Wagashi, or Japanese confections is deeply related to the seasons, festivals and occasions of Japan, and plays a vital role in the Japanese culture. It is an art in itself. We would like to introduce to you the many wagashis that can be enjoyed thorough the year, and will start a series named “Wagashi Favorites”, posting one of our favorite wagashi every other week.
So a little history to start off with – “wa” for “wagashi” is a character that symbolizes “Japanese”, and “gashi” symbolizes “confection”. The history of wagashi dates back to the Nara period (710-784), influenced by China’s grain processing skills. But it was not until the Muromachi period (1336-1573) that sugar was introduced by the Portugese and the culture of wagashi began to flourish. It was still reserved for the aristocracy at that time, but by the Edo period (1603-1867), it became widely open to the public.
Wagashi are typically made from natural based ingredients such as beans, rice, flour and kanten(aga-agar). So they are healthy compared to many of the western sweets that use butter and dairy products, and you don’t have to worry too much about the calories and fat!
This week’s wagashi “Kankobai”, which is a type of plum is from Toraya. Toraya was founded in the 1600s, with a history of nearly 500 years. Plum plays an important part in the Japanese culture alongside the sakura(cherry blossom). It is associated with the start of spring, as they blossom already in January. The longing and anticipation for spring is expressed in this wagashi.
According to Toraya’s records, “kankobai” was first made in 1770, and has been enjoyed for many generations. It is made from mainly white kidney beans, and are quite sweet, making it a perfect match when drinking matcha (green powdered tea), typically served at tea ceremonies. The wagashis at Toraya change every two weeks. “Kankobai” are in stores only until February 15th, so please hurry if you should give it a try!