Sweetened red bean paste, or Tsubuan, is probably one of Japan’s most recognized sweet flavors. It’s used in mochi, ice cream, and pastries. It’s even delightful just spread on toast. You can find tsubuan in Asian markets, but it’s so much better when made from scratch! With just a handful of ingredients and only a few minutes of active time, you can have your own sweet red bean paste ready to incorporate into easy Japanese inspired desserts.
Although beans in sweets may seem strange to a Western palate, they are very common in East Asia. We use all different kinds and they are typically cooked, sweetened, mashed to some degree, and then used as a filling, topping, or garnish. They have a subtle earthy flavor, creamy texture, with a sweetness that is just right. If you like desserts made with chestnuts or sweet potatoes, I would say Tsubuan is in the same family.
Sweet red bean paste is made with azuki beans. They are a small red bean grown throughout South East Asia. They have a very mild flavor with a hint of sweetness, which is why they take so well to dessert applications. There are two different kinds of red bean paste made with Azuki beans: a chunky rough one which is chock full of whole beans and then a smooth one, where all of the skins and fiber have been strained out. Tsubuan is seen as the more casual, every day kind of sweet- the kind you plop on some ice cream, sandwich between a simple layer cake, or just spoon out of the container (ok maybe that’s just me).
Koshian, the smooth Azuki paste, has a lighter flavor and color, and is reserved for beautiful, sophisticated sweets typically purchased at a specialty store. I would equate the differences as akin to the feud between chunky and smooth peanut butter, where each has its fans.
So today, we’re making the chunky version. Turning the Azuki beans into Tsubuan first involves softening the beans.
Then drain the beans, and again cover them with water and bring to a simmer.
The beans will need to simmer for one and a half to two hours, until they are soft enough to easily crush with your fingers.
Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the beans are shiny but still a little loose, about 10-12 minutes. The bean liquid will thicken as it cools. I like to leave just enough liquid so it cools into a thick wet mass, scoop-able and not runny. If you prefer it more wet because you plan on using it as a loose topping, cook it for 4-5 minutes instead.
Once the tsubuan has been cooled to room temperature, it’s ready to be used. Serve it spooned on pound cake, topped on ice cream, or as a surprise filling for french toast. Top my Matcha Cake with it for a very Japanese inspired dessert. Or just sneak spoonfuls of it from the fridge-it’s a very healthy, lightly sweet snack. It keeps for about about a week in the fridge but you can also freeze it as well. I split up my batch into smaller container and freeze it all. When I feel like having some, I will either defrost it overnight in the fridge or pop it in the microwave for a couple minutes on low power.
Make some this week and see why it is such an enduring favorite. When you do, let me know what you think. Comment on the recipe below, and don’t forget to tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
Tsubuan (sweet red bean paste)
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
- Yield: makes one cup 1x
- Category: sweets
- Cuisine: Japanese
- 1 cup red beans
- 1 cup sugar
- A couple dashes of salt
- Put red beans in a pot with 4 cups of water. Let them boil for 5 minutes over medium high heat and then drain and discard the water.
- Next add 4 cups of fresh water to the pot and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to medium low, partially cover the pot with a lid, and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours (add more water as needed to keep the water level above the beans).
- You can also pressure cook the beans, which takes only about 25 minutes.
- The beans should now be very soft, and you should be able to easily crush a bean between your fingers.
- Discard the water again and put the soft beans back in the pot with the sugar and salt. Cook the beans over medium heat, stirring regularly, for about 10-12 minutes until the beans are shiny but still a little loose. You should have bits of whole and broken beans in your anko.
- Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer tsubuan to a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.
*Tsubuan will keep for a week in the fridge. It also freezes very well.
Keywords: azuki beans, sweet bean paste, desserts, sweets, japanese, vegan