During my time in Japan, I stumbled upon a delightful treat that reminded me of my fruit jelly dessert, albeit with a distinctly Japanese twist. Say hello to yokan, a jelly dessert that boasts a unique star ingredient—the ever-so-Japanese red bean paste.
Yokan is a type of wagashi, which refers to traditional Japanese confections often served with tea. The red bean jelly is typically molded into rectangular or square shapes and sliced before serving. What sets this traditional Japanese sweet apart is its distinctive texture. It has a distinct jelly-like consistency and is made from red bean paste, agar-agar (a vegetarian alternative to gelatin), and sugar.
With the fruit jelly, you can add different fruits you like. You can do the same thing with yokan by adding different flavors and ingredients to it, such as sweet potatoes, chestnuts, or figs.
Since I made the dish for the first time, I would stick to the original yokan jelly recipe with Mizu Yokan. If you don’t like sugar, you can use honey, syrup, or molasses instead. Here’s how to make Mizu Yokan:
Mizu Yokan – Japanese Jelly Dessert
- 100 g red beans or red bean paste
- 3/4 cup water
- 100 g sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2 g agar-agar powder (kanten)
If you use red beans
- Rinse the adzuki beans (red beans) under cold water.
- In a large pot, combine the beans and water. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Drain the beans, then add fresh water and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender (usually around 1-1.5 hours). You can reduce the time by using an instant pot/crockpot or soaking them in cold water overnight.
- Once the beans are tender, mash them or blend them until smooth.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to a paste-like consistency.Continue the following steps below.
If you use red bean paste
- In a separate pot, dissolve the agar-agar powder in water (3/4 cup). Bring the agar-agar mixture to a boil and let it simmer.
- Stir in sugar and a pinch of salt for another minute.
- Add the sweet red bean paste to the agar-agar mixture. Heat the combined mixture over medium heat, stirring continuously until it is well mixed and slightly thickened. This should take about 12 minutes.
- Pour the thickened mixture into a square or rectangular mold, smoothing the surface.
- Allow the Mizui Yokan to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for about 2-3 hours or overnight until it sets completely.
Besides the Neri Yokan recipe, you can try other different variations below:
- Mizu Yokan or “water yokan,” has a higher water content, giving it a softer and more delicate texture.
- Neri Yokan has a smoother and silkier texture. It often uses a higher proportion of red bean paste, resulting in a creamier consistency.
- Matcha Mizu Yokan: If you want the best of both words, matcha and anko, you can try this Green Tea Mizu Yokan. You just need to create 2 parts separately and pour them into the same mold.
- Shiro Yokan is made with white kidney beans instead of adzuki beans, giving it a lighter color and slightly different flavor.
- Matcha Yokan: Some variations incorporate matcha (green tea) into the mixture.
- Yokan with Fruit: Modern variations may include pieces of fruit, such as chestnuts or citrus peel, to add different textures and flavors.
- Imo Yokan blends the rich essence of sweet potatoes with the traditional charm of yokan. Instead of anko, add mashed sweet potatoes to the mixture and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Once set, you’ll have a luscious treat with a vibrant orange hue.