Archive of strange and unusual food plants

The Pull Up Your Plants archive of articles.

Konjac: A Corpse-Flower that Produces "YAMS" Used For Carb-Free Pasta.

 Image retrieved under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licensure from  here . 

Image retrieved under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licensure from here

Amorphophallus konjac

One fine day in human history, thousands of years ago, a person (let's call this person "Pat") approached a colossal flower. Flies were swarming around the base of its enormous mummy-penis-shaped spadix. The flower reeked like eighteen trash bags full of rotting corpses. On that day, Pat asked a fateful question:

"I wonder if I can eat this!" 

What was WRONG with you, Pat?

Pat dug, peeled, and took a bite of the plant's raw corm. It was stinky, acrid, and created an irritating tingling in the back of Pat's throat that lasted for hours.

"I still really think there is potential here," thought Pat.

Undeterred, Pat boiled the corm in water. Inedible still! What was Pat to do?

Pat, who was absolutely desperate to find a way to eat this corm for some reason, then had a brilliant idea: "what if I use a hammer to crush the corms, put them into a wooden vat, mash them with my feet while adding ladles of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) until it becomes thick like paste, and then press it into jelly cakes using an intricate contraption?" 

 Intricate contraption. Image in the Public Domain [5]

Intricate contraption. Image in the Public Domain [5]

What in the actual living [TRUCKSTOP], Pat?!

I have no idea what was wrong with Pat, and I have no idea how humanity actually figured all of this out, but the answer to Pat's question was just as outrageous as the question itself: YES, konjac is edible after processing.  Yes, we can eat this plant. Yes, we do eat this plant. Today, konjac is a major agricultural product and plant that possesses even stranger qualities than creating an enormous flower that smells like festering corpses.

It creates its own body heat when in flower. 

It is used to create vegan noodles with negligible-to-zero calories or carbohydrates.

It is relatively cold-hardy so we can conceivably grow this in our own gardens next to the tomatoes and peppers. 

It is used by Buddhist vegetarians who long for the texture of squid.

It produces an incredibly useful porous biochar for use in supercapacitors.

A study has suggested that the colors of Konjac flowers may have evolved to resemble livor mortis (the pooling of blood that happens beneath a corpse's skin after blood stops circulating).

Its genus name, Amorphophallus, means "shapeless penis."

Konnyaku balls let out haunting polytonal screams when sautéed (see the video in the article).

I mean, if Pullupyourplants.com were a cocktail party for unusual food and medicinal plants, konjac would be the naked goth in the corner communicating with space-aliens with herky-jerky dance moves. Cue Eistursend Neubauten! This is my kind of plant: an honest-to-God eccentric. 

If you thought the cinnamon vine was weird, buckle in, Traveler! Konjac even makes the cinnamon vine seem prim and proper.

Thank you for everything, Pat... you crazy [MOTHERFATHER]! 

Welcome to the supremely, utterly, disturbingly, and incredibly bizarre world of Amorphophallus konjac.

 Behold the little fact-sheet I whipped up. It's full of dumb typos so if you steal it without linking my article, you will look lazy. If you steal it and link my article, you can blame me. 

Behold the little fact-sheet I whipped up. It's full of dumb typos so if you steal it without linking my article, you will look lazy. If you steal it and link my article, you can blame me. 

Habitat

Konjac is largely cultivated as a potted plant. 

 Image retrieved under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licensure from  here .

Image retrieved under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licensure from here.

 

Culinary Uses

 Yum! Here is the corm that started it all! Image retrieved under GNU Free Documentation Licensure from  here .

Yum! Here is the corm that started it all! Image retrieved under GNU Free Documentation Licensure from here.

The root tubers are processed to create "konnyaku" [2] which is a gelatinous grey substance used in JAPANESE simmered dishes. Konnyaku was used in aemono styled dishes as a substitute for the texture of squid in Shojin Ryori cooking (a Buddhist vegetarian style of cooking introduced to Japan and Korea via China.) [7]. Further, konnyaku cakes are often pushed through a gridwork of blades to recreate traditional noodles called Shirataki {meaning: white waterfall} [7]. Often seaweed is added to this cakes for colorful and nutritive benefit [7]. 

 In HAWAII, the leaf petioles are/were eaten after undergoing a good slicing, rinsing, drying, and crushing [6] [8].

  Konnyaku gelatin.  Image retrieved under Creative Commons licensure from  here .

Konnyaku gelatin. Image retrieved under Creative Commons licensure from here.

Ethnopharmacology

Reportedly, the JAPANESE used the root of this plant to cause abortions in the 18th century [10]. The JAPANESE use the konnyaku to detoxify the digestive tract [11]. 

 Notice the dual bow-tie action? You deserve someone who will look at you this way. Image in the Public Domain retrieved from  here . 

Notice the dual bow-tie action? You deserve someone who will look at you this way. Image in the Public Domain retrieved from here

Bizarre Notes

A 2015 study, using Konjac, concluded the the color pigmentation of the flowers may have evolved to mimic the common colors of livor mortis, or, the pooling of blood that happens in corpses when the blood stops circulating [12]. Additionally, this study found that phytochemicals responsible for the infamous konjac "fragrance" (aka rotting death) is composed of oligosulphides that are chemically very similar to the aromatic compounds emitted from corpses [12]. Stranger still, the konjac is so good at mimicking death that flies cannot tell the difference between the konjac flower scent and color from a real cadaver [12]. 

"I Can't Believe Its Not Dead": a corpse substitute for flies with class.

On a slightly different note, konjac flowers are able to raise their body temperature (thermogenesis) a full 2.9 °C (5.22 °F) when presenting its female flowers [13]. 

 

 

 

Nutrition

Konjac is the source of Konjac glucomannan (KGM), a water soluble polysaccharide (fiber) abundant within the corm of the plant; in humans, KGM has been shown stabilize blood triglyceride levels, reduce cholesterol, promote health blood glucose levels in diabetics, and to improve intestinal activity and immune function. [3]. While most famous for KGM, konjac is also known to contain a particular starch not readily digested by humans, thiamine, vitamin A, riboflavin, and niacin [3].

 

Recipes

How to Grow

Konjac can be kept as an indoor/outdoor plant in the following way [9]: 

  1. Place the corm into a pot with moist potting soil in the Spring.
  2. The enormous purple corpse-reeking purple flowers should emerge.
  3. After blooming, the beautiful vegetative stage will appear.
  4. Protect the leafy plant from wind and give it ample sunlight.
  5. Before frosts set in, place new corms in dry potting soil to store over the winter indoors.
  6. Repeat.

Screaming Konnyaku Balls

Conclusion

Thank you for visiting my site! Konjac is an amazing plant. I see that many of you are visiting from all over the world. Please leave a comment below the references. I'd like to pen-pal with more weird plant enthusiasts, ethnobotanists, and adventurous gardeners like us. Ukraine, Hungary, and New Zealand.... hello, how are you! 

References

[1] Elpel, T. J. (2010). Botany in a day: The patterns method of plant identification: An herbal field guide to plant families of North America. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC.

[2] Tōkyō Daigaku. Nōgakubu. (1887). Bulletin of the College of Agriculture, Tokyo Imperial University. Tokyo

[3] Behera, S. S., & Ray, R. C. (2017). Nutritional and potential health benefits of konjac glucomannan, a promising polysaccharide of elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus konjac K. Koch: A review. Food Reviews International33(1), 22-43. doi:10.1080/87559129.2015.1137310

[4] Lamprecht, I., & Seymour, R. S. (2010). Thermologic investigations of three species of Amorphophallus. Journal Of Thermal Analysis & Calorimetry102(1), 127-136. doi:10.1007/s10973-010-0891-9

[5] Société d'acclimatation. (1871). Bulletin de la Société d'acclimatation. Paris: Au Siége de la Société.

[6] United States. Food and Drug Administration. (1984). FDA consumer. [Washington: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off.].

[7] Shurtleff, W. (1975). The book of tofu: food for mankind. Massachusetts: Autumn Press.

[8] Birdsey, M. Roberts. (1951). The cultivated aroids. Berkeley [Calif.]: Gillick Press.

[9]Strohm, J. L. (1960). The golden garden guide: a practical handbook of gardening and outdoor living. New York: Golden Press.

[10] Thunberg, C. Peter. (1780?). Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia: made between the years 1770 and 1779. 3d ed. London: Printed for F. and C. Rivington.

[11] Morse, C. (2018, August 22). Biodiversity Education & Research Greenhouses. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from http://florawww.eeb.uconn.edu/198500882.html

[12] Chen, G., Ma, X., Jürgens, A., Lu, J., Liu, E., Sun, W., & Cai, X. (2015). Mimicking Livor Mortis: a Well-Known but Unsubstantiated Color Profile in Sapromyiophily. Journal Of Chemical Ecology41(9), 808-815. doi:10.1007/s10886-015-0618-2

[13] Thermologic investigations of three species of Amorphophallus. (2010, May 28). Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://akademiai.com/doi/abs/10.1007/s10973-010-0891-9