Japan’s second favourite bean after soy, the nation consumes 120,000 tons of the little red beans each year. Now the European market seems to be catching up.
In the UK the bean has hit various high end restaurant menus including London’s Michelin-starred Dabbous, renowned for its ability to spark and steer food trends, and culinary blogs have been abuzz with its health benefits and distinct nutty taste.
Its popularity has been mounting since 2007 when Starbucks launched its Azuki Frappuccino, followed shortly by a limited run of azuki chocolate Kit Kat bars, and an azuki-flavoured Pepsi soda in 2009 for the Japanese market.
Danish company Ekko Gourmet has capitalised on its nutritional qualities with the creation of its gluten-free, vegan Beetroot Steak which contains kidney beans, azuki beans, beetroot and capers.
Health benefits and gluten-free opportunity
The azuki bean can be used in both savoury and sweet products, in whole, paste and flour form. The Japanese use it primarily to make the sweet paste “anko”, similar in consistency to peanut butter.
The azuki bean contains virtually no fat or cholesterol and has high levels of fibre, protein and iron, similar to many other more popular beans, according to registered dietitian Jo Travers.
This high nutritional value means the azuki bean could have potential in gluten-free foods, which historically have been low in fibre, protein, iron and other nutrients. In the past pulses and pulse flours have been tipped as a good way of filling this nutritional gap.
In paste form the azuki bean could be used as a moist bulking ingredient for gluten-free bakery such as brownies.