Mung Bean Starch Jelly
Mung bean starch jelly is a popular food in China, especially during summertime. When the smooth, bouncy, and cool jelly slides down the throat, the body feels healed from the heat and dust of the bustling world. It feels like a piece of heaven in your mouth.
Premodern Chinese food and dietetics writers valued mung bean starch jelly for its clear and bouncy texture and its cooling and cleansing effects on the body. This conviction partially comes from the cooling and detoxifying property of mung beans in traditional Chinese medicine. The medicinal value of mung beans was recorded in Chinese medical and dietetics classics as early as the eighth century and became common knowledge in the sixteenth century. Mung bean starch, which was extracted from the whole mung beans through long and complicated processing, was believed to have similar health effect on the body. Hence the recipe below:
"Green bean powder, a.k.a., mung bean starch, add ginger to make it into a thick soup.
Crush the green beads and sprinkle the silver threads;
Its heat clears metal and stone, and its purity cleanses the lung and the digestive organs."
The recipe is from Benxinzhai shushipu compiled by Chen Dasou (dates unknown) in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). It is very simple: add ginger and cook the mung bean starch into a thick soup (jelly). Chen Dasou does not indicate whether the jelly is seasoned with anything other than ginger. If not, its taste would be rather plain. In the sixteenth-century miscellaneous writing Zhuyu shanfang zabu by Song Xu and Song Gongwang (father and son), however, a recipe is recorded on making mung bean starch into a dessert.
"Mung bean starch cake: first heat water to a boil, add processed honey, add mung bean starch, add ginger powder, and stir until the mixture is even and smooth. Rub the inside of a container with dairy cream, pour the mixture into the container, remove it from the container [when it cools down and solidifies], cut it into pieces, and pour dairy cream on top before serving."
The basic cooking method is the same in these two recipes: heat the mung bean starch in water until thickened and let it cool down. Indeed, mung bean starch jelly is easy and quick to make, which may have contributed to its continued popularity in Chinese cuisines. Its well-liked jelly texture is due to the starch gelatinization process taking place when starch is heated with water (check out this site for more: http://sciencemeetsfood.org/starch-gelatinization/).
It is easy to make mung bean starch jelly in your kitchen. Mung bean starch is available in many Asian grocery stores in America. To achieve the ideal texture of the jelly, the proportion of starch and water should be approximately 1:6 in volume. Heat 5 servings of water in a pot. Mix another 1 serving of cold water with 1 serving of mung bean starch and pour it into the pot. Keep heating and stirring the liquid as it thickens and its color turns lighter. When it becomes a smooth jelly of consistent semitransparent texture, pour it into a container to cool. After two hours at room temperature, the jelly is ready to be cut into any shape and thickness. It is usually served with chili oil or roasted sesame paste, more often flavored salty than sweet. But feel free to season it any way you like. The jelly structure is pretty stable and can even take some stir frying.
Many kinds of starch are used as main ingredient in Chinese cuisines. Pea starch is used to make similar starch jelly dish. Wheat starch noodle is a famous street food in northwestern China; in northern China, pan fried sweet potato starch jelly is a popular street food. Mung bean starch jelly can also be dehydrated and made into thin glass noodles, a popular ingredient for soup, salad, hotpot, and stir-fried dishes in China. Regardless of the final shape or cooking method, mung bean starch jelly’s clear and elastic texture and its smooth and gliding mouthfeel makes it a popular food for the Chinese palate. Do you know of any starch dishes or interesting culinary uses of starch? Please share them with us in the comments.