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Health-Conscious Consumers Choose Bean Cakes and Sweets (June 9, 2005)

A Mametrou bean dessert (Kyoto Arashiyama Mametrou)
Who can resist the temptation of a richly flavored cake or dessert? The problem with sweet foods, of course, is their effect on our bodies: The more sweet things we eat, the fatter we become. More and more health- and weight-conscious Japanese, and women in particular, are eschewing sweets made from sugar and flour and turning instead to delicacies made of beans, which tend to be a lot better for one's health.

A New Take on Tradition
Beans and bean pastes have long been used in traditional Japanese desserts. Perhaps the best known of these is an - stewed adzuki beans often used as a filling for pounded rice cakes or buns. An alone comes in three main forms: sieved koshian, unsieved tsubuan, and mashed tsubushian. These can be prepared and cooked in a wide variety of ways, such as turning koshian into a paste called yokan by adding agar and kneading it until it hardens.

Another genre of Japanese-style desserts is a kind of bean cake in which the beans are coated in sugar. One such sweet is amanatto, made from adzuki or red beans, which have been a favorite among Japanese people for many years and are enjoyed particularly by older generations.

Recently various contemporary takes on traditional bean-based sweets have appeared. A shop selling some of these creations recently opened in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. The outlet, called Mametrou, is run by the Kyoto-based Donsarya chain, which also operates the Sagapar shops famous for their unusual flavors of ice cream. Mametrou is inspired by the idea that people today should eat more beans. The shop offers chic yet casual ways of enjoying bean-based desserts. The shop's popular dishes include Black Bean Cocoa Roll Cake and Green Tea Roll Cake, whose flavors are accented by sweet stewed adzuki beans. Another hit is soft ice cream made from adzuki or black beans. Mametrou even offers juice made from various types of beans.

Another purveyor of bean treats is Tokyo-based Mamegen, which was established in 1865. In addition to its lineup of traditional cakes and desserts, it has added such modern flavors as yogurt and curry-flavored beans to some of its offerings.

The Benefits of Beans
Beans have long been an important part of Japanese cuisine. At New Year, the Japanese customarily eat stewed black beans, which are a type of soybean. On February 3, meanwhile, which is called Setsubun and marks the end of winter according to the traditional calendar, bean-throwing ceremonies designed to ward off evil spirits take place throughout the country. Another Setsubun custom is to eat a bean for each year you have been alive. Such customs show that beans have long been regarded as a force for good in Japanese culture.

Black beans are rich in isoflavone, a substance similar to the female hormone estrogen that is thought to help women stay healthy and beautiful. Another healthy component of beans is anthocyanin, reputed to be effective for easing eyestrain. Several products containing these substances are already on the market. One is Black Bean Cocoa, produced by House Foods Corp., which says that one spoonful of the product is equivalent to about 50 black beans. The cocoa is easy to make and drink and is a favorite among women and children.

The popularity of beans has triggered a proliferation of recipes in cookbooks and on cooking websites for such bean-based desserts as jellies, mousses, and cakes. As a result, more and more people are making their own bean sweets in the comfort of their own home.

The trend for bean-based sweets is likely to run for as long as people continue to see beans as being healthy and beauty-enhancing - not to mention delicious.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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