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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogWhat’s Yokan? The Weird Japanese Jelly With Bold Flavor and Personality!

What’s Yokan? The Weird Japanese Jelly With Bold Flavor and Personality!

Paulomi BarmanPaulomi Barman
Published TimeAugust 13, 2021
Modified TimeJune 21, 2022

Yokan (Japanese jelly candy) is a tasty jelly sweet made of red bean paste, sugar and agar. This little treat has a firm texture and is formed into convenient rectangular blocks and pieces. The two major types of yokan include mizu (water) yokan and neri (paste) yokan. 

Neri yokan is relatively firmer, thanks to a higher concentration of kanten, or agar powder. The texture is also a bit thicker and heavier. 

‘Mizu’ means ‘water’ in Japanese and this particular type is made using more water than usual. Mizu yokan is more popular among people as a Japanese summer snack because it’s lighter and often served chilled.

Though it doesn’t look as interesting and colorful as the western style jellies, it's absolutely an amazing treat when it comes to traditional Japanese sweets, or wagashi. Japanese people love it with matcha (Japanese green tea), as the sweetness of this red bean jelly compliments the bitterness of the tea. 

Two colors of yokan, deep red and green, on a white and brown plate.

Image via Shutterstock

The History Behind Yokan 

Yokan is originally a Chinese jelly and was made using gelatin made from boiling sheep meat. It was brought to Japan during the Kamakura-Muromachi period, between 1185-1573, by a Buddhist monk who was studying in China. Because Buddhism forbids killing, they replaced the animal-based gelatin with wheat flour and azuki beans (red beans). Later, agar was introduced to the recipe, making it plant-based and vegetarian or vegan-friendly. 

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How to Make Mizu Yokan

As we talked about earlier, mizu yokan is made using red bean paste, agar, sugar, and, most importantly, water. The red bean paste can be used as a smooth paste (tsubuan) or as a coarse paste (koshian). 

Although sweet red bean paste is used in traditional Japanese recipes, modern versions can substitute red bean paste with other ingredients, like white kidney beans, to add variation to this age-old dessert.

This also makes it easier to make with a trip to the grocery store. It’s typically molded in a rectangular block-shaped dessert, which is then sliced into smaller rectangles and chilled before it’s served.  

These days, mizu yokan comes in several flavors besides just the original flavor. Chestnuts, sweet potatoes, or even different types of fruits can also be added to any jelly recipe. Green tea is also a popular flavor among lovers of this sweet.

A green tea mizu yokan on a black plate in a basket with a special spoon and a glass of tea in the background.

Image via Shutterstock

Ingredients Required for Yokan

  • 1 stick of dried kanten OR 2 tablespoon of kanten agar powder
  • Water for soaking the kanten
  • 1¼ cup of water
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1½ cup of sweet red bean paste

Three unique mizu yokan, one green, one black, and one colorful, in front of a glass of tea on a glass plate

Image via Shutterstock

Step to Make Mizu Yokan

Step 1: Soak the kanten in a bowl for 1 hour or until soft. No need to soak if you are using kanten powder. 

Step 2: After the kanten softens, remove it from the water and squeeze it to remove excess water from the kanten. 

Step 3: Tear the kanten into small pieces

Step 4: Add the kanten pieces or kanten powder to a small saucepan with 1¼ cup of water and bring it to a boil. Whisk it constantly, so that it doesn’t mix too well with the water. Once it reaches a boil, the heat can be turned down to low. Keep whisking it on low heat until the kanten dissolves completely. 

Step 5: Once the kanten dissolves completely to the water, add sugar and mix well. 

Step 6: At this stage, mix the sweet red bean paste to the mixture. Stir continuously to make sure that the sweet red bean paste is diluted completely into the water. Keep simmering it until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture thickens, it can be removed from the heat.

Step 7: Now, pour the mixture into a nagashikan (a rectangular steal mold) or a regular plastic container that is shallow and rectangular so it can be removed easily. Let it cool down to room temperature until it solidifies and then refrigerate it. The mizu yokan should become firm when it’s chilled. 

Step 8: Cut the mizu yokan into small blocks and serve it chilled. 

White mizu yokan with red spots on a glass plate on a bamboo mat.

Image via Shutterstock

Must Visits Places For Yokan In Japan

Toraya is a high-end yokan store in Kyoto, Japan. This shop was established in 1520 to make confectioneries for the royal family in the palace. After the royal family moved to Tokyo, Toraya opened a new shop in Tokyo, in addition to their famous Kyoto store.

These days, you can easily enter a Toraya store in Tokyo station, Roppongi, or even Ginza to try out this delicious treat. Toraya also has an online store. The best part is that Toraya’s signature yokan has a long shelf life of up to one year.

Funawa is another famous shop located in the Asakusa area. They specialise in classic yokan and have been serving people for over 100 years. They also have a newly-opened cafe near Kaminarimon, Tokyo, that serves a unique Western-style version. 

Other than these, Kibira in Nicco city is also popular for their mizu yokan. Because other shops in the area also serve the tasty Japanese jelly, we recommended trying to grab a few different types of yokan from the different shops there.

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Paulomi Barman

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