Aisle Spy

Konjac: the pasta alternative that’s free from gluten, carbs and calories

Australian brand Slendier is gunning for the European market with its guilt-free spaghetti and fettuccine.

12 September 2018
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What is a person to do when they love a tasty pesto pasta but hate the nutritional profile of the average pack of spaghetti? The obvious answer might be to opt for a gluten-free option, but as a report earlier this year indicated, these alternatives may not be as healthy as consumers think.

That’s not the case for Slendier’s noodles, however, which boast 12 calories per serving, as well as less than 1g of carbohydrates and 6.3g of fibre – a nutrient in which the majority of Brits are deficient.

“All of our recipes really cater to people who love to have a pasta but are looking to cut down on the calories or the carbohydrates,” says Erica Hughes, founder of Slendier, who adds that concerns over gut health, gluten and glycaemic index have propelled the brand’s popularity in Australia, where it is headquartered.

How did the company, which recently announced it is entering Morrisons, achieve such an attractive nutritional profile? That’s down to the use of konjac, which is turned into angel hair, fettuccine, lasagne, spaghetti and rice products, sold at an RRP of £2.50 per 250g pack.

But what exactly is konjac?

The root of the matter

Long-time readers of Food Spark may recall that we highlighted konjac back in January as one to watch. The root of the plant has proved popular for years in Asian cuisine, where it is ground into a flour, then made into noodle products. These are largely flavourless, relying on accompaniments for taste.

The ingredient has only recently migrated into other markets, however, with its use in a variety of cuisines becoming an area of interesting experimentation.

“I think sometimes people have a perception that it’s just an Asian noodle, and that’s actually not what it is at all. It’s a great pasta replacement,” remarks Hughes.

Her company is entering a young arena that is already becoming competitive. Barenaked, which scored a deal on Dragons’ Den and is stocked in all of the big four retailers, also uses konjac in its four-strong pasta offering, while Eat Well has its versions stocked in Ocado and Morrisons.

While those brands are going down a similar marketing route to Slendier by focusing on konjac’s healthy appeal in a multicultural context, Japanese manufacturer Yutaka is doubling down on the Asian aspect. Stocked in Tesco, it offers seaweed and oat flavours that come in packaging adorned with Japanese characters.

Slendier may be a newer entrant to the British arena, but it has been building its brand in Australia and New Zealand for the past five years. Now, it’s spreading a wide net in Europe: major markets are Germany and Italy, but everywhere from Spain to Greece is on the agenda – as are plans for the Americas and the Middle East.

“I think what makes us a little bit unique in the market is we make sure we have a very premium konjac product,” says Hughes. “We make sure people understand how to use it – which is the number-one question that people have.”

To that end, there’s a free recipe book that can be downloaded from Slendier’s website, as well as a handful of YouTube videos demonstrating how to cook with konjac noodles, which tend to exude an unpleasant odour and have to be soaked before use.

The company has already diversified into ready meals that feature its fettuccine with additive-free sauces like Arrabbiata and organic Italian basil – an area it hopes to explore more – while also trialling frittatas, desserts and protein bars to demonstrate konjac’s versatility.

More Asian inspiration

Not relying on its roots, Slendier extended its products earlier this year to incorporate soybean pastas too – an area Yutaka also occupies.

“Although konjac is a great pasta substitute, some people really love to feel like they’re eating what we might call a traditional pasta,” says Hughes. “They like to cook it, they like it to have a bit more flavour.”

Compared to the pale, almost translucent appearance of the konjac range, the black bean, soybean and edamame fettuccine and spaghetti are much more colourful, as well as organic and gluten-free. They are also about a third of the calories and a quarter of the carbs of the average wheat pasta, cooking to an al dente texture in about three minutes.

Hughes hopes to get these into retailers soon, followed by her smoothies, which just launched in Australia and are made with 100% fruit and vegetables, plus a dash of konjac for that added bit of fibre, producing a feeling of fullness so those looking to slim down can fill the spot between lunch and dinner.

There are also hopes for expansion into foodservice, an area Slendier already targets in its home market, where salad bowls with konjac are offered as grab-and-go eats.

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