Do You Know What This Is? Kanten

Blueberry Rose Jelly, Matcha Pudding and Coffee Jelly

By Anisa Kazemi
July 26, 2016
Food & Drink

I was first introduced to kanten by my Japanese friend as "diet pudding." "It is not an oxymormon," she said, pleased at herself for having used a new English word. "It's a Japanese super invention!"

The story of a Japanese super invention

Kanten, aka agar, is a Japanese jellying agent that was discovered by chance during the Edo period. In 1685, Lord Shimazu of the Satsuma clan stayed at an inn near Kyoto called Minoya. The proprietor of the inn, Mino Tarozaemon, entertained his guests by serving them tokoroten — today a widespread jelly noodle dish which, at the time, was reserved solely for the rich as its lengthy preparation required having to laboriously soak, dry and boil tengusa (algae) for several days. Having prepared too much, and unable to use the rest, Tarozaemon threw the leftovers in his snowy back yard.

The next day, he was surprised to find the tokoroten frozen and turned into a thin, papery and dry substance.

This substance was evolved into kanten, which was simpler to use, stock and transport than tengusa. Soon enough, kanten became affordable enough to be readily available on the streets of old Edo, now modern-day Tokyo.

Kanten jelly up close

Kanten as a modern-day superfood

Today, Japanese people utilize kanten in numerous ways. Most commonly, it’s used to make wagashi (Japanese confectionary), though it can also be incorporated in savory dishes. What makes kanten unique for me and many others is that, unlike gelatin, it is entirely vegan. In addition, it has no taste and is semi-translucent. Also unlike gelatin, it can set at room temperature and produces a firmer texture. Last but not least, it’s perfect for dieters — having nearly zero calories and being 80 percent water-soluble fibre.

There are four types of kanten: powder, stick, thread and fakes, all readily available at Japanese supermarkets. For my recipes, I have used the easy-peasy powder version.
Blueberry rose jelly

Blueberry Rose Jelly


500ml water
2tsp kanten powder (1 sachet)
1 tsp rose water (optional)
5 tbsp honey or maple syrup
Handful of fresh blueberries

Matcha soy

Matcha Soy Milk Pudding


250ml water
2 tsp kanten powder (1 sachet)
250ml matcha soy milk
1 heaped tbsp matcha powder
5 tbsp honey or maple syrup
Toppings of choice

Coffee Jelly

Coffee Jelly


500ml water
2 tsp kanten powder (1 sachet)
4-6tsp instant coffee (depending on desirable strength)
5 tbsp honey or maple syrup
Toppings of choice

Method for all

In a small pot bring first group of ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly.

Once mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low while continuing to stir for two minutes.

After the two minutes is over, take off heat then mix in honey until fully dissolved.

Pour mixture through a strainer into a desired mould (use a silicon muffin tray if wanting to pop pudding/jelly out of its dish) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Serve with desired toppings on a hot summer’s day.

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