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Goin’ Japanesque!

Anko (Sweet Paste Filling Used in Confectionery): Sweetness that Represents Japan

Japanese traditional sweets called wagashi are not only beautiful in appearance but they are an appealing food with a gentle, melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. The sweeteners that brings out the best of wagashi is the “anko”. Title photo by flickr


What is Anko?

Photo by flickr

Anko refers to the “an” or filling that is filled inside of food. “An” is said to have originated from the meat paste that was brought into Japan through the Chinese dim sum. After it was brought to Japan, with the passing of some time, the sweet “an” or “anko” made from broiling ingredients such as azuki beans with a sweet flavor had developed. The roots of the word “anko” however, seems to remain uncertain.


Types of Anko

Photo by flickr

There are several types of anko. Essentially, the anko is separated into types by the ingredients used to make it, the method of making and processing, Here are a few representative types of anko.


Types of Anko Based on Ingredient

1. Azuki An (Red An)

Photo by flickr

Color: Red color of azuki beans
Ingredient: Azuki beans

2. Shiro An (White An)

Photo by flickr

Color: White
Ingredients: White colored beans such as white azuki, shiro-ingen mame and daifuku mame (referring to differing varieties of the white kidney bean).

3. An That Uses Other Ingredients

Photo by flickr

Color: Several Varieties
Ingredients: Green peas, edamame (soy beans), chestnut, sesame etc.


Types of An Based on Method of Making

1. Tsubu An (Chunky Paste)

Photo by flickr

The azuki beans are broiled with sweetener taking care not to crush the beans. This is a paste that leaves the shape of the beans intact.

2. Koshi An (Smooth Paste)

Photo by flickr

The beans are mashed completely, and strained to remove the skin, then, seasoned with sweetener.

3. Ogura An

Photo by flickr

This is a paste that uses the koshi an with added chunky paste of dainagon (a large grained variety of azuki bean) or azuki cooked in syrup.


Representative Japanese Snacks that Use Anko

Now we would like to introduce some wagashi or Japanese sweets that use the familiar anko; they can be bought and eaten casually in Japan.

1. Daifuku

Photo by flickr

It is a type of wagashi that uses mochi (pound rice cake) which is spread thin and wrapped over anko. It is also called “daifuku mochi”. The paste inside can be anko or other varieties with some stores having their own original type of daifuku.

2. Ohagi

Photo by flickr

Rice and sticky mochi rice is cooked together. Once cooked it is rolled into a ball and wrapped in anko. It is prepared as an offering or to be eaten during events, celebrations or annual festivals. It is a food that uses anko, which is familiar in Japanese households.

3. Taiyaki

Photo by flickr

It is a wagashi that uses batter made from flour and other ingredients are poured into a “tai” or carp shaped mould, filled with anko then grilled. There was originally a similar round shaped snack called “imagawa yaki”. It is said that the imagawa yaki was arranged to the shape of the carp, which was a special fish that was offered for celebrations. The taiyaki can be filled with various fillings other than anko, and there are many types of taiyaki that are offered for sale.

Related Articles:
Top 3 Oldest Taiyaki Stores in Tokyo as Shared by Japanese


Other than the wagashi introduced above, Japan has many other wagashi that uses anko. There are not many places in the world that offer sweets using anko so we encourage you to try various anko sweets when you have a chance to visit Japan.

Other Azuki Articles:
7 Tokyo Shops to Try Shiruko, a Uniquely-Japanese Sweet
Traditional Japanese Osekihan: Happy Rice Dish for Celebratory Days

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About the author

I'm interested in general in all things related to culture and fine arts with a focus on movies, art, and design. I hope to introduce to many people all the different sides to Japan in regards to Japanese culture.

View all articles by KAWATA