Amorphophallus konjac (konjac) has long been used in China, Japan and South East Asia as a food source and as a traditional medicine. Flour extracted from the corm of this species is used in Far Eastern cuisine to make noodles, tofu and snacks. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a gel prepared from the flour has been used for detoxification, tumour-suppression, blood stasis alleviation and phlegm liquefaction; and for more than 2000 years has been consumed by the indigenous people of China for the treatment of asthma, cough, hernia, breast pain, burns as well as haematological and skin disorders. Over the past two decades, purified konjac flour, commonly known as konjac glucomannan (KGM) has been introduced on a relatively small scale into the United States and Europe, both as a food additive and a dietary supplement. The latter is available in capsule form or as a drink mix and in food products. Clinical studies have demonstrated that supplementing the diet with KGM significantly lowers plasma cholesterol, improves carbohydrate metabolism, bowel movement and colonic ecology. Standards for the classification of both konjac flour and KGM have been established by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, the European Commission and the U.S. Food Chemicals Codex. However, to date, there is no worldwide agreed regulatory standard for konjac flour or KGM. This highlights the need for harmonization of konjac commercial standards to assess and ensure the quality of existing and future KGM products. Despite the widespread consumption of konjac derived products in East and South East Asia, there has been limited research on the biology, processing and cultivation of this species in the West. Most studies performed outside Asia have focussed on the structural characterisation and physicochemical properties of KGM. Therefore, the objective of this monograph is to review the literature covering the ethnic uses, botany and cultivation of konjac corms, together with the health benefits of KGM with the associated requirements for quality control. Possible directions for future research and development and standardisation of production and classification of this versatile natural product will be discussed.
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