Learning how to process vegan food, Devil's tongue, Konjac in rural Japan

by Chisato

Healthy vegan food,Konjac

Learning how to process vegan food, Devil's tongue, Konjac in rural Japan

The tuber of Devil’s tongue, also known as elephant yam, is called konjac in Japanese.

It contains glucomannan, soluble dietary fiber, and starch, and it is getting popular as a gluten-free vegan food, also known as "yam tofu".

It is originated from asian tropical regions, but its tuber is used mainly in Japan. In Edo period (samurai era in 19th century), Konnyaku Hyakusen (100 recipes of Konnyaku) was published.  It tastes good by raw, called sashimi konjac, but it is common to eat by boiling with potatoes and eggs, called oden.

 Tani san, an old lady taught us how to make Konjac from the plants.


konjac plants

The tuber crop is Araseae family same as taro. It is also called Devil’s tongue, as the shape of this tuber looks like devil's tongue, or because it contains rich oxalic acid, which avoid animal damage,  I guess.

It takes around 3 years until the tuber can be used for making konjac.

Learning how to process vegan food, Devil's tongue, Konjac in rural Japan

Processing konjac

The tuber is milled to make flour. Then, boiled  with lime water and cooled in the wooden box to consolidate.
In some areas, konjac is formed in just round-shape like onigiri, rice ball.
Sometimes, fruits, seaweeds, and chill are added to make flavor and color. 


Wisdom to utilize ash as coagulant, called "aku"

Traditionally, in order to consolidate the jelly, ash water, called "aku 灰汁" is used instead of lime.
There are various materials to make coagulant.
  • Zatsuboku, Timber ash:  the best ash can be made by oak tree or other broad-leaf trees. conifer is not suitable for making ash.
  •  Warabai, Straw ash: relatively stable compared to timber ash.
  • Mamegara, bean husk ash: makes konjac tasty, according to villagers

Learning how to process vegan food, Devil's tongue, Konjac in rural Japan

Ash is diluted by water many times, and it takes around 2-3 days to be ready to use.
It depends on the ingredient of the ash, and also water content, and strength of the ash (concentration), and there is no recipe to make the harshness from the ash.

"Every year, it is different", said tani san.

concentration of aku depends on its material and how it was made.
so, farmers taste the aku, and see the concentration.

It is difficult to adjust the amount, and nowadays young people prefer to use lime or sodium carbonate.
Learning how to process vegan food, Devil's tongue, Konjac in rural JapanLearning how to process vegan food, Devil's tongue, Konjac in rural Japan

how to learn?

There are many places to teach how to make konjac in rural area.
Usually villagers make konjac in winter season during December to February.
In kansai region, Kyoto, Iga, Nara have several programs about konjac.

Fee: around 1,500~2,000 yen
Duration: 2-3 hours
Place to learn: nara, mie, kyoto, and many other places

08 Jun 2017

Licensed Guide

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Contact Chisato

Hello. I am Chisato living in Uda city, south part of Nara.

I completed master degree of organic agriculture in the Netherlands in 2011.
Especially, my specialization is agriculture, anthropology and food culture.
I often travel around rural villages in japan for my research on traditional knowledge, ethnobotany and local cuisine, "kyodo ryori".

My style of guiding is "experience the local communities"; visiting the ingredients where it grows, listening to the stories of local life, where generations have lived.

My town Uda city is famous as a medicinal plant town. In the historical record, it is reported that Empress Suiko visited Uda to hunt medicinal herbs (AD611). Developed as a castle town, the city is designated as one of the Important Preservation Districts. The streets have some facilities associated with medicine and herbs, including Morino Kyuyakuen (medicinal herb garden) and Kusuri-no-Yakata (the museum of medicine). I am learning traditional knowledge of wild herbs from local villagers.

I try my best to organize a trip with unique experience for you in the off-the-beaten rural villages, especially in Kyoto and Nara. Please let me know your special interests, and I will suggest your trip schedule, such as cooking with locals, visit farmers, or stay at a farmhouse.

Example Theme:
- tea tour (harvesting and processing tea, tea house, matcha poder making, tea museum in Kyoto)
- traditional handicrafts (visit workshops, pottery making experience, kiln in hidden valley)
- culinary experience (food processing workshop such as tofu, soba, yuba, somen noodle, traditional knowledge of food preservation)
- fermented food products (learning how to make sake, shoyu, miso, amazake, pickle, nattou, umeboshi by yourself)
- plant and ethno-ecology (sansai wild plant harvesting and cooking)
- learning rural livelihood (charcoal making, weaving trees, paper making from mulberry plant, silk worm, visit to temple of plant medicine)
- temple stay (meditation, shojin ryori at mount koya)

Please inquire at least 1 month before the tour departure date, when it is totally customized tour.
Please note that spring (March-April) and autumn (Septenmer-October) are peak travelling season in Japan, and it may not possible to offer special interest tours.
I recommend to reserve accommodations at least 2 months before your travel (half year before during peak travelling season).

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