Sweet treats are back on the menu this week, and we’re going a little traditional. A far as snacks go, you can’t get more simple than yanggaeng, a sweet red bean jelly confection. Not only is it incredibly easy to make yourself with only a few ingredients, but it’s also widely available in a lot of Korean convenience stores. As modern as that sounds, its roots go back many years.
The Chinese characters that make up the name hardly give a good indication of what yanggaeng tastes like. The Yang, when translated, means mutton, whilst the Gaeng means soup. This is no lamb soup though! The version of yaenggaeng that is well known today was created by a Japanese monk and was originally named Yokan. When travelling to China, the monk saw mutton soup jellied and turned into bars that could be eaten. He took this recipe home with him, altering it to comprise of red beans, as the monks were not able to eat meat.
In Korea, it can be more commonly known as Yeonyanggaeng, and came about around the year of Korea’s liberation, 1945. It’s often given as gifts to the elderly, perhaps another reason why it’s seen as such a traditional sweet. The texture is smooth and slightly chewy, yet still soft. Because of the few ingredients used to make it, it’s also a healthier alternative to the sugar-filled confectionary you find in many stores. Azuki beans, sugar, vanilla, and a gelling agent is all it takes. Gelatin can be used, but most versions use a vegetarian option such as agar-agar. Various other additions like cashew nuts or fruit pieces are sometimes used to, all dependent on what your own personal taste is.
Take a look at YouTube Korean cooking queen Maangchi’s video on how to make yanggaeng and give it a go for yourself! What do you think of red bean deserts and snacks?