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A slice of red bean yokan with chestnut inside.
A slice of red bean yokan with chestnut inside.

Yokan Delight: Indulging in the Bold Flavors of Japan!

Paulomi BarmanPaulomi Barman
Published Time
Posted on August 13, 2021
Modified Time
Updated last July 25, 2023

Yokan (Japanese jelly candy) is a tasty sweet jelly 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 significant types of yokan include mizu (water) yokan and neri (paste) yokan. 

Neri yokan is relatively firmer, thanks to a higher kanten or agar powder concentration. 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 as a Japanese summer snack because it’s lighter and often served chilled.

Red bean yokan on a crystal plate with barley tea.
Yokan is made of red bean paste, agar, and sugar. Image via Shutterstock

Though it doesn’t look as exciting and colorful as the Western-style jellies, it’s a fantastic treat for traditional Japanese sweets or wagashi. Japanese people love it with matcha (Japanese green tea), as this red bean jelly’s sweetness complements the tea’s bitterness. 

History

Yokan is originally a Chinese jelly made using gelatin from boiling sheep meat. A Buddhist monk studying in China brought it to Japan during the Kamakura-Muromachi period, between 1185-1573. Because Buddhism forbids killing, they replaced 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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Can I make mizu yokan myself?

Of course! As discussed earlier, people make mizu yokan using red bean paste, agar, sugar, and, most importantly, water. The red bean paste can be smooth (tsubuan) or coarse (koshian). 

Although people use sweet red bean paste 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.

An assorted plate of mizu yokan.
Mizu yokan is much softer than the original version. Image via Shutterstock

This also makes it easier to make a trip to the grocery store. Typically, people mold it into a rectangular block-shaped dessert, slice it into smaller rectangles, and chill it before serving.

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

First, soak the kanten in a bowl for 1 hour or until soft. No need to soak if you are using kanten powder. After the kanten softens, remove it from the water and squeeze it to remove excess water from the kanten. 

Next, tear the kanten into small pieces. Then, 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 to not mix too well with the water.

Once you bring it to a boil, you can turn down the heat to low. Keep whisking it on low heat until the kanten dissolves completely. Next, add sugar and mix well once the kanten dissolves entirely in the water. 

A plate of a pink flower traditional Japanese sweet.
Some of them even use flowers! Image via Shutterstock

Then, mix the sweet red bean paste at this stage. Stir continuously to ensure the sweet red bean paste is diluted into the water. Keep simmering it until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture thickens, remove i from the heat.

Now, pour the mixture into a nagashikan (a rectangular steel mold) or a regular plastic container that is shallow and rectangular so you can remove it quickly. Allow it to cool to room temperature until it solidifies, and then refrigerate it. Finally, cut the mizu yokan into small blocks and serve it chilled!

Where can I enjoy mizu 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 besides their famous Kyoto store.

These days, you can quickly 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.

A plate of green tea agar jelly slices and a cup of green tea.
Some of them even use green tea! Image via Shutterstock

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

Finally, Kibira in Nikko City is also famous for its mizu yokan. Because other shops in the area also serve tasty Japanese jelly, we recommended grabbing a few different types of yokan from the different shops there.

Overall, yokan is a delightful fusion of tradition and innovation. Vibrant flavors and a chewy texture add a joyful touch to any celebration. From its rich history to its modern-day allure, yokan continues to enchant taste buds and win hearts, creating an unforgettable sugary adventure! What kind of yokan is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

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