Austin360Cooks: Are low-carb shirataki noodles worth the diet hype?

I’m always suspicious of low-calorie foods.

I first saw shirataki noodles at Central Market a few years ago and scoffed at the low-carb/calorie branding for these ready-to-eat noodles. One look at the label, and you’ll learn that these fat- and gluten-free noodles are made primarily with a flour from a Japanese yam that is super low in carbs and calories but high in dietary fiber.

I don’t know about you, but I eat food for nourishment, flavor and fuel, and zero-calorie foods don’t really fit that mission. However, I am always looking for new ingredients to try, especially if they’ll save me a step or two in the kitchen, so I went ahead and bought a package to try in a quick weeknight stir-fry.

The package warns that the slightly curly noodles are neutral in flavor and can have a “mild earthy smell” when you first open the bag. Following the instructions, I rinsed off the liquid in which they are stored and set the noodles aside while I stir-fried a big pan full of broccoli, carrots, onions, garlic, kale and shrimp.

After the shrimp had started to turn pink, I threw the noodles in the pan, along with additional sesame oil, rice vinegar and soy sauce to coat the translucent strands. I munched on one and, sure enough, it didn’t have a whole lot of flavor, so I added a few more dashes of liquid, as well as a shake or two from an all-purpose Asian seasoning from McCormick’s.

The noodles never really soaked up the flavor of the sauce, but the vegetables and shrimp were able to carry the dish — seasoningwise — while the noodles added just the right carb-like texture that I like to balance out the protein and veggies. When I posted the photos on Instagram, several readers said they weren’t fans of shirataki noodles precisely because they don’t soak up seasoning as much as other Asian noodles, and another said they reminded her of her Atkins diet days.

One person pointed out that in the 1960s, a writer in Japan who subsisted only on these noodles died of malnutrition. I’d say you could die of malnutrition eating only one kind of a lot of things, so that part didn’t worry me too much.

I was encouraged to read that Serious Eats writer J. Kenji López-Alt always keeps a bag of them in his fridge, so I think I’ll probably pick up a bag from time to time — that is, when my epic stash of dried noodles I picked up while researching this week’s story on international markets runs out — even if just for the delightful springy texture they added to my meal.

We’d love to hear about new ingredients you’ve been trying in your kitchen or any other cooking projects that you enjoy. Just add the #Austin360Cooks hashtag to your posts on social media or email us at abroyles@statesman.com. You can see what other home cooks in Central Texas are cooking by searching the hashtag in Instagram or going to food.blog.austin360.com.

Author: Addie Broyles

Food writer for the Austin American-Statesman and Austin360.com.

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