Kitchen Tips

Japanese Sweetener – Azuki Bean Paste

Japanese confectionery is their wide variety of fresh produce, fruits and vegetable intake and their sweets. The Japanese are known for their love for sweet fillings in sweets, buns and breads. But what most tourists don’t realise is that most of their sweets are based on beans that are cooked with a ton of sugar to a paste-like consistency. Red azuki (adzuki) beans are the most popular kind of beans, which are used, in most of the Japanese sweets. The sweet azuki bean paste made from red azuki beans is known as “Azuki Bean Paste ”.

The Sweet red bean paste is made by simmering azuki (red beans) in water along with a sweetener such as sugar, honey, or maple syrup. The beans should be soaked for hours together, which may remove part of their vitamins and minerals, but they are free of impurities and pesticides. Ready-made, sweetened red bean paste is normally available in most local Asian grocery stores. However, finding it may be slightly difficult as it is known by many names such as An, Anko and Ogura.

Azuki Bean Paste

Image Courtesy: kattebelletje used under the Creative Commons Licence

The paste also has different names based on its consistency; it can be made in two ways, chunky and pureed. The chunky one might have the beans slightly exploded but still in shape and when mashed gently, they turn soft and chalky instead of firm and hard. As the consistency of homemade paste can be controlled, it is believed to be more versatile for different uses.


Here are the different types of Azuki Paste based on its consistency:

Koshi-an (strained bean paste) – The red beans are simmered in water with sugar and then mashed. It is then sieved for a nice, smooth finish. It is made from only the inside parts of the bean and has a smooth texture.

Tsubu-an (whole bean paste) – The whole red beans are cooked until soft and then combined with sugar or sugar syrup. This rustic paste is either partially crushed or left whole.

Tsubushi-an (crushed bean paste) – The not-too-sweet paste is often used in commercial sweets and rarely made at home. The red beans simmered in water with a sweetener and then partially crushed.

Sweetened Red Bean Paste

Image Courtesy: RosieTulips used under the Creative Commons Licence

Though the classic Japanese flavours for dessert are chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry; Azuki bean paste remains one the most popular flavours or fillings in deserts and sweets. Tsubushi-an, the commercial paste, is a good filler for an-pan (steamed buns) which are very popular in Japan. It is also used as a centre filling for Dorayaki (American influenced Japanese pancakes) and Taiyaki (a fish-shaped waffle with an in the middle). The others that are used are normally homemade and paired with dumplings (tong yuen), crepes and puddings.

If you are in Japan, make sure to have Azuki bean paste in abundance, as you are for sure not going to find it anywhere else in the world the way the Japanese make it.

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