a following amongst flab fighters around the country as a miracle alternative to traditional pasta. Lisa Lillien, who writes the popular "Hungry Girl" newsletter, is one of the product's biggest boosters in the United States and endorses the variety made by House of Foods brand.

The noodles, which come in lots of familiar shapes such as spaghetti, angel hair, and fettuccini, are made of water and fiber from a plant called konjac yam instead of from wheat flour. They are naturally calorie- and carb-free, because the fiber they contain is not absorbed by the body. Tofu shirataki, a type made from soybeans and yam flour has about 20 calories and three grams of carbohydrates per serving.

But how do they actually taste? I boiled some up and tossed with a modest glug of olive oil and sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. The eyes play a big role in our enjoyment of food, and the fettuccine variety looked delicious. The flavor was a little less decadent (let's be realistic though, we're talking calorie-free yam fiber and water, not cheese grits).

If you are craving a true, Italian-style pasta, the texture of shirataki might be disappointing. They have a slightly gelatinous mouth feel similar to an Asian rice noodle. They work well in soups where they make a good substitute for egg noodles or you can pat dry with paper towels and stir-fry. The flavor is completely neutral so, if the texture is not off putting, they pair with almost any sauce. Shirataki are also a snap to cook. The noodles are packaged in plastic bags suspended in liquid: just rinse and boil for 2-3 minutes before using.

But, you can't survive on shirataki-no calories or carbs also means no nutritive food value. And, if you are not used to eating a lot of fiber, try a small serving first, or you risk gastric upset (there is a good reason that they are referred to as a "broom for the stomach" in Japan). Shirataki are inexpensive and available in the refrigerator section of a growing number of stores, including Asian markets, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's. For hardcore calorie- and carb-counters, they are worth a try.

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