Yokan is a variety of Wagashi or dessert that is made in Japan. A typical Yokan consists of a thick jellied dessert that is made from red bean paste, agar and sugar.
History of Yokan
No one knows where the actual yokan recipe started from. Japanese cuisine is well known for its culinary art and aesthetics and yokan are a variety of wagashi or sweets that have been around for a very long time. Yokan was originally made from jellied stock that was made from sheep’s broth. The original recipe was not sweet and might have been spicy due to the sheep gelatin that was used. The dessert version was supposed to have been introduced into Japan in the 12th century by Buddhists monks. Buddhists monks were allowed to only eat vegetarian items. To avoid this meat additive, Buddhists monks made a vegetarian version that had agar gel in it. They boiled red bean paste with agar to form the semi solid jelly like blocks that are still in the same form today. Over time, the dessert was included into different local regions like Taiwan which have the same version in their cuisines too. Even Turkey and India have similar semi-solid blocks of a jelly like sweet that is prepared from fruits called as Turkish Delight and Halwa respectively.
Ingredients and Popular Methods of Preparing Yokan
Yokan is prepared from red bean paste, sugar and agar. There are two major yokan recipe versions that are found and they are: neri yōkan and mizu yōkan. The only difference between both is that the mizu version is softer than the nezi one. Manufacturers first prepare the red bean paste and then add it in the required amount of sugar and agar. Sweetening agents will also vary with makers adding molasses, honey and brown sugar according to taste. As the beans are cooked, the heat of the broth dissolves the agar which solidifies when the broth is cooled. Solid red or brown-red blocks of jelly are obtained. A few vendors do make a liquid form that is sold in cups with a spoon to eat it from the container itself. The individual Yokan recipe will also varies considerably. Vendors add in ingredients that change the color and the taste of the jelly. For example, Chak Yokan is made with green tea, Kuri Yokan is made with steamed chestnuts, Yoru no Ume is made with Dainagon beans and Imo Yokan is made from sweet potatoes. Fruit flavored versions made from persimmon and figs are also sold. On the streets of China, a version is made with peas called as pea-jelly. Ready-made versions are also sold in plastic bags at supermarkets or stores.
Serving and Eating Yokan
The dish is served at Japanese tea ceremonies to balance the excessively sweet taste. It is sliced and served in small portions too as a dessert. Manufacturers pack it in transparent covers or in silver packaging as gifts.
Nutritional Content of Yokan
A piece of Yokan measuring about 76 x 32 x 17mm contains about 178kcal.