Kitchen Culture
tasty tidbits from the old-fashioned Japanese Kitchen


 ところてん  &  寒天

The Japanese have used sea gelatin to make both savory aspics (such as the TOKOROTEN ところてん, pictured above) and sweet confections (such as YŌKAN 羊羹, pictured at the bottom of this page) for more than a thousand years. 

It is likely that the gelling properties of certain aquatic plants such as tengusa 天草 (a red marine algae) was understood and used in cooking on the Asian continent long before that time. What is known in most English-speaking countries as agar-agar, is processed from tengusa.

After being harvested from the sea, tengusa is dried, ideally by bleaching in the sun rather than by manufactured chemicals. Drying helps to retard spoilage of the fresh algae, and at the same time it concentrates the algae’s nutrients, especially vitamins B, E and K and minerals such as calcium and potassium.  Low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber, tengusa (and foods made from it) are popular with dieters. 

As tengusa dries the red algae gradually turns straw-colored. When dried tengusa is boiled with fresh water it becomes a thick, gelatinous mass. As it cools, the slightly golden-colored jelly-like mass solidifies, and the resulting aspic is called tokoroten.

Read more about this process, and DOWNLOAD a RECIPE for savory tokoroten


is a jellied loaf made by blending pureed sweetly simmered beans with kanten.

On top are views of Mt Fuji at
different times of year created by embedding bean "fudge" in surrounding aspic.

The bamboo-filled pole (lower left) is a summertime specialty; the chestnut-studded loaf evokes autumnal culinary pleasures; the matcha tea (lower right) is enjoyed throughout the year though presented on glass and woven bamboo with green maples suggests summertime, too.