Konjac Glucomannan – A Plant-Based Answer to Carbomer?
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 PlantThe 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 InternallySome 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 ExternallyMy 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 CarbomerI'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 UpEach 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 AlternativeI 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
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.
@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??
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
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!
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
so, if the whole western world & then the rest of the world continues w/ this movement back towards 'Nature' & all that entails..specifically, from what i know re:wildcrafting & the buyers involved, & also, the difficulties encountered cultivating mono-cultures in the agri-business, i'm starting to think it might be preferrable, @ least regarding our environment & the continued existence of certain specific plant species, if we were to seek our ingredients from the lab, as opposed to the forest or jungle, especially if those ingredients were generally GRAS, & generally non-sensitizing.
Another often unexplored avenue that i've been researching lately involves choosing to exclusively use invasive plant species, which, fortunately, & maybe surprisingly, contain an absolute abundance of medicinal & cosmetic virtues.
I hope this will not spell personal disaster for my new business, if i choose this path..i'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I apologize for the lengthy post..
best regards, suki
Thank you for your blog. Very informative.
Can konjac glucomannan be used in o/w emulsions to achieve more gelly texture? If yes how would you mix oil and water phase? With a homogenizer or stirring?
Thank you in advance!
In theory, yes, but you are probably going to have to try a few batches as it will depend on what the other ingredients in the formula are. Best of luck with it!
Enjoy! It's fun getting to know new ingredients :D