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!

Photo of Konjac plant by James Steakley via Wikimedia Commons


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.
LisaLise 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.
LisaLise 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!
LisaLise 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. :)
Unknown 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
LisaLise 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!
Unknown 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

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.
LisaLise 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?
LisaLise 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?
Greg said…
Hi there Lise, I am interested in this product. Thank you so much for your ongoing love of natural products. Would you happen to know how to make ultrasound gel?
LisaLise said…
HI Greg - Great question! You can use either konjac glucomannan or guar gum for this. Check out this link to a how-to and do read the comments as there are several alternative solutions suggested. Best of luck with it. :)

Unknown said…
Thank you so much for the great find. I own an organic-vegan hair and skin company...and have been using aloe-gel as a base....I wanted to find something else to use as well....will definitely be looking this product up..thank you so much....BTW I also own a wholesale bulk business. ..shea butter...and cocoa butter. ...if you use these in your skin care let me know.....thanks a bunch..glad I found you
LisaLise said…
Hey there Nicola - thank you for your kind words - best of luck with this! I'm in Europe -- is your business there?
DeeDee said…
Hi Lise, I have used konjac root as a thickener for my shampoos and it thickens the water portion beautifully. It creates a silky "gel" with tons of slip. But as soon as I add it to the surfactants, it liquifies again, instantly. Do tou think if I held back on the temperature sensitive ingredients and warmed the water AND surfactant mixture it might hold? Also, if you do think it will hold due to your own experiences, should it hold indefinitely? Thank you so much!!
LisaLise said…
HI DeeDee - Thanks for your comment. I think you are seeing an incompatibility with konjac and surfactants- just as you suspect. I have never worked with it in combination with surfactants before, so I'm guessing you are looking at doing a series of tests with small batches to see if it can be combined successfully. If you do, I'd love to hear your feedback!
suki-san said…
okay, i'm not sure this opinion will be too popular, but i've been thinking & reading endlessly & i believe i might be coming to some conclusions that could actually endanger my budding business aspirations..
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
LisaLise said…
Great observation Suki - thanks for your input.Personally I don't think it will come to that because the industry is monetarily driven. It's not viable to create large amounts of mant plant materials, and science continues to also get better at creating nature identical substances in the lab.
LisaLise said…
excuse my numerous typos above -- iphone woes!
Mamasan said…
I know this thread has been going on awhile, but I just discovered it! I am very interested in trying this to replace carbomer in one of my formulations. I am in the USA and I found it all over the place online. I bought a small container of it on Amazon just to experiment with. If I do decide to work with this, I found a website which is Prescribed For Life, or pforlife.com which has it and will provide COA and MSDS sheets, in case anyone is interested. I am personally in agreement with you Lise. I would prefer to use no petrochemicals at all. I currently have one or two products that have what I term as "safe" derivitives, but I cannot get my head around it for long term, which is why I have been playing with other gelling agents and algae...you name it! This sounds fantastic, so will wait and see how it does in my formula. Many thanks for your writing and research.
LisaLise said…
HI Kirsten - Thanks for your comment - there are no 'old posts' on this blog. I do see every comment. And thank you for sharing this information about where to source conj. in the USA. Happy formulating!
Milates said…
Hi Lise
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!

LisaLise said…
Hello Milates,

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!
Unknown said…
hello, i am trying to start an organic lipgloss cosmetic line. i want everything to be 100% plant based products. everywhere on the market advertises versagel, but i do not want to use this. would this be a good replacement for the lip gloss base versagel? if so how would i mix this with oils such as sweet almond oil, carrot seed oil etc?
LisaLise said…
Hey there Unknown - My best recommendation to you is to try and make your own gloss base to your satisfaction and then go with that. Versagel contains several ingredients, and you will probably have to do a little trial and testing to create your own. If you want only oil based, then you'll need gelling agents that are compatible with oils - there are several on the market. Best of luck with it!
Unknown said…
I love digging older blog post like this. I just got sample of konjac but haven't played with it yet. Your question is interesting, because I'm exactly the kind of person who stubbornly prefers natural emulsifiers, gelling agents and options in general! I love challenges so I've spent countless hours working with "impossible projects". Maybe it's just my curious and stubborn nature, haha.:D Hmm, I propably wouldn't swap plant based gel (or other item) to synthetic option (but I'm not against it in any way). Thanks, Johanna:)
LisaLise said…
HI Johanna - Thanks for your inout. It sounds like you and I have similar approaches. :)
Laurie said…
I just got my konjac powder in the post yesterday after reading all of this wonderful info and have used it in a cleansing gel. My first reaction is I love it, I used 1% mixed with a little glycerin and then stirred it into the liquid as you suggested which was in a warm water bath, A lovely silky gel came after a little whisking. I am interested to see how it holds up. BTW i used one of my favourite glycerites in it - elderberry. Love these plant thickeners.
LisaLise said…
Hi Laurie

Enjoy! It's fun getting to know new ingredients :D
Unknown said…
Hi! Thanks for this! Does it pair with Cationic emulsifiers? I used it at 0.5% with btms-50 to make a conditioner and it didn’t seem to hold up.
LisaLise said…
Hey there unknown -- great question-- I would have to check back through my notes before being able to answer you proper. I am beginning to get reacquainted with this ingredient as I was unable to source it for a long while.