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Adzuki beans: why I love these sweet-savory protein mini-bombs!

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So you, too, are one of those diet-conscious chaps who want to zhoosh up their diet without gaining those extra calories?

Or maybe, a house chef who wants to try something new to take a break from your daily fare?

Well, you ought to try adzuki beans!

Adzuki beans: why I love these sweet-savory protein mini-bombs!

Also known as azuki and aduki beans, adzuki beans are small, red-colored beans that originate from China and are a part of many Asian dishes, whether soups, stews, or curries. Due to their low calories and versatile nature, they are equally popular among nutrition savvies and chefs.

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about adzuki beans, from their very origin to their use in recipes, their health benefits, and anything in between.

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What are adzuki beans?

For those who have discovered these mini bombs of protein for the first time, adzuki beans or red beans are a common variety of small beans cultivated widely throughout East Asia, especially in Japan and China.

They are also known as red mung beans and belong to the legume family, having nearly 60 different varieties worldwide, with more than 30 other countries growing it consistently, apart from those above.

Though the beans were previously eaten in Asia countries and found their spot only in the ethnic shops of Europe and America, it was until the 1960s that they cropped up in these regions as a major import.

As of now, you will find them in every superstore two blocks from your home, either canned or dry.

Some brands now also manufacture snacks made from rice and adzuki beans. Not to mention their status as a must-add ingredient in most sweet and savory dishes.

In other words, if you didn’t hear about adzuki beans up until now, I would imagine you to be super unfamiliar with the world of beans in general, and Asia cuisine in specific.

What do adzuki beans taste like?

Adzuki beans have a very mild and nutty taste with predominant hints of sweetness, making them an ideal choice for sweet dishes and desserts.

But that doesn’t limit their use as an ingredient.

Many savory dishes in Asian and American cuisine use adzuki beans quite conveniently…and creatively, I must mention!

Stews, soups, and bean salads are just a few to name.

However, where the unique taste of azuki beans makes them special, they are also significantly tricky to replace in certain dishes, especially if we talk about the sweet ones.

It’s one of those beans that will require you to use different beans for different dishes to replace them. No single bean variety will sufficiently replace it in every dish.

The mild and nutty taste is difficult to find in any other variety of beans.

Origin of adzuki beans

The red bean, or azuki bean, is a product that originates in Asia and has been grown and eaten in the region for many centuries.

Though the center of origin has not yet been identified, its circle of origin has been narrowed down to China and India after years of research.

As for Japan, the red bean was introduced from China about a thousand years ago. It is now the sixth biggest crop grown in the country, serving as one of its biggest exports.

Other significant exporters growing adzuki beans include Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, and The Philippines.

In native Asian cuisines, the adzuki bean is mainly used as a confectionery item, e.g., as a filling for dumplings, sweet cakes, steamed bread, etc.

However, as we move from region to region, it’s use gets varied and much more versatile.

Check out this exciting and unexpected Matcha Adzuki Takoyaki Cake Balls Recipe for example!

What does “adzuki” mean?

The adzuki bean comes from the Japanese word “azuki,” which means “small beans.”

However, that’s just a name conventionally used to describe it. The bean has different names in different regions around the world.

For example, let’s go to China, the crop’s origin.

There, adzuki beans are called “hongdou” and “chidou,” which translate as “red bean,” since most Chinese cultivars and almost all their export is in the red variety.

This is also one of the reasons adzuki beans are often called “red mung beans” or “red beans” in English.

You will also see the word “red cow peas” used to refer to adzuki beans, a literal translation of the Marathi word “lal chavali.”

Long story short, every region adzuki bean is grown has its own name for it. However, the one that got the most famous is adzuki or aduki.

This is partly due to the fame of Japanese cuisine and its massive export from the country and partly due to its straightforward pronunciation, even though every name has roughly the same meaning.

Can’t find adzuki beans for your recipe? Here are the 10 best adzuki substitutes to try

Types of adzuki beans

If we talk about the total types of adzuki beans available worldwide, they are more than 60, each having a different color.

To name a few, green, black, and brown are the most common, with red and purple ones constituting the majority.

What remains identical across all the varieties, though, is the same sweet and subtle taste, which makes it a key ingredient in several sweet recipes, including desserts, soups, and pastes.

Just so you know, the red adzuki bean is further classified into two types:

  • Erimo
  • Dainagon

Erimo adzuki beans

The Erimo adzuki beans are small red beans less than 4.88 mm in length.

It is the most common type of adzuki beans and is primarily used as a sweet filling or spread. Moreover, you will also find it relatively cheaper.

Dainagon adzuki beans

The Dainagon are large-sized adzuki beans with a length greater than 4.88 mm. They are used chiefly in stews, soups, and most savory dishes.

They are not as common and quite expensive compared to the Erimo adzuki.

Are red beans the same as adzuki beans?

Well, yes… and no! Normally, adzuki beans are referred to as red beans.

However, there are also some rare cases when red beans might refer to kidney beans, which are entirely different from adzuki beans in shape, size, and taste.

In other words, if you see the name mentioned online, dive a little deep into the context of the word and see which variety of beans someone is talking about.

An excellent place to start would be to see the beans’ image, shape, and size. This should give you enough knowledge of which beans someone is talking about.

What dishes can you make with adzuki beans?

As mentioned, adzuki beans have many culinary uses and can be made in several ways. Following are all the different ways you can eat adzuki beans:

Red bean paste

Sweet red bean paste, called Anko in Japanese cuisine, might not be the most healthy thing you can make with adzuki beans, but by far, the most common one.

It’s a Japanese treat with a varying number of uses.

E.g., you can add it to you add it to buns, ice creams, sticky rice cakes, anywhere it fits in. Not to mention all the amazing desserts!

Here’s how you make anko using adzuki beans:

Red bean paste is the most popular filling for both taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes) and imagawayaki (learn how to make it here).

Curry

The soft and mealy texture of adzuki beans makes them an excellent choice for making savory dishes like vegetarian curries.

All you need is a little garlic, some coconut milk, chili powder, and other spices, and there you have it!

A savory-sweet and spicy dish that is nothing but a burst of flavors.

Salads

Though not traditionally famous for salads, adzuki beans are a great addition to your healthy meals, giving them a sweet punch.

Simply mix boiled adzuki beans with some carrots and green onions, add a little celery or cilantro, and dress it with something tangy, and you have made a healthy meal.

Soups/stews

The unique flavor of adzuki beans is also known for enhancing the taste of soups and stews.

Usually, it is accompanied by other vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and celery to give some depth to the dish and make it more enjoyable.

You can also put in some lentils if you like.

Japan has an extensive soup culture with many different types of soups

How do you cook and eat adzuki beans?

Cooking adzuki beans is quite an easy process and similar to other beans.

However, if you are still curious, the following are all the steps involved in the process:

Rinse the beans

When packing adzuki beans, there’s a good chance they might have small stones or other solid substances mixed up in the process.

Therefore, before cooking adzuki beans, look for stones, etc., and then rinse the beans clean under cold water with a colander.

Also, don’t forget to remove deformed beans. They can ruin the decor of your dish.

Soak adzuki beans

Though I don’t religiously preach this practice, it is still beneficial to soak adzuki beans for about 10-12 hours before cooking.

This removes any flatulence-causing compounds and makes the beans more digestible. Besides, it also hydrates the beans.

Hydration makes them cook faster and gives them some extra creamy texture that feels great in curries.

Cook the beans

Once perfectly soaked (or not), it’s time to cook.

So take a large pot and fill it with enough water to submerge all the beans at once.

Afterward, keep the stove on high heat until the water starts boiling.

After that, bring the heat down to low, and cook adzuki beans for about 45-60 minutes. The beans should cook in the given time.

Just so you know, cooked adzuki beans are fork tender when done.

Eat or store the beans

Once the beans are cooked, use them immediately to make your favorite dishes, or simply put them in the refrigerator.

However, don’t forget to use them for 3-5 days after refrigeration. That’s the maximum time cooked beans can last.

If you’re unsure what to do about it, you might want to freeze it. That way, they are usable for up to three months.

That’s a heap of time to put the beans to good use.

Health benefits of adzuki beans

Besides being a delicious addition to your diet routine, adzuki beans also have many health benefits.

An optimum intake of adzuki beans:

Help maintain a healthy digestive system

Adzuki beans are known for their role in ensuring digestive wellness.

The beans are rich in dietary fiber, which is responsible for regulating the peristaltic motion of the digestive tract and enabling it to absorb maximum nutrients from the food.

In simple words, you are at lower risk of diarrhea, bloating, constipation, or any other digestive tract issues that can make you stay in the washroom longer than you desire.

Help in managing diabetes

The dietary fiber found in adzuki beans is also associated with regulating the activity of insulin receptors in the body.

Hence, it will help you avoid developing diabetes and lessen the symptoms if you already have it.

Some proven effects include reduced inflammation and improved glycemic control (regulating blood glucose levels).

Help in keeping your heart healthy

Besides dietary fibers, adzuki beans are also rich in several essential nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, and folate.

These all, when combined, have a collective effect, e.g., reduction of cholesterol, blood vessel relaxation, increased blood flow, and reduction in blood pressure.

This keeps you safe from developing any fatal cardiovascular arrest or stroke symptoms.

Help in weight loss

Know that 115 grams of adzuki beans pack up only 150 calories.

Top that with all the dietary fiber in the food, and you will feel fuller just after a few bites.

Not to mention having all the essential nutrients your body needs without packing extra pounds. Isn’t it great?

Assists liver detoxification

Adzuki beans contain a special mineral known as molybdenum, a rare nutrient that helps detoxify the liver.

With adzuki being a part of your daily diet, you can be sure that you are taking the right amount of molybdenum to keep your liver healthy and happy.

Keep the bones strong

Nothing is more terrible than that feeling of “being old” when you are still in your thirties, and osteoporosis can lead you there sooner than you think.

That said, taking the right minerals like zinc, copper, and magnesium helps delay the demineralization of bones and keeps them strong for longer.

Since adzuki beans contain a good amount of those minerals, making them a part of your diet will ensure you stay young for long.

Keep your skin glowing

Apart from being one of the most healthy foods, adzuki beans are also known for their exfoliator properties.

All you need to do is to powder the bean and make a face mask out of it. It will not only cleanse the skin but also protect it against various infections that might harm it!

FAQs

What’s so special about adzuki beans?

Adzuki beans are not only delicious, but they are also packed up with a lot of health benefits.

Making adzuki beans a part of your diet lowers your risk of developing diabetes, heart diseases, and digestive problems.

Plus, they are great for weight loss as well.

Can adzuki beans make you sick?

Though highly beneficial for your health, adzuki beans can be slightly harmful when eaten in excess.

Some of the most common problems associated with overconsumption of adzuki beans are digestive issues like diarrhea, nausea, and gas.

Do adzuki beans expand?

If you are thinking about soaking them, then yes, adzuki beans do expand.

When soaking them, pour enough water into a wide pot, so the beans have enough room for expansion.

Can you eat adzuki beans sprouts?

Yes, you can eat adzuki beans sprouts in many different ways. I like adding them raw to my favorite salads, but that’s my preference.

You can use them in smoothies, wraps, or even your favorite soup.

When putting in hot dishes, make sure to add them just before you eat the dish to enjoy them at their best.

Are adzuki beans red beans?

Yes, adzuki beans are red beans, but they should not be mistaken for other beans with the same name, e.g., red kidney beans.

Unlike kidney beans which are big and beefy, adzuki beans are small, round, and sweeter.

Can kidney beans be used in place of adzuki beans?

Yes, kidney beans are a perfect substitute for adzuki beans, but their use should only be limited to savory dishes.

As they aren’t much sweet, they won’t taste as good in sweet dishes.

Conclusion

Adzuki beans are delicious and versatile beans with tons of health benefits.

You can use them in both sweet and savory dishes, from salads and soups to sweet fillings and anything in between.

If you haven’t tried them, I highly recommend getting a pack for yourself and giving them a try. You will be astonished by how good they taste.

Also, for people who crave deliciousness but cannot compromise on their diet, adzuki beans can be a great addition to their weekly menu.

They’re full of fibers, nutrients, and essential proteins to keep you going without adding extra pounds to your belly.

Next, learn how to make mochi filled with adzuki bean paste using a simple stick blender

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.