Friday, September 01, 2006

Bean Cakes That Resemble Things

I'm not a great fan of Japanese sweets but I did take to white bean sweets almost from the first time I tried them. White bean cakes and buns are different from the more popular red bean cakes in that the beans are finer and usually sweeter. That's not to say they compare to a Twinkie or Krispie Kreme in sweetness but, by Japanese standards, they are higher up on the sweetness scale.

I had my first taste of my absolute favorite white bean cake early on during my time in Japan while working at a conversation school. A student brought the cakes in as a souvenir and shared them with the teachers. They were called "kogane imo" and we liked them so much that we tracked them down from the address on the box. It's been so long since I last had them that I forgot where the shop was located, but my husband says that the place we found them in was Ningyocho.

They are called "imo" because they are brown and shaped like potatoes. They had cinnamon on the outside but weren't overly sweet or sugary. They also tasted vaguely "woodsy", as if they had been cooked on wood chips. Eating one, especially a very fresh one, was a complete piece of heaven.

A more accessible white bean treat can be picked up at my local supermarket. These are Kamome no Tamago (pictured above) which means "seagull egg". While the description claims that the outer shell is a "white chocolate" coating, it does not resemble chocolate much in taste or texture. It's not very sweet and relatively higher in fat.

A package of 6 of these eggs is about 600 yen and they are popular souvenirs sold on trains. if you can't find them elsewhere, they can be ordered through the manufacturer's web site. They're probably a better food souvenir for folks back home than most because they suit foreign palates but are still distinctively Japanese.

I never thought much about why Japanese sweets were supposedly healthier than American ones beyond the lower sugar content but that's before I thought a bit more about the effect of protein on blood sugar. If you consume any sweet, consuming it along with protein will help decrease the chance of a strong spike in blood sugar. And since traditional sweets contain beans which are high in protein, they are less likely to send you into a sugar high then a blood sugar crash and less likely to contribute to insulin resistance (which can lead to Type 2 diabetes).

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