I had mitsumame once when I went to eat shabu shabu with my really good friend, Joey, and I was mystified. Not that it’s a complex dish, but I had never seen the likes of it before, never tasted anything like it, and it just blew my mind that the dessert, though sweet, was also amazingly refreshing! I asked some of my Japanese friends what the dish was, but I guess I didn’t describe it well enough, because they had no idea what I was talking about. And then… One of them did! 🙂 He told me it was mitsumame, and so I searched online and saw that it was indeed this great little dessert!
I knew right then I had to make it. And make it I did!
Before all this, I actually didn’t know what kanten was. For those who are like me, it’s agar agar, which is a jelly-like substance that was made with algae. Neat-o, right? 🙂
So, agar agar is actually clear when you make it (as you can see, it looks just like the mandarin oranges are in water), and it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. It kind of is a little harder than jelly, in my opinion. It’s not too chewy, and the mouthfeel is something that I can’t really describe too well. You have to try it out yourself to see if you like it! But yeah, kanten doesn’t have a lot of flavor, so I added sugar and the mandarin oranges to it to give it a sweet taste. This, of course, is optional.
When you saw the final product (above and below!), you’ll notice there are white cubes along with the agar agar jelly. That’s gyunyu kanten, which is basically milk jello. You can probably find it on the same aisle as you would find the kanten powder, and that’s super easy to make, too!
Finding Okinawan black sugar for the mitsumame syrup, however, was hard. I couldn’t find any at Marukai, Mitsuwa, or Ranch 99 (my local Asian markets)! I actually obtained the Okinawan black sugar (the cubes above) from Yuko, a very prominent member of the OAA, or Okinawan Association of America. So if she ever sees this post… Thank you, Yuko!
By the way, if you’re like me and you’re hard pressed to find Okinawan black sugar, dark brown sugar will do just fine. It just tastes slightly different because of the mineral content in Okinawan black sugar.
- 1 pkg (4 g or 1 stick) agar powder (kanten)
- 1 pkg gyunyu jello powder
- 3½ c water
- 1 c milk
- 4 oz Okinawan Black Sugar (or dark brown sugar)
- 4 oz sugar
- 3 T sugar (for kanten)
- Fruits (optional)
- 2 Baking Dishes (to cool kanten and gyunyu jello in)
- FOR KANTEN: Mix 2 c of water and kanten together.
- Put kanten mix over medium heat and whisk to incorporate. Let the kanten boil, stir vigorously, then set heat to low.
- Add in sugar and stir. Cook on low for 2 min, then transfer to a baking dish to cool. Set in refrigerator to cool. Once set, cut into cubes and set aside.
- FOR GYUNYU: Mix 1 HOT c of water and gyunyu jello powder together. Stir to incorporate.
- Add in milk. Stir vigorously to mix fully.
- Pour in gyunyu jello into other baking dish. Pop in refrigerator to set. Once set, cut into cubes and set aside.
- FOR SYRUP: In a pot, mix ½ c water, Okinawan black sugar, and 4 oz sugar. Put over medium heat and boil.
- Once it boils, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15-20min, or until water evaporates and sugar thickens.
- Cool and set in fridge.
- TO PREPARE: Put equal amounts of kanten and gyunyu jello in a bowl. Top with fruits, and drizzle black sugar syrup on top. Serve cold!
What is your favorite Japanese dessert??? Let us know in the comments below!