The azuki bean, which is also sometimes called the "adzuki bean" or the "aduki bean," is a legume that grows on a vine. It is particularly common in Asia. The bean is red in color and rather small, approximately one fifth of an inch in length (about five millimeters). The bean sometimes comes in black, gray, white, and mottled colors, but is most commonly grown in the red color.
This bean has been cultivated in Asia for over a century. It is believed that the bean was grown in Korea and China before 1000 BC and that it was domesticated in the Himalayas. After its cultivation in Korea and mainland China, the bean was taken to Japan where it was also cultivated. The azuki bean is particularly popular in Japan where it is second only to the soybean. In fact, the name of the bean comes from Japan.
The most common uses for the azuki bean are in sweet dishes. It is commonly used as a filling for sweet pastries and is often used in sorbet and ice cream recipes. It is also sometimes mixed with a thickener such as agar-agar to create a jelly-like dessert that is served in small cubes. It is often simply referred to as "red bean." For example, a bun made with a sweet azuki filling would simply be referred to as a "red bean bun." In the same manner, an icy dessert made with azuki beans would be called "red bean ice cream."
Azuki beans can be purchased raw, dried, or as a paste. Red bean paste is made by mashing the beans and cooking them with a sweetener such as sugar or honey. Depending on the intended use of the paste, it may be crudely mashed so that the texture of some of the beans remains. In other cases, the beans may be pureed so that the paste is smooth. Azuki bean paste, or "red bean paste," is commonly used by pastry chefs in Japan, Korea, and China.
As with most legumes, the azuki bean is a good source of soluble fiber. It is also a good source of protein, iron, and complex carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the culinary uses of the beans often pair them with a large quantity of refined sugar, which is not nearly as healthy. The results of the culinary uses, however, yield rich, sweet, and delicious desserts and pastries.