Bean paste comes in many shapes and forms but one thing is constant: the ingredient is a special and meaningful component of different East Asian cultures
Red bean paste, also known as an or anko, is a popular East Asian treat that is made from boiled azuki beans and used for many traditional confections and dishes. It is a key ingredient in many Japanese snacks as the nation has a strong affinity towards the paste. To make red bean paste, one only needs four ingredients: beans, sugar, oil and water. The process is fairly simple. The beans must be boiled in water for an hour on low heat. Once softened, they must be blended and returned to the pan where oil and sugar join the mix. Cook it until it starts to thicken, and voila! Easy and delicious.
The origin of red bean paste dates back to the Heian period when Chinese travelers visited Japan with recipes for steamed buns. Japan adopted the recipe and incorporated meat and vegetables, however, Buddhist priests were unable to eat the meat-filled buns so they opted for a substitute of boiled azuki beans. The beans only began to be sweetened during the Muromachi period when Dutch traders started importing sugar to Japan. The steamed buns are known as manjū and the recipe is well-loved in Japan to this day.