If you’ve ever had an authentic Chinese moon cake then you have more than likely tried the famous Chinese red bean paste. This red bean paste can also be seen as fillings for bread, sweet cakes, steamed breads, and of course dumplings. As a Hispanic- American, I had always seen the red bean as something you eat with rice and steak, or in a heavy meal. In China, however, it is seen as more of a sweet dessert. Most fall in love with the sweet red bean soon after they taste it.
The Adzuki Bean (Vigna Angularis) is said to be originally from the Himalayan foothills of China and has been grown and used for many centuries. It was introduced to Japan by the Chinese over 1000 years ago and is now its sixth largest crop. In Chinese, the beans are commonly termed hongdou (紅豆; hóngdòu) and chidou (赤豆; chìdòu), both meaning “red bean”. The vining types of the bean are cultivated in China, mainly in the Yangste River Valley. They are also cultivated in southern China. Harvested in November and December, these small, reddish brown beans with a white ridge have a sweet, nutty flavor when cooked. They are very versatile and can be eaten in a variety of ways, including ground to make the sweet cakes.
Because Adzuki beans are rich in soluble fiber, they help speed up the elimination of waste from the body by promoting regular bowel movements. The soluble fiber further helps reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood. They are a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and B vitamins. This enables them to prevent the body from absorbing harmful substances and helps reduce blood pressure. The beans act as a natural diuretic and contain the highest protein content with the lowest fat among various types of bean. Furthermore, the presence of phytrogens in the beans are said to help prevent breast cancer. According to Dr. Erika Schwartz, co-other of Natural Energy, these weak estrogens block receptor sites that would otherwise be filled by stronger estrogens, as stated in this article. In women, the phytoestrogens fool the body into believing it is still producing real estrogen.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Claims
The value of the adzuki beans has been acknowledged for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. According to an ancient Chinese saying, the kidneys govern the emotion of fear. Because the adzuki beans benefit the kidneys, they are said to be considered a source of bravery. By consuming these red beans, you are empowered to meet challenges in a courageous manner. Ancient healers also used them to treat a variety of symptoms, such as colds and edema. They also benefit bladder and reproductive functions, so they are used to treat problems such as urinary dysfunction and bladder infections through traditional Chinese medicine. Read more about their healing powers here.
Different Styles of Cooking
The adzuki bean has been widely used in many types of Chinese soups, salads, gravy dishes, and even some types of tea. The bean itself is normally eaten after it has been sweetened. This is done by boiling it with sugar, resulting in a red bean paste. This red bean paste is then added to the many types of dishes. Sometimes, however, the bean is boiled with salt as well as sugar. This produces a sweet dish known as the red bean porridge. The red bean is also used as a type of flavoring in ice cream, waffles, and other sweet bakeries.
Below are some images of the red bean in its varying guises:
Red Bean Porridge
Red Bean Pancake
Red Bean Dumpling
Red Bean Paste Recipe
It is really simple to make the red bean paste used in so many of the pastries. The first thing you want to do is soak one cup of the beans in water over night, after having washed them first of course. The next day, bring the water to the boil and simmer for about an hour, or until you feel the beans are soft. If necessary, go ahead and add more water. Once you feel the beans are soft, drain them and place the beans in a blender. Make sure to blend until the beans are smooth. After you have removed the paste from the blender, add about 2/3 of a cup of sugar and slowly mix it in. Then take the mixture and fry on medium heat in a frying pan with a bit of oil. You can then cool them and use the paste as a filling to pancakes, sesame balls, or anything else you wish.
Image courtesy of bikesandwich on Flickr.