Umami Mart Sake
Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

Although we don't see many kudzu vines taking over large patches of land in the west, it is often referred to as the "mile-a-minute-vine" in the South. It all started in 1876 when someone thought it would be a good idea to introduce the kudzu plant from Japan to the U.S. Instead of providing some nice exotic-looking shade, it became America's first horticultural Asian Invasion. It's been "so successful" that every year, U.S. power companies spend $1.5 million dollars repairing downed and damages power lines due to kudzu. The costs of controlling kudzu and its negative impacts on native species have been devastating.

I have always been fascinated by kudzu and it took me a LONG time to make the connection that kudzu and kuzu were the same. Kudzu is the mispronunciation of the Japanese word kuzu. Kuzu appears on dessert menus throughout Japan. There is kuzumochi, kuzukiri and kuzuyu. All are desserts using kuzuko (kudzu starch) and usually have a milky white appearance.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan
Kuzuko (Kudzu starch)

Kuzuko is also used in my favorite Japanese dessert of all time, mizu-yokan. Yokan (red bean paste dessert) seems to be one of the very last Japanese foods to catch on in the states, but there is no way I can contain my enthusiasm for it. The recipe below is from my mom and is a delicious summertime treat incorporating red bean paste, kuzu and matcha. Japanese sweets are often made to showcase tea, and I can't image a better pair than a cup of green tea and a serving of mizu-yokan.

This dessert is two-tiered. It takes a mizu-yokan recipe and a matcha-kuzu kanten (agar) and plates them next to one another. The processes for both the mizu-yokan and matcha-kuzu kanten are nearly the same so don't be intimidated.

MIZU YOKAN

INGREDIENTS
3 tsp kudzu starch*
100 cc (2/5 cup) water
1 package (4 grams) kanten powder*
400 cc (1 2/3 cup) water
2/3 c sugar
200 g (1/2 of a typical 400 g package) koshian (smooth) red bean paste*

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan*You can purchase kudzu starch, koshian red bean paste and kanten at the Japanese market

METHOD

1. Combine kudzu starch with 100 cc of water. Mix well.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

2. In a pot, combine 400 cc of water with kanten powder package and place on high heat. Stir the mixture well until it starts to boil.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

3. Add the sugar and koshian to the pot. Using a wooden spoon stir until the mixture is very smooth and silky then bring heat down to low and remove scum off the surface. Keep on low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

4. Add some of the mixture from Step Three to the kudzu mixture bowl with a spoon. Repeat three to four times until everything is in the bowl from Step One. Transfer the mixture back to the pot.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

5. While stirring the mixture, make sure to keep the wooden spoon touching the bottom of the pot for five minutes on high. This avoids air bubbles in the end product.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

6. Remove the pot from heat and place in an ice bath. Mix well until smooth. Remove from ice bath. Transfer into an appropriate container (i.e. something you use for jello or single serving desserts) and chill for several hours until firm.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

... and now let's do it again, this time with matcha...

KUZU MATCHA KANTEN

INGREDIENTS
2 tsp matcha powder
3 tsp kuzu starch
100 cc (2/5 cup) water

1 package (4 grams) kanten powder
550 cc (2 1/5 cup) water
2/3 c sugar

METHOD

1. Combine kudzu starch and matcha powder with 100 cc of water. Mix well.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten with Mizu Yokan

2. In a pot combine 550 cc of water with kanten powder package and place on high heat. Stir the mixture well until it starts to boil.

3. Add the sugar to the pot. Using a wooden spoon stir until the mixture is very smooth and silky then bring heat down to low and remove scum off the surface. Keep on low heat for 5 min, stirring occasionally.

4. Add some of the mixture from step three to the kudzu mixture bowl with a spoon. Repeat three to four times until all everything is in the bowl from step one. Transfer the mixture back to the pot.

5. While stirring the mixture, make sure to keep the wooden spoon touching the bottom of the pot, for five minutes on high. This avoids air bubbles in the end product.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

6. Remove the pot from heat and place in an ice bath. Mix well until smooth. Remove from ice bath. Transfer into an appropriate container (i.e. something you use for jello or single serving desserts, there are trays especially for Japanese desserts that you can buy at Japanese supply stores like Daiso) and chill for several hours until firm.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

Remove from container and cut into single serving rectangles or cubes.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan
Special tray for Japanese desserts like kanten and yokan, available at Japanese kitchen stores like Daiso

A small, flat spoon works well as a utensil. I would like to buy some small wooden spoons especially for this dessert, but for now I just have a small silver spoon.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

The mizu yokan's cold, smoothness is a cool treat for the summer. The kudzu in the matcha kanten creates a silky, milky texture that melds with the bitterness of the matcha powder. What a combo.

Kuzu Matcha Kanten and Mizu Yokan

If tons of kudzu are disposed of in the U.S. every year, I think the perfect solution would be to manufacture lots of premium kudzu starch and export it to China, Korea and Japan. We'd get rid of all that kudzu and dig ourselves out of the recession! Mr. Obama, are you listening?
Column: Japanify
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10 comments

  • What’s the texture of this? Kanten solidifies the liquid, and kuzu makes it more booby jiggly, right? I’ve never used kuzu, since I usually substitute it with tapioca flour and corn starch.

    Yamahomo on

  • naruhodo.

    Yamahomo on

  • It makes it more silky smooth — “nameraka.”

    yoko on

  • Yum this was so good Yoko, I am so happy we invited ourselves over!!!

    Tomo on

  • The colors are really good.

    worm on

  • I never realised you could make this at home! Impressive!

    sakura on

  • You and your mom are always welcome. Thanks for being my mizu-yokan guinea pigs.

    yoko on

  • Thanks for your recipe.
    I ve always seen mizu yokan done with using only kanten and no kuzu.
    A.

    Adrien on

  • Hi,

    Could you tell me what kind of pans those are, or where I could get one (the pans that you mold the yokan in—the ones with the removable insert)?

    Thank you!

    Elk on

  • @Adrien Yes, kuzu really adds a little bit of texture (thickness) to the mizu yokan which binds everything together. Let me know if you use kuzu for other things!

    yoko on

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