Wednesday, March 10, 2010
TopValu Light Meal Konnyaku Jelly (Lychee)
Some time last year, I started to notice more and more zero calorie jelly (what we call gelatin) products for sale in convenience stores. This "light meal" nutritionally balanced drinking gelatin is something which has also been around for years, albeit not in as many zero-calorie forms. I wanted to sample it for my week of diet/health foods, but I'm a bit squeamish about the prospect of a drinking jelly.
I squeezed some of this into a glass, and what I saw didn't encourage me. You can't see it from the picture I took, but there are little wispy shreds of clear jelly suspended in a yellowish liquid. They resemble amoebas with a thyroid disorder. Of course, you're not supposed to squirt this stuff into a glass and drink it. You're supposed to suck it out of the tube at the top. This is good because it's very difficult to squeeze out. The packet is designed to keep it from spilling out. It works like a steel can of evaporated milk that only has one hole pocked in it. There's not enough of an exchange of air to allow the free flow of the jelly.
This is made with konnyaku jelly, something which I have been far less than keen on in the past. I tend to dislike the texture of it when it's put in stews and other Japanese dishes. If you don't want to read the Wikipedia entry, I'll tell you that it's jelly, often in a mottled gray block form, made from a plant (konjac). Konjac is a "corm", which is similar to a tuber or yam, but doesn't have the same properties. It is consumed for its texture, and its high fiber, which fills the stomach and aids digestion. In Japan, it's usually salty and used in traditional dishes, but it's popular in Asia in jelly drinks as well. People sometimes choke to death on it, but I can say that there is little risk of choking on the soft konnyaku in this beverage. It's too wispy for anyone to get lodged in his or her throat.
I chose the TopValu brand because it was cheap. I paid 98 yen at a local supermarket for this 180 gram pouch. There are a plethora of other choices, and I'm guessing most of them are roughly similar to this one in consistency and in having a huge list of added nutrients. Clearly, this is meant to fill the belly of dieting people who want to feel full, get nutrients, but consume no calories. This packet was fortified with B vitamins, D, E, Folic acid, and Panthothenic acid. It contains a pretty hefty cocktail of artificial sweeteners including Erythritol, Acesulfame K, and Sucralose. It also contains kale, which is popular in Japan for its nutritive properties. You can buy powdered kale and dissolve it in water to drink; it tastes as good as it sounds.
In theory, this is a great idea. The big question is about how it works in practice. The texture isn't nearly what I thought it would be. It's not slimy, but rather like drinking super soft tapioca bubbles. I have never had bubble tea, but I imagine this is a distant cousin to it texturally. The smell is rather fruity, like a cross between an apple and a peach. The taste at first is very sweet and like a fruit gelatin. I rarely eat lychee, so I can't know how faithful the flavor is to the fruit. It's not an impressive flavor, but it's unoffensive. The main drawback is that there is a bitter aftertaste after you've sucked down (literally) some of it. The only other drawback is that I feel goofy as an adult suckling on a tube like a baby with a bottle.
This type of food isn't meant to be some fantastic and tasty snack, but rather as a palatable health food to stop you from snacking on things that aren't good for you. I can say that it is inoffensive, and the sweetness is initially quite gratifying if you're hungry. I can also say that, without a doubt, it made my stomach feel full and that I would recommend anyone who counts calories and struggles with hunger give this a try. I don't know if it would actually replace a meal, but it would certainly help you stave off a case of the munchies between meals and I'd buy this again. In fact, I wouldn't mind keeping one on hand when I'm having one of those days when I just want to eat all day. Note that these last for months.