Monday, April 23, 2012

Konjac Glucomannan – A Plant-Based Answer to Carbomer?

This innocent-looking bit of powder is my new hope for creating texture perfection. It comes from the root of a plant that has several ominous-sounding common names, like Devil's Tongue, Voodoo Lily, Snake Palm, and Corpse Flower (!).

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 Plant
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.

Konjac Glucomannan Internally
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.

Glucomannan Externally
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.

The Promise of a Plant-Based Alternative
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!

Thanks to Debra at Gardens Inspired for the use of the Konjak plant photo.

14 comments:

Hannah said...

Its really a interesting information. I had no idea about that such stinky plant could be so useful for us. I will share this information with my friends too.

Lise M Andersen said...

Thanks Hannah. :)

Anonymous said...

I would gladly trade perfect texture for the peace of mind that comes from a petro chemical free product. Thanks for all you information.

Stephanie said...

Fascinating stuff! Makes you wonder who the first person was to try working with the stinker (and cooking with it? ugh!).

I think I would go for less perfection and a better conscience... which may be easier for me to say than do! It'll be interesting to see how this promising new ingredient plays out.

Lise M Andersen said...

@Anonymous- thanks for your input. I am curious as to whether you are a DIY skin care person, or if you shop for 'greener' products.
@Stephanie - yay! I am yay-ing because this is the first time your comment has come through without problem. You're right, you have to wonder who figured out how to use this plant in the first place. I always think of that when I eat artichoke. Seriously, who cracked that nut??

Anonymous said...

wow, i was awaiting this post and as it turns out, my husband planted these in our yard last year!

Lise M Andersen said...

Teehee - sounds like fun! Everything I could find on this plant said it was the flower that was smelly, so until it flowers, maybe it wont be stinky. :)

Denise Sanderson said...

Hi Lise, It was so encouraging to find your blog and interesting articles therein. I have just recently started making my own preparations ie, serums, moisturizers etc for my clients (I have a very small Beauty Salon on the Costa Blanca Spain). I have been to several courses back in the UK and find that the recipe for Aloe Vera Gel using Konjac as a thickener great but it dosen't hold its form as a gel. By the morning the gel has liquified and I really don't know what to do with it. I have contacted the supplier who tells me that they are just a supplier and that this is normally not part of their service. Can you advise?

I am using 0.5grms of Aloe Vera Powder and 100mls of Water, mixing this and then adding to it 0.5grms of konjac. I haven't heated the mixture its all been mixed cold.
Thank you Denise

Lise M Andersen said...

Hi Denise,

Thanks for your kind words! I'm a bit disapppointed that your supplier can't give you better instruction as to how to use the ingredient.
Here's my best konjac glucomannan tip: Place the container you are adding the konjac to in a warm water bath (not too hot!), then add the konjac and stir until you have the desired consistency. I have found a gel will have stable 'hold' if the mixture is heated ever so slightly when adding the konjac. For 100 ml, I would suggest going up to just under 1 gram of konjac. This will give a firm, but not stiff gel. Not only that, but the gel stays stable. :)
Do let me know how it goes!

Denise Sanderson said...

Hi Lise

Thank you for the prompt reply. I shall give this a whirl and let you know. Your help is very much appreciated.

Ill be intouch

Denise

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great info. I am a at home diy skin care gal. Where do you recommend I buy the Konjac Glucomannan? I live in the United States.

Lise M Andersen said...

Hey here Anon - I have actually seen this as a food supplement in powder form in the US, but am not quite sure if it was 100% konjac glucomannan--- otherwise, my best suggestion is to check out New Directions USA store-- there is a link to them on the sidebar. Best of luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Do you have a recipe for Konjac Glucomannan Sponges, or a general idea of how to make them?

Lise M Andersen said...

Hey there Anon - I'm not sure konjak sponges can be made? But perhaps I don't quite understand your question. Could you give me a bit more info? What are konjak sponges used for? Where have you seen them before?