An Enticing Green Appetizer

- Konjak (Amorphophallus konjac C.Koch)

Konjak Fruits

Konjak is the general name for all plants of the konjak family and they mainly scatter in the tropical and sub-tropical zones of the East Hemisphere. China is one of its original places, and people can find them in Sichuan, Hubei, Yunnan, Guizhou, Shanxi, Canton and Taiwan provinces in China. Konjak plants have many varieties. According to official statistics, there are more than 260 varieties. China has 19 varieties, of them, 8 varieties are purely natives of China. 

Konjak Flowers

For the time being, China and Japan are the two major konjak producing countries of the world; besides, some Southeast Asian countries also plant konjaks. Though the knojaks in Japan are introduced from China, ever since the 1960s, the Japanese government supported the scientific research and the industrial production of konjaks forcefully. Japan is now the country that has the highest technical level for developing and using konjaks in all over the world; and the production of konjaks has become a rising sun industry in Japan. In the recent years, the southern provinces of China also planted many konjaks and they can produce more than 700 tons konjak powders each year; of them, the output of Sichuan took up 50%, and the konjak output per mu there can be as many as 5000-10000. Looking from the situation from 1984 to 1999, the unit price of konjak per Jin fluctuated in-between 0.3 and 1.2 Yuan RMB. 

The underground tubers of konjak plants are oblate, and are as big as chufas; but their diameters can reach more than 25 cm sometimes. Konjaks are rich in nutrition contents, they contain 35% of starch, 3% protein, and many minerals such as vitamin, kalium, and phosper etc. The tubers of konjaks underground can be processed into konjak powder, and can be made into konjak bean curd, noodles, bread, and juice etc. Konjaks not only have delicious flavors, but also has effects for reducing fats and curing illnesses. Konjak foods are quite popular in all over the world in the recent years, and it is praised as "a magic food", "a miraculous food" and "a healthy food" in many places. But, the plants of konjaks are poisonous, and the tubers are the most poisonous parts. Therefore, konjak products must be processed into powders, or steamed ripe, or washed clean before they become foods on tables. 

China began to plant konjaks as early as 2000 years ago, and the history for using it as food was also long-standing. In the "Ode to the Capital of Shu Kingdom" written by Zuo Si, a great writer of Xijin Dynasty, it recorded that: "if konjaks are steamed with ash water, they will become flummeries; if they are pickled with liquid, they will become a food loved by the people of Sichuan." The story goes: the Taoist priests use the starches of the konjak tuber to produce snowy konjak bean curds; the color is golden yellow and look like sponges; the flavor is quite delicious, and it later becomes a rare food of the people in Mount Emei. Afterwards, konjaks were introduced to Japan and were deeply loved by the Japanese people, who will eat them every day. It is popular in Japan until today. Besides, the Ministry of Education of Japan also clearly stipulates: the foods for students in primary and secondary schools must have konjaks. For the time being, Japan is the largest konjak products consuming country of the world; and konjak foods are also listed as one of the top ten healthy foods by the World Health Organization. 

Konjaks have very high medical values and these are recorded in many ancient Chinese medical documents, such as "Compendium of Materia Medica", "San Yuan Yan Shou" and "Kai Bao Ben Cao" etc. Quoted: "konjak has poisons, it tastes bitter, and is cold in nature; it has many functions such as detoxification and detumescence etc. It can be used to cure malaria, scald and biting of snakes etc". Modern medical studies make people understand konjaks further: first, konjaks contain a lot of glucocide, which has quite strong expansibility; it can help people to fill the stomachs and wipe out hungry on one hand; on the other hand, it contains very little heat, thus can control the weight of the human body and achieve the purpose of body-building; secondly, it also has the effect of reducing fats. Some foreign nutritionists once did an experiment: they divided the experimental mice into two groups and gave them foods with high fat contents. For one group, they did not add any konjaks; for another group, they added a little konjak powder. The result is: the cholesterol content in the mice that had konjaks is 100 mg lower. The scientists believe that, konjaks contain some chemical substances, which can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride in human bodies, thus, can effectively mitigate high blood pressure and artery diseases; thirdly, konjaks also contain a kind of glue-like chemical substance, which has miraculous effects for the prevention of cancers; and the manufacturing of this glue-like substance is pretty simple. After people eat such substances, they can form a layer of semi-transparent membrane within the human body; the membrane will stick to the walls of the intestine and will withhold the absorption of harmful substances into the human body, particularly substances that may cause cancers. Therefore, it is also praised as "the magic clothing for preventing cancers"; fourthly, it can increase the secretion of small intestine enzymes, and thus facilitate to clean the settlements on the intestine walls and get rid of them more quickly; fifthly, konjaks also contain 17 substances that are beneficial to human health, such as pectin, alkaloid, 17 amino acids and microelements; so, they also have curing effects on illnesses arising from eating too much fats. Besides, konjak is also a natural bacteriophage; if we use konjak powder, plus other ingredients, and make them into foods; the foods can help to form an antibacterial membrane, which can prevent the attack of bacteria, extend the time of storage, and protect the freshness of foods. 

The tubers of konjaks are rich in sugar contents, particularly white konjaks; their sugar contents can reach 50%-65%. Konjak amylose is a kind of linear macromolecule compound; its viscidity is very high and is dissolving with water; so it has particular biological significance. These features determine that konjak amylose has multiplied uses. Besides pharmaceutical use, konjaks can also be used in textile, printing, yarn-dyed industries, cosmetics, pottery, environment protection and oil mining etc.