The INCI name for the powdered root of this plant is long, complicated, and a bit of a tongue twister: Amorphophallus Konjac Root. My supplier lists it as Konjac Glucomannan Powder. Glucomannan is a polysaccharide and the main component of the Konjac tuber.
The Konjak plant is quite an unusual species that is not only very large and a bit creepy looking, but from what I have learned, also stinky enough to cause gagging if you get too close (hence the name corpse flower). It grows in the Indonesian rainforest, the monsoon areas of Southwest China and in parts of Japan. It has been valued for its medicinal properties for over 2000 years in China and used as a food source in Japan for over 1500 years.
Some nutritionists recommend taking supplements with Konjak Glucomannan for stabilizing blood sugar levels, as a slimming aid, or to help regulate bowel movements. I have no clue as to whether or not it is effective as such, but have come across it as the main ingredient in Japanese shirataki noodles (which are low in both calories and carbs). The fact that the Japanese refer to glucomannan as the 'broom of the bowels' indicates that it may indeed be more than just a low-cal food.
My main interest in the powdered root of this plant is for its structural similarity to pectin. It is described as being able to make a gel 'that creates a feeling like polymers that previously couldn't be achieved with natural polysaccharides' (my suppliers words).
They couldn't bring themselves to say it out loud, but they are comparing it to carbomer – the texturizing agent that every other texturizing agent in the world wishes it could be (read how I was wooed by carbomer here).
"Silly Lise, why don't you just use carbomer?" I hear you asking.
Because despite being safe, non-allergenic, environmentally friendly, and pretty close to perfect in every respect (really), carbomer is petro-chemical-based. And as you probably know by now, LisaLise products are all about being plant-based (I'm a bit of a die-hard in that area).
Plants vs Carbomer
I've worked with every natural thickener and gelling agent on the market and have as yet to find one that comes even close to carbomer. There, I said it out loud. I have actually been searching for a plant-based alternative to it for a very long time. You may snicker – even chortle – and call me a stubborn person with a one-track, plant-based mind, but there it is.
Why The Plant-Based Agents Don't Quite Measure Up
Each of the different plant-based texturizers has its own limitations that you have to get to know and learn to work with. Crazy as it may sound, it has been my conscious choice to deal with unwanted tackiness, lumps, gels that go cloudy, a structure that changes after a few hours – or after a day – or after an hour and then changes back again after a day, has unwanted smells, or special pH requirements... the list, unfortunately, goes on.
Admittedly, plant-based texturizers have caused the occasional bout of frustration (read: exasperation and floor-stamping).
There is an upside to working with plant-based texturizers – you learn how to get the absolute best out of every single one of them. And I was even almost ok with that – until I got the newsletter.
I remember it well. It was a bright morning that I read about a new plant-based gelling agent that could create "a see-through, odorless, and stable gel that gives soft and pleasant feeling with no tackiness". That was enough to get me right up out of my seat. If memory serves, I think I may even have let out a whoop of excitement. I ordered some the same day.
So, How's it Working?
So far, it has outdistanced everything else I've ever worked with. And despite its smelly origins, it is completely odorless. I've been A-B testing it against carbomer for a few months and will get into detail about how it has fared in one of my gel based products very soon.
Meantime... What Would You Choose?
If you were given a choice between 2 products that were equally safe, gentle and environmentally friendly, would you willingly trade a plant-based ingredient for the perfect texture? Or would you trade the perfect texture for a product that was 100% plant-based?? Drop a comment or take the mini-poll on the sidebar – or both if you are so inclined. I'm interested your thoughts!
Photo of Konjac plant by James Steakley via Wikimedia Commons