All About Anko: Japanese Red Bean Paste Guide

All About Anko: Japanese Red Bean Paste Guide

Anko, also known as Japanese red bean paste, is a popular ingredient that features in a wide variety of Japanese treats, including the popular confectioneries known as Wagashi.

In this blog, we’ll be discussing the history of anko, how it became a staple of Japanese culinary and confectionery history, and its popular uses in the modern day.

History Behind Anko

Historical accounts indicate that anko arrived in Japan from China sometime in the 7th century along with other Chinese treats. 

During its initial introduction into Japan, “Anko” originally referred to the filling that was included in Chinese buns - this filling was made from meats and vegetables.

Practising Buddhist monks in Japan wanted to find an alternative to meat that would work with their vegetarian diets. They turned their attention to the red bean azuki, which was then refined down into a red bean paste they’d come to refer to as anko thanks to its visual similarities to the Chinese anko.

Because the red bean-based anko was originally intended as an alternative to the Chinese ingredients, it was mixed with salt for a more savory flavor profile. 

It was during the Edo era that the domestic manufacturing of sugar increased in Japan and sweetened versions of anko became more popular. These formed the basis for a wealth of sweet Japanese treats and desserts that are still enjoyed to this day.

Types of Japanese Red Bean Paste

Popular types of Japanese red bean paste that are used today include:


A chunky red bean paste made up of whole beans. A great amount of care is needed to ensure the skins of red beans do not split while heating. The result is a sweet, soft-chunky texture.


A crushed red bean paste. As the beans are cooked, they’re progressively crushed, but not to an excessively thorough degree. The intention is for small chunks of bean and skin to still be present, offering more flavor and texture when eaten.


A smooth red bean paste. This form of red bean paste completely removes the skin from the azuki beans during preparation. Sugar is then added and the beans are mashed down into a smooth, creamy paste.


A mixed red bean paste. This method employs larger types of azuki beans, which are simmered in common sweeteners like honey and then mixed with koshi-an (the smooth red bean paste). Oruga-an can have an appearance similar to tsubushi-an.

Popular Japanese Red Bean Desserts

The above types of anko are used in many Japanese desserts, including pastries, rice-based desserts, jellies, frozen desserts, and even sweet soups. Some of the country’s most popular anko desserts are:


A very popular Japanese pastry, the Anpan is a bread bun stuffed with anko. The bun itself is toasted and typically topped with toasted sesame seeds. The mix of the bun’s subtle savory notes matched against the sweet red bean paste make for a delicious snack.


Mochi are Japanese rice cakes that can often include sweet fillings. Anko is one of the most common sweet fillings to be used in mochi.


A jelly dessert (also a type of Wagashi) that’s made from anko, sugar, and agar-agar (a jelly-like substance). These are typically made into rectangular blocks that can be cut up into smaller pieces as needed.


This is a popular summer dessert made up of shaved ice with sweet flavoring. Anko is a common added ingredient, regularly mixed with other Japanese mainstays like matcha. 


A traditional Japanese dessert. Essentially a sweet soup/porridge that often mixes koshi-an (smooth red bean paste) with mochi and is served warm.

Satisfy Your Cravings with Sakura Box

In the mood for your own sweet Japanese treats? Sakura Box has got you covered!

Our snack and candy boxes are the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth and experience many of the iconic treats that Japan has to offer. Our boxes come in 20, 30, 40, and 50-piece sets. 

Our 50-Piece Dagashi Box includes the delicious Azuki Chocolate, a wonderful treat made of azuki beans (the main ingredient in anko) encased in a white chocolate shell with uji matcha.

You can also purchase a 12-pack bag of Azuki Chocolate on its own.

Check out the rest of our Dagashi box sets below:

If you have any questions about our collection of snack boxes, check out our general FAQs for more information. You can also learn about our 30-day refund policy.
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