Making Sweet Red Bean Paste (Anko) from scratch is easier than you think. You only need azuki beans, sugar, water, and salt! Here, I’ll show you the two varieties: Tsubuan (chunky paste) and Koshian (fine paste). Once you master the basic Anko recipe, you’ll be able to make many delicious Japanese sweets at home.
Do you love Japanese sweets and desserts? If you’re like me who enjoy eating them all, then it’s time to make Anko (餡子) aka sweet red bean paste! It is the most basic and favorable filling in traditional Japanese confectionary and pastry.
Whether it’s Daifuku Mochi, Dango, Dorayaki, Taiyaki, Manju, or Anpan, they are filled with Anko and bursting with the deep, sweet flavor of red beans. So let’s learn how to make Anko red bean paste today!
What is Anko?
Sometimes known as An (餡), Anko (餡子, あんこ) is a Japanese sweet red bean paste made from azuki beans. It is the most common filling used in many Japanese sweets. In fact, you can find sweet bean paste in many other Asian pastries and desserts.
In Japanese cooking, the word “Anko” or “An” usually refers to a red bean paste, but it also implies other varieties such as:
- Shiroan (白あん) – made from lima beans or butter beans. Learn more about it on White Bean Paste (Shiroan) post.
- Kurian (栗あん) – made from chestnuts.
How to Make Anko?
It is usually prepared by boiling azuki beans, sometimes mashing them, and then sweetening the paste with sugar.
Azuki, or sometimes written as Adzuki, literally means ‘small beans (小豆)’ in Japanese. Japanese azuki beans are mostly cultivated in the Hokkaido area. The bigger variety of azuki beans is called Dainagon (大納言) and it is slightly more expensive than Azuki beans.
You can find azuki beans from Japanese grocery stores or health food stores.
Two Types of Anko (Red Bean Paste)
There are two most common types of red bean paste:
- Tsubuan (粒あん) – The paste has a chunky texture with bean shapes still intact.
- Koshian (こしあん) – The paste has a fine, smooth texture.
How Do We Choose Which One to Use in Recipes?
There’s no strict rule to this. Just like peanut butter, you can choose chunky versus smooth texture based on your preference. I personally prefer chunky beans in Japanese confectioneries and pastry, so I’d always make Tsubuan for Daifuku Mochi and Anpan,
1. How to Make Tsubu-an (Chunky Red Bean Paste)
Tsubuan (粒あん) is prepared by boiling the azuki beans and sweetening with sugar. Bean skins are still left in the paste and the beans are not fully “mashed” although some of them are crushed or mashed during cooking.
I usually make Tsubuan because I prefer the texture and it’s also very easy to make!
2. How to Make Koshi-an (Fine Red Bean Paste)
Traditionally, Koshian (こしあん) requires more steps to prepare. After cooking the beans, you will have to:
- Pass the cooked azuki beans through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the bean skins. You may need to add water to help sift the beans through with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Put the mashed beans in a large bowl and fill up with water. Let the mashed beans settle naturally for 30 minutes, then discard the water. Repeat the same process, the second time for 15 minutes, and the third time for 5 minutes, until the water is clear.
- After you discard the water, transfer to a clean cotton cloth (or cheesecloth) to strain out most of the liquid. You will now have a fine, smooth paste.
- Transfer the bean paste to the pot and combine with sugar and salt. Reduce until thicker paste and Koshian is made!
That’s a lot of physical work!
So these days, the home cooks just turn on the food processor to make the fine paste, without removing the bean skins! Personally, I do not see a big difference in the Koshian between the traditional, time-consuming method and the food processor method.
In this recipe, I’ll show you the food processor method. You can use a blender too.
5 Useful Tips for Making Anko At Home
1. No More Soaking Azuki Beans Overnight
In my previous recipe, I soaked the azuki beans in water overnight. I was taught by my grandma that azuki beans have very hard skin so it’s good to soak.
However, these days many articles and recipes mention that we do not need to soak azuki beans anymore. For the first 4 hours, azuki beans do not absorb any water and require 18 hours to soak. Therefore, it’s recommended to just start cooking right away.
I have been following the new method and I actually don’t see any difference from my previous recipe. Now I can make Anko when I want to make it and I do not need to wait overnight!
2. Boiling and Throwing Water Away
The reason why we boil the azuki beans and throw away the water is to remove the astringency (shibumi in Japanese 渋み) of the food. We use the same technique for cooking bamboo and bitter gourd.
I do it just once, while some people do it twice or three times. It’s up to you, but I’ve been doing just once and it’s okay with me.
3. The Bean to Sugar Ratio
In general, the bean to sugar ratio for Anko is 1 to 1, an equal amount. For home use, you can reduce the sugar to your liking.
However, before doing so, please note the followings:
- The sugar is to preserve the paste for a longer time. If you reduce the sugar, Anko is not well-suited for keeping for a longer time.
- Anko can be the only “sweet” element for the confectionary you’re making. The mochi, the dough, or the batter you’re preparing to go with Anko may not be sweetened.
In this recipe, for 200 grams of azuki beans, I suggested the sugar amount to be 175-200 grams of sugar 1: 0.9-1, which is slightly less than an equal amount.
4. Add A Pinch of Salt to Sweeten
You may wonder why salt when you are making sweet red bean paste.
A bit of salt is used as a flavor enhancer because it will reduce bitterness, but increase sweetness and umami which is desirable for sweet recipes. So instead of increasing the amount of sugar, add a pinch of salt to enhance the sweetness first.
5. Stop Cooking When You Can Draw a Line…
As soon as you can draw a line with a spatula on the bottom of the pot, transfer the red bean paste to a baking sheet or a flat wide-surface tray and cool immediately.
Remember the moisture will continue to evaporate with remaining heat and the paste will thicken further as it cools.
Making Anko with a Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot)
If you own a pressure cooker such as an Instant Pot, it’s so much easier and faster to make red bean paste. Check out my Pressure Cooker Anko recipe for details.
White Bean Paste (Shiroan 白餡)
As mentioned earlier, sweet bean paste is not only made from azuki beans but also made from white beans. White Bean Paste (Shiroan) is another common filling for Japanese confectionery such as mochi and manju.
The paste has a milder bean taste, so it makes a great alternative to red bean paste if that’s what you prefer.
Make More Anko for Later Use
You can store the red bean paste in the freezer for up to 2 months! It’s such a treat to have it on hand, and more reasons to enjoy Japanese sweets for your afternoon tea.
Sweet Red Bean Paste (Tsubuan & Koshian)
- 7 oz Azuki beans (a little bit less than 1 cup)
- ¾ – 1 cup sugar
- ½ tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Rinse azuki beans and discard broken ones.
- Transfer the drained azuki beans to a large pot. Add water till 1-2 inches above azuki beans. Turn the heat on high.
- Bring the water to boil over medium high heat.
- Once boiling, discard the water and put the azuki beans back into the same pot.
- Add water till 1-2 inches above azuki beans.
- Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, put an otoshibuta (drop lid) over the azuki beans (Otoshibuta will prevent the beans from dancing around too much). Turn down the heat to medium-low and keep it simmering for the next 1 to 1.5 hours.
- Water will evaporate so you need to keep adding water so the beans are submerged. After 1 hour, pick one bean and mash it with your fingers. If it is mashed easily, it's done.
To Make Tsubuan (Chunky Red Bean Paste)
- Drain the azuki beans over a sieve.
- Put the beans in the same pot. Turn the heat to medium-low heat and add half of the sugar.
- Mix well with the azuki beans. Once sugar is dissolved, add the rest of the sugar.
- Mix, stirring constantly and add the salt.
- If you plan to use red bean for Zenzai (Oshiruko), you can use it right away. If you prefer a thicker version, reduce the soup.
- Let the moisture evaporate. When you can draw a line on the bottom of the pot, turn off the heat. Don't worry if it's still loose; Anko will continue to thicken as it cools. Transfer to a flat baking sheet to let cool completely. Tsubuan is ready to use. Scroll down to see how to store it.
To Make Koshian (Fine Red Bean Paste)
- Drain the azuki beans over a sieve, reserving some cooking liquid.
- Transfer the beans to a food processor. Add 1-2 Tbsp cooking liquid if necessary and run the food processor until the beans become a fine paste.
- Transfer the fine paste back into the same pot. Turn the heat to medium-low heat and add half of the sugar.
- Mix well with the bean paste. Once sugar is dissolved, add the rest of the sugar.
- Let the moisture evaporate, stirring constantly. Add the salt.
- When you can draw a line on the bottom of the pot, turn off the heat. Don't worry if it's still loose; Anko will continue to thicken as it cools. Transfer to a flat baking sheet to let cool completely. Koshian is ready to use.
- If you're not using the red bean paste right away, you can transfer the red bean paste in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. You can also divide and wrap 100 g of red bean paste in a plastic wrap and store it in a freezer bag. When you’re ready to use, you can defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Tip: Compared to store-bought red bean paste, the amount of sugar used for homemade Anko is not enough to keep for a long time.
Make Delicious Recipes with Anko:
- Strawberry Mochi (Ichigo Daifuku)
- Mizu Yokan
- Daifuku Mochi
- Dorayaki (Japanese Red Bean Pancake)
- Red Bean Ice Cream
- Zenzai/Oshiruko (Red Bean Soup)
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on March 12, 2012. The new images are added and the recipe instruction is slightly updated in March 2020.