Yōkan in both Japanese and Chinese (羊羹) literally means sheep thick soup and is a jelly made from red bean paste and served in a plastic tube, a bit like popsicle, though not frozen. As a child I used to eat them all the time but then they started to disappear from the market. I didn’t encounter it again until I was studying Japanese cuisine. With it being a vegan dessert, I wondered what connected it to sheep. Some sources indicate that in ancient China, yōkan used to be made of gelatin which comes from the skin and bones of animals, and it resembled the liver of the sheep, so it got the name 羊肝. Later when it was introduced to Japan, the 肝 character got confused with 羹 (I am not sure why, perhaps they have similar pronunciation – being “gan” and “geng” in Chinese?) so it got its present name. Since Buddhists don’t eat animal ingredients, they substitute the gelatin with agar, which later became the basis of modern yōkan.
I really like yōkan because it’s very easy to make. If you’re a fan of red beans this is a great dessert for you. It can be served at room temperature, or you can place it in the fridge to cool it a bit, so it tastes nicer on a hot summer day! :P
Kitchen Gadgets: Saucepan
- 7g Agar threads (琼脂)
- 500 ml water, plus extra for soaking
- 230g sweet red bean paste
- Soak the dry agar threads in the water for ten minutes to soften them, remove from the water.
- Add 500ml of water into a saucepan, add the soaked agar threads, cook on the medium heat for 5 minutes until they are dissolved.
- Add sweet red bean paste and continue to stir and cook for another 5 minutes, until they’re well mixed.
- Divide the mixture into 3 bowls, approximately 250 ml per bowl. Leave to stand at room temperature until cool or if you have time place the saucepan in a bigger bowl filled with icy water, stir it to cool. When it’s cooled completely, place it in the fridge overnight. Then on the second day you will have a lovely cool dessert to eat!