Zero Calorie Noodles: Fact or Fantasy?

I eat simply and healthfully in my day-to-day life, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary (for example, most everything I post here). When I’m not hitting the restaurant scene, I love to have a quiet night at home, fixing a dinner focused on vegetables and lean proteins. Sure, sometimes I wish I were stuffing my face with greasy take-out food, but I try to restrain myself. If only there were some way to cheat the system… or is there?!

Last night I found myself somewhat bored at home alone, really hungry but convincing myself to make a sensible meal for one. I decided to prepare one of my go-tos, an easy stir-fry. As I was browsing the aisles of my favorite Asian market, I came across a mystery product I’ve heard murmurs about throughout the food world, but had never experienced for myself: Shirataki noodles.

What’s so great about these noodles compared to any other pasta? They’re made of starch from the root of the yam… they’re kind of hard to find… oh yeah, and they apparently are zero calories, compared to your usual 200 calorie serving of spaghetti.

What?! How can this be? It seems like the epitome of an “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” scenario. Let’s ask science. And by science, I mean Wikipedia, of course.

Shirataki are very low carbohydrate, low calorie, thin, translucent, gelatinous traditional Japanese noodles made from devil’s tongue yam… The word “shirataki” means “white waterfall,” describing the appearance of these noodles. Largely composed of water and glucomannan, a water-soluble dietary fiber, they have little flavor of their own… Traditional shirataki noodles have zero net carbohydrates, no food energy, and no gluten…

Hm. Alright. So shirataki noodles are made of yam root fibers, which the human body cannot digest, therefore they are very filling yet pass right through without being converted into energy (= calories). It’s pretty basic stuff, but still seems suspicious to me, having been raised in a culture where carbohydrates equal bad, fattening, naughty foods. Not that I ever bought into that tripe, but it’s still interesting to find a product that defies all preconceived notions about the evil of noodles. If you’re interested, you can read a lot more details about shirataki at Just Hungry.

I’ve had enough with the details, though. Onto what really matters: do shirataki noodles taste good?!

Although I had my doubts, I’m here to make the proclamation: YES, they’re good! Miracle? Magic? Who knows. Let’s just explore the best, easiest steps in preparing these wonder noodles.

First of all, you need to drain these bad boys. I won’t sugarcoat it; to the average home cook, it’s gonna smell funky when you cut that package open. The scent of the water the noodles are packed in is reminiscent of an Asian seafood market. Not necessarily a bad odor, but it is a bit… jarring. Do not let this deter you! I promise the noodles don’t taste like old shellfish. Just drain, drain away all the liquids and forget it ever happened. If you’re extra picky, feel free to rinse them in cold water, just make sure to pat them dry afterward. Next, since these noodles are exceptionally long, bust out the kitchen shears and snip them into manageable pieces.

From there, all I did was heat up a skillet with a little bit of oil, and threw ’em on in! I sauteed them around until they started to look a bit drier and less translucent. I tossed in a bit of my homemade stir-fry sauce for some flavor. (Want the recipe? So easy: soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, agave syrup [or honey/brown sugar if you prefer], and red chili flakes.)

In the meantime, while my noodles were cooking, I fired up a bunch of vegetables, beef, and more sauce in my wok. Once everything was all heated up, I dumped the noodles into a big bowl, and tossed my veggies on top of that. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the shirataki noodles and thin rice noodles. I would never suspect they were different if this were served to me in a restaurant.

Was it satisfying? Hell yeah, exactly the same as a big bowl of stir-fried noodles or ramen. I’ve seen people online complaining about the “weird” texture and I assume they must not have drained their noodles or let all the liquids cook out. I will concede that these noodles are going to be a bit slippery and more wet than your average pasta. The sauce didn’t really like to stick to them, and instead made more of a broth, leaving me with a ramen-like situation after my stir-fry had sat out for a few minutes. Next time I will take care to pat the noodles dry with even more fervor, and maybe try a thicker sauce. Regardless, the texture and taste were great, especially suitable for any type of Asian dish. I can imagine them being fantastic in pad thai, cold salads, etc. I’m a little wary about using them in Italian recipes given the rice noodle-like consistency. Apparently there are brands that combine the shirataki with tofu to make them more palatable when mixed with other sauces and flavors, and diet-y sites seem to be a fan – shirataki alfredo, anyone? We’ll see…

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One comment

  • Kelsey September 20, 2011  

    Surprised there isn’t a Hollywood diet for this yet!

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