Nowadays in the western world, “jelly” is often associated with one product, – usually grape or strawberry – and spread on sandwiches. In Japan, however, “jelly” is a broad term for anything that appears gelatinized.
Jelly desserts have been historically popular in Japan but with one caveat – oftentimes, there’s no gelatin inside. Instead, Japanese jellies, especially traditional ones like yokan, are solidified with kanten,Japanese agar. Derived from seaweed, kanten was supposedly discovered in Japan in the 17th century on accident by an innkeeper. In recent years, agar has gained popularity amongst vegans and vegetarians as a gelatin alternative. That said, it’s also loved by chefs around the world because it’s odorless and tasteless (and mostly colorless, too!), so it blends seamlessly into a dish.
The easiest and simplest way to start using Japanese agar is in the traditional jelly dessert, fruit mitsumame. Dating back to the Edo era, mitsumame uses the jelly cubes as a refreshing backdrop for a combination of sweet fruit, kuromitsu syrup and red adzuki beans. Since agar sets at room temperature and doesn’t melt down until over a stove, fruit mitsumame makes for a perfect (and transport friendly!) summertime treat!
- 4g agar (⅕ of a block)
- 450ml water
- 2-3 tbsp sugar
- Fresh or canned fruit for topping, as desired
- Sweet red bean paste or adzuki* for topping, as desired (optional)
- Kuromitsu syrup (see recipe) for topping, as desired
*Can be ordered online or found in some Asian supermarkets
- Break up the agar block into small pieces by hand or with a knife. Soak in a small saucepan with the water for at least half an hour.
- Add sugar, and bring the saucepan to a boil, whisking vigorously along the way to dissolve the sugar and agar.
- Gently boil the mixture until everything is dissolved. Pass mixture through a fine mesh sieve and into a small baking dish or shallow bowl to set. Do this carefully, as the contents are hot.
- The jelly will set at room temperature in about 3-4 hours. Alternatively, you can transfer the jelly to the refrigerator after the first hour to speed up the process. Jelly will be slightly jiggly, but solidified.
- Slice the jelly into 2-3 cm squares and carefully scoop out with a large spoon or spatula and into a serving bowl.
- Top jelly with fresh fruit, red bean paste or adzuki, and drizzle with kuromitsu. Enjoy!
Recipe available in our Baking: "Amai" Care Package
About the recipe creator and photographer: Yaz Gentry is a freelance recipe developer and food-lover based in Tokyo, Japan. Half-Japanese and half-American, she enjoys fusing together seasonal ingredients and dishes from both cultures as a reflection of her mixed heritage. You can follow her culinary adventures at www.meshibliss.com and @