Anko Paste is a sweet bean paste used for many different sweets in Japan. It is made by boiling down sweet beans with sugar or honey. However, in the early period, salt was used instead of sugar because sugar was too precious for the common people. The most common type of Anko paste is red bean paste called azuki-an. Red bean is considered to bring good luck in Japan.
There are two different forms of anko paste. One is koshi-an which the grain of the beans is mashed, and the skin of the beans is removed. The other is tsubu-an, which the grain and the skin of the beans is left. Koshi-an is more likely to be used for desserts.
Ohagi is a rice ball covered with red anko paste, and is often eaten during the autumn equinoctial week. The same anko paste covered rice ball is called botamochi during the spring equinoctial week, which tells the unique feeling for each season that Japanese have. Ohagi or batamochi is offered to the buddhist alter during the week, and Japanese visit their family grave to show respect to their ancestors.
The word “an” means filling in Japanese, so there are various sweets filled with anko paste. For example there are daifuku which is a rice cake, taiyaki which is a fish shaped pancake, and anpan which is a round pastry, all filled with anko paste. Anko paste can be found at supermarkets in either cans or bags. Some people put anko paste on toast, pancake, and even ice-cream. Anko paste goes very well with whipped cream too.