Many of Japanese sweets have anko (sweet red bean paste) as its fillings. Mochi and dorayaki, for instance. Even bread and ice cream in Japan also uses the red bean paste! In Japan, anko arguably has the same popularity as nori (seaweed)!
The question is, why do they like it so much?
History of Red Bean Paste
Just like some of Japanese foods, red bean paste was also influenced by Chinese cuisine. Historically, the red paste is actually made from minced meat and stuffed in buns (red paste bun). It was believed in around year 600, these red paste stuffed meat buns traveled to Japan. It was still in the form of red meat paste bun until Kamakura period (1185–1333).
The Kamakura period was the expansion of buddhist teachings. To cater to the diet of Japanese monks, the red meat paste was substituted with azuki (red bean). Azuki paste is still mixed with salt but in Edo era (1603-1868), Japan’s domestic manufacturing of sugar grew well.
This is why anko eventually became the sweet azuki paste we taste today.
Interestingly, sweet azuki paste was considered as a luxury food at that time. Only people in the nobility were permitted to eat sweet azuki paste!
How to Make Anko (Red Bean Paste)
Anko is made with, of course, red beans or called “Azuki” in Japanese. Simply boil the key ingredient, sweeten with sugar, mash the beans, and thicken into a paste.
There are many different varieties of anko, though. Anko could be made by other ingredients and preparations. For example, anko may use soy beans and green beans instead of red beans. In the end, each anko has their own distinct flavour.
Japanese Sweets Filled with Anko
Majority of traditional Japanese sweets (Wagashi) use anko. Here are a few examples of popular Wagashi with Anko: Anpan (fluffy bun), Dorayaki (soft pancakes sandwich), Manjū (thin dough sandwich), Ohagi (crushed cooked rice), Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) and Yokan (jelly).
With so many Japanese sweets have anko in it, there’s no excuse for you not to try anko! Japanese people of all ages enjoy anko from time to time. Try it! Maybe you will love it, too.