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Posted by Swan Domergue on Feb 08, 2021
It's actually a fact, yes red beans in Japan are really appreciated and especially by the kids, they are used to make many different desserts based on simple bread, rice and even ice cream !
This unctuous and sweet paste is called Anko (餡子) which litteraly means "Bean Jam for Kids" and it is one of the most popular condiment that have delighted all kinds of people in Japan for more than two milleniums.
Anko is made from Azuki (or Adzuki) which is a type of small red bean grown in tropical Asia. Since ancient times in China, Xiaodou 赤小豆 (the translation of Azuki in chinese) has been recognized as a yang that may contain life misfortune or yin. This belief and its cultivation method entered Japan around the 10th century BC. Since then, Azuki beans became really popular in the land of the rising sun and they have been added to rice (in order to give it a red color) or boiled with salt, and then added to dishes as a method to promote health and prevent bad smells.
So far Osekihan お赤飯 (red rice) is often used to celebrate auspicious days, such as the birth of a child or school graduation. At that time, the sweetness was only obtained in small amounts from a plant called "amazura", therefore the Anko paste was pretty expensive and only affordable by the rich people.
But since the 18th century, the mass production of sugar cane popularized the taste of sweetness in Japan paving the way for the birth of Anko, which is now made up of white sugar added to boiled Azuki beans.
Tsubu-an’ (Sweet Azuki Paste) is probably the most popular bean paste. Made up from the whole bean with a lot of sugar and additives, Canned Tsubu-an, can be found in all the grocery stores in Asia but also in the asian super markets abroad as it is a regular consumed product . Despite the price that could seems a little bit high, Tsubu-an is actually very easy to make.
Try it yourself !
Unlike Tsubu-an Anko that contains whole beans, Koshi-an is a strained and smooth bean paste. Koshi-an is used in many traditional Japanese dessert. The taste is a little less sweet than Tsubuan Anko which make the flavour richer, and the texture is smoother. It is more appreciated by the people who don't like the super sweet taste of Anko and prefer the bitterness of the Azuki beans.
In the Tsubu-an version, the Azuki beans are cooked as they are in boiling water with sugar. The beans aren't pealed neither crushed during the process. The Tsubushi-an recipe requires the beans to be crushed while they are boiling and soaked with sugar. Nevertheless, because the skin is the part of the bean that carries the most flavour, some bits of skin and bean are still left in the paste. The Tsubushi-an version is therefore a sweet and delicate version of Anko with tiny pieces of beans and bean skin inside.
Sarashi-an follows a completely different process compare to the other types of Anko. Indeed, the paste is made from Azuki that have been dried and reconstitued with water only. Therefore it is an unsweetened and bitter version of Anko which is not really popular. Effectively it is quite difficult to find some prepared Sarashi-an in regular shops and grocery stores, you would need to go to a special Anko store or to make it yourself to try it.
Like most of the bean varieties, Azuki also exist in white, and these beans are used to make Anko as well. In comparison with the red version, the white kidney beans are naturally more sweet and their texture is also more liquid when you crushed them. Likewise the Sarashi-an, Shiro-an are almost impossible to find in regular stores and usually used to make some fancy and original desserts in luxury restaurants.
Ogura-an is basically a mix of Koshi-an and Tsubu-an. A smooth and liquid sauce containing whole beans slightly larger than the usual ones. It's not an exact mix of Koshi-an and Tsubu-An as it requires its own preparation method.
In Japan, there are a huge amount of desserts and snacks made with Anko since it is a popular condiment which matches with many kinds of sweets. Let see what are the most common ones.
Anko is often used with ice cream, as a topping or as an ice cream itself. Indeed tha Azuki Red Bean Ice Cream is one of the most sold every summer in Japan. Some Anko paste (espacially the Ogura-an ) are also added to other flavours of ice cream to make parfait or to only make the ice cream tastier.
Finally Anko is also used in an authentic japanese frozen snack named Kakigori (かき氷) that consist of adding different kinds of sweet condiments on the top of a shaved ice clod.
Many authentic pastries are filled with Anko, among them we will recommend you to try :
Dorayaki consist of a layer of Anko sandwiched between two toasted fluffy sponge cakes made of flour, eggs and sugar (similar to pancakes). The name is derived from the words Dora (銅鑼) (meaning gong, reflecting the shape of the cake) and Yaki(焼き) (meaning baking). Dorayaki is very popular among children and adults in Japan and also known to be the favourite snack fo the famous anime character Doraemon.
Taiyaki is a classic Japanese street vendor snack consisting of a warm fish-shaped wafer usually filled with Anko. This Japanese snack is very popular all over the country and sold in different places expecially street fairs and Matsuri (Japanese summer festival). The name is derived from the words Tai (鯛) (an endemic species of sea bream fish) and Yaki (焼き) (meaning baking). Originally Taiyaki were round-shaped and named Imagawayaki (今川焼き) , but during the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912), due to its high value, the Tai was a very expensive fish only eaten on special days such as celebration, and the sweet shops apparently decided to change the round shape to "Tai-shape" and give a fancy image to the snack.
Anpan are some milk and fluffy buns filled with Anko and topped with sesame seeds. The word Pan (パン) was taken from Italian and simply meand "bread" in Japanese, therefore the translation of Anpan is litterally Anko Bread. The Anpan also appeared during the Meiji Period and was invented by the samurai Yasubei Kimura who decided to reconvert to a baker after loosing his job of soldier with the conscript Imperial Army.
Known to be one of the cheapest sweets in Japan, it is also one of the most consumed snacks, especially at tea time between friends. Usually, it is a round or oval cake filled with Anko that visually looks like Anpan or MochI but the texture of the outside dough made of wheat, rice and/or buckwheat flour is completely different. Originally, it was a Chinese treat called Mantou (馒头) which has been introduced to Japan in the 14th century.
In Japan rice, is eaten at each meal and used with most of the dishes. Existing many. Existing in many different forms, it's not rare to eat a dessert or a snack based on rice.
We no longer need to introduce the famous Mochi which became really famous in the West as well during the last decade. A sweet a chewy rice cake filled with different type of sweet fillings including Anko.
Dango are really cheap and hearty snacks made of rice and hot water. They are usually shaped in small balls and skewed on a stick by three or four. Existing in various versions, Dango can be eaten raw or grilled, savoury or sweet and have different sizes. You can find pretty much everywhere in Japan and they are sold by boxes of three in the super markets and often topped with Anko.
Daifuku are really similar to Mochi but the rice cake that covers the anko filling is usually much more thiner that you can see the beans through the outer layer. Likewise Mochi and Dango there is many different types of Daifuku but the most popular one is definitely the strawberry daifuku that inclued a whole strawberry inside the Anko paste.
Anko is also really popular in the form of hot soup ! Often drunk in winter during cold weather you can even find some Anko canned soup in the vending machines !
A hot and sweet porridge of Azuki beans boiled and crushed that often come with small and sticky rice balls. Usually made off Koshi-an it is served as a dessert
Very similar to Shiruko, the Zenzai soup is usually made with Tsubu-an that gives a thicker texture to the soup. Zenzai also comes with rice cakes that are mainly square shaped.
As an authentic dessert from Okinawa (the south achipelago of Japan renown for its wonderful beaches but also it hot and humid climat all the year long) the Okinawa Zenzai is in contrary to Shiruko and regular Zenzai, served cold with Kakigori topped with other condiments such as fruits jam or condensed milk to add flavor .
Another form of Anko that is really popular in Japan is jelly.
Anmitsu is a dessert created during the Meiji period which consist in small cubes of Agar (type of seaweed) and Anko jelly floating on fruits syrup and coming with some Anko paste and fresh fruits such as peach, pineapple, cherry or mikan slices, and sometimes tiny rice balls.
Likewise Anmitsu, Yokan is a treat made of Anko and Agar jelly that are often wrapped in a Shisou leaf ( japanese nettle). Individually packed, they can be eaten as it is or added to other ingredients such as yogurt, ice cream or even inside an iced tea. Like most of the japanese treats Yokan exist in various different flavors and types.
Pour the beans in a regular pan and add two cups of water, boil it for 5 minutes and drain the beans in a colander.
Place back the beans in a pan (after cleaning it), and add 2 cups of water. Bring it to boil, but cook the content with low fire during two hours until the beans become soft and can be easily crushed. Do not hesitate to add more water if necessary. When the beans are ready, drain them agin in a colander.
Add white sugar in the pan and slowly stir the bean over low fire until sugar melts and the content become sticky and shiny, it should not take more than 15 minutes. Then transfer the content into a covered container and place it quickly in your fridge for 12 hours.
Enjoy your home made Anko with a piece of bread, yogurt ice cream or whatever your like and give your taste buds and authentic and original taste of Japan !!
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