Adzuki Bean Paste, or Red Bean Paste, is the most popular dessert filling in East Asia. Known as Anko in Japanese, Hong Dou Sha in Chinese, and Danpat in Korean. This red bean paste is used in everything from mochi to manjū, from tangyuan to taiyaki, from bingsu to zongzi… you get the idea. With homemade anko, you can control the sweetness to your taste, or go completely sugar-free. Make it as smooth or chunky as you’d like; it’s all up to you.
I have instructions here to cook anko in Instant Pot or stovetop. Red bean paste on the stove is super simple, no fancy equipment needed. But the Instant Pot makes it so fast and easy, it’s my preferred way to make anko now.
An and Anko
An (餡) is just the short form of Anko (餡子) which means bean paste in Japanese. There are lots of different sweet pastes in Asian cuisine. Not all of them are even made from beans. Some examples:
- Chestnut paste (kurian in Japanese)
- White bean paste (shiroan in Japanese)
- Green soybean paste (uguisuan in Japanese)
- Mung bean paste (ludousha in Chinese)
- Black sesame paste (heizhima xian in Chinese)
Koshian vs Tsubuan vs Tsubushian
There are two common types of red bean paste. You can think of it like peanut butter: smooth vs chunky.
Koshian (Smooth): This type of red bean paste has a very fine, even texture. Traditionally, the skins are removed from the adzuki beans to ensure the paste is as smooth as can be. But this is super tedious and time-consuming. A faster option is to blend them in a food processor or a powerful blender. And to make it super smooth, use a spatula or wooden spoon to rub the blended mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
Koshian is used to make Japanese treats like yōkan, sakura mochi, and manjū. It’s also used in some Chinese pastries like mooncake, and Korean pastries like chapssal.
Tsubuan (Chunky): This is a coarse bean paste, with mostly whole beans. There is also Tsubushian which is a cross between koshian and tsubuan—it’s mashed so that bits of beans still visible in the mixture. The texture is very rough.
Tsubuan is used in Japanese desserts like taiyaki, dorayaki, daifuku, and anmitsu. This chunky red bean paste is also the most common filling in Chinese cuisine, used in red bean buns, red bean soup, and zongzi. And you’ll find it in Korean sweets too such as bingsu.
Ingredients + Substitutions
Anko or Red Bean Paste is naturally gluten-free, oil-free, and vegan. Here are the three ingredients you’ll need to make it:
Adzuki Beans: Adzuki beans (also spelled azuki) are a type of red bean. They’re smaller than other red beans like kidney beans—you can see the size comparison on my Beans Calculator page. Sometimes they are incorrectly called red mung beans, since they look like mung beans. However, they’re bigger than mung beans!
Adzuki beans are used a lot in East Asian cooking. Not only do we mash them into red bean paste, we also boil them in porridge (8 treasure soup), or steam them with rice (Chal Bap), or even make red bean popsicles.
Sugar: Traditionally, anko uses a 1:1 ratio of dried adzuki beans and granulated sugar, by weight. That’s around 4 cups of sugar for every pound of dried beans.
Substitution Tip: If you want to make sugar-free red bean paste, simply replace the sugar with a sweetener alternative. I’ve made delicious-tasting red bean paste with Truvia (a stevia-erythritol blend) and Lakanto (made from monkfruit). And you can even use whole food sweeteners like date syrup or maple syrup—just know it will alter the taste slightly, and you may have to cook the paste a bit further to thicken it up.
Salt: To salt, or not to salt? That is the question when it comes to red bean paste… Many recipes don’t add salt to their red bean paste, but traditionally anko is enhanced with a little salt. I think adding a tiny pinch of salt to anko makes it taste much better. It’s like how most dessert recipes call for salt, not to make it salty, but because it enhances the other flavours of the dessert. If you’re not convinced, make a batch of unsalted anko → taste it → then stir in a pinch of salt → taste again. You’ll notice the difference!
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Shiroan: Substitute adzuki beans with white beans to make white bean paste, or shiroan in Japanese. Lima beans or butter beans work best, though you can also use navy beans or cannellini beans. Shiroan is used in Japanese desserts like mochi and anpan.
- Mung Bean Paste: Substitute azuki beans with split mung beans to make mung bean paste. Split mung beans have their outer skins removed so the paste is unbelievably smooth and creamy. Mung bean paste is pretty common in Chinese and Vietnamese pastries. It’s used to make one of my favourite childhood sweets, Mung Bean Cake.
There are two easy ways to make anko: stovetop or pressure cooker.
As long as you have a pot, a stove, and a potato masher (or blender, or food processor), you can make Red Bean Paste on the Stovetop.
Step 1: I recommend soaking the beans overnight to cut down cooking time. You will need double the cooking time if cooking dried, unsoaked beans.
Step 2: Drain the soaked beans and add them to a pot, along with 2 quarts of cold water. Cover with a heavy lid and turn the heat to medium high.
Step 3: Once water starts to simmer, turn heat down to medium low. Cook until beans are soft and falling apart, around one hour (longer if beans are old).
Step 4: Drain the beans in a colander. Return the drained beans to the pot and mash (for coarse bean paste, tsubuan) or blend (for fine bean paste, koshian).
Instant Pot Method
Pressure cookers are amazing at cooking beans in record time. I love to make Instant Pot Anko because it’s so quick and easy, and I can make a huge batch at a time. (Anko freezes well!)
Plus, it’s less messy. No need to drain the water. Read how below:
Step 1: Rinse adzuki beans and discard any debris. Add water and the unsoaked beans to an Instant Pot. Use a 1:2 ratio of dried beans to water (around 1 cup of beans for 2 cups of water or 1 pound of beans for 4 cups water).
Step 2: Secure the lid on the Instant Pot and select the Beans/Chili setting. Press the button to turn it to Less mode (25 minutes on high pressure). Once the Instant Pot beeps and turns off, let the pressure naturally release.
Step 3: Open the lid. No need to drain the beans. Most of the water has been absorbed by the beans. Mash the remaining liquid right into the beans. This is called tsubuan (coarse bean paste).
Step 4 (Optional): Use a blender to blend it into a super smooth paste. This is called koshian (fine bean paste). For a super smooth paste, rub the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer like this one.
Note: Anko will thicken as it cools.
Make Ahead & Storage Tips
Fridge: Red bean paste can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Let it cool down to room temperature before putting it in the fridge. Make sure to use an airtight container.
Freezer: Anko freezes super well! Freeze red bean paste in an airtight container for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before using.
Azuki bean paste, also known as anko or red bean paste, is a sweet creamy paste made from azuki beans, which are small, red beans commonly used in East Asian cuisine. The beans are boiled until soft, then sweetened with sugar and a pinch of salt, resulting in a sweet, earthy flavoured paste. There are two main types of anko: tsubuan, which is coarse and chunky with whole beans, and koshian, which is smooth and fine. But no matter the texture, it’s delicious!
Anko has a distinctive taste. You might think it’s weird to make a sweet paste from beans, but it doesn’t taste healthy or bean-y at all, just creamy and comforting. Anko is nutty and earthy, yet very sweet. It’s the taste of childhood for me! A good anko recipe will also contain a bit of salt to round out the flavours and enhance the sweetness.
Red bean paste, made from adzuki beans, can be a relatively healthy option when consumed in moderation. Adzuki beans on their own are a very healthy whole food, being high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, red bean paste is also high in sugar, which isn’t healthy when consumed excessively. To make red bean paste healthier, you can use a sweetener substitute like stevia, monkfruit, or erythritol.
Azuki and red bean are often used interchangeably. But azuki beans are just one type of red beans. They’re a common ingredient in various East Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Other types of red beans include kidney beans, which are common in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking, and rice beans, which are even tinier than azuki beans, used in South Asian cuisine.
Yes absolutely, you can use canned red beans as an alternative to dried azuki beans for making red bean paste. This will save you some time since you don’t need to cook the beans beforehand.
Did you make this recipe? Please consider leaving a rating below to let me know how you liked it.
You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @earthtoveg, I will shout you out in my Stories!
Adzuki Bean Paste (Red Bean Paste)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- 8 oz dry adzuki beans see Note 1
- 2 to 4 cups water 2 cups if using Instant Pot Method, or 4 cups if using Stovetop Method
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- Add soaked adzuki beans to a pot, along with 4 cups of cold water. Cover with a heavy lid and turn the heat to medium high.
- Once the water starts to simmer, turn heat down to medium low. Cook until beans are soft and falling apart, around one hour (longer if beans are old or if you did not soak them overnight).
- Drain the beans in a colander. Return the drained beans to the pot and mash (for coarse bean paste, tsubuan) or blend (for fine bean paste, koshian).
Instant Pot Method
- Add unsoaked beans to an Instant Pot along with 2 cups of cold water.
- Secure the lid on the Instant Pot and select the Beans/Chili setting. Press the button to turn it to Less mode (25 minutes on high pressure). Once the Instant Pot beeps and turns off, let the pressure naturally release.
- Open the lid. No need to drain the beans. Most of the water has been absorbed by the beans. Mash the remaining liquid right into the beans. This is called tsubuan (coarse bean paste).
- Use a blender to blend it into a super smooth paste. This is called koshian (fine bean paste). For a super smooth paste, rub the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer like this one.
- Adzuki Beans: If using the Stovetop Method, I recommend soaking the beans overnight to cut down cooking time; or else you will need double the cooking time with dried, unsoaked beans. No need to soak if using Instant Pot Method! To save even more time, you can also use canned adzuki beans (found in Asian grocery stores or online), which are pre-cooked and ready to eat. Use my Beans Conversion Calculator to convert your canned beans to the dried quantity used in this recipe.