This Vegan Japanese Dessert Is the Feel-Good Treat to Turn to This Holiday Season

Zoe Ruffner

“This is craft at its highest level,” Bill Yosses, the former Obama White House Executive Pastry Chef, said on a recent morning in New York City, gesturing towards a table lined with an array of colorful bite-size blocks that had been flown in from Japan. The visual feast, it turns out, was an edible one as well, known as yokan, a traditional Japanese dessert that dates back thousands of years. Made from azuki beans, agar (a gelatin derived from seaweed), and sugar—a recipe that the health-conscious among us will be especially delighted to discover is free of both gluten and dairy—the smooth, jellied sweet has remained largely absent from American palettes, until now.

Starting today, Yokan Collection, with the help of the Japanese government, is hosting a free two-day exhibit at New York’s Project Farmhouse to “spread [yokan’s] wings around the world,” as Princess Akiko of Mikasa expressed at a recent event celebrating the confection. For the occasion, 14 traditional yokan houses from across Japan will offer over 100 variations of the artisanal treat, each with its own unique marriage of ingredients and composition: a tie-dyed take hails from the famous Shinshoji temple; another, golden amber in hue, contains locally grown red kidney beans and Hokkaido sugar beets. Meanwhile, Yosses has teamed up with Dylan Lauren to create a yokan lollipop (made from white bean paste, chocolate, candied chestnuts, and popped quinoa) that’s available at his Upper East Side restaurant and Dylan’s Candy Bar in Union Square.

Photo: Courtesy of Toraya Confectionery

“There’s a very good possibility that wagashi [Japanese sweets] will be famous in ten or 20 years, but rather than waiting for everyone to discover it we want to be proactive,” explains Mitsuharu Kurokawa, an 18th generation yokan maker and managing director of Toraya Confectionery, which has 80 outposts in Japan as well as a restaurant in Paris, a perennial Fashion Week favorite. “I’m perceiving it like sushi or matcha.” As one Japan-born, Brooklyn-raised yokan enthusiast reminded, “Sushi used to be nearly impossible [to find]; now it’s on almost every corner.”

The handmade delicacies on display at the event are currently only otherwise available at a handful of Japanese specialty shops, such as Setsugekka in the East Village and Murray Hill’s Ippodo Tea, though they certainly belong alongside the best gifts money can buy this holiday season; not only are the sweets a fantastical feat of design, but so are the ornate boxes in which they’re housed. Perhaps one day New York retailers such as Hudson Yards’ Neiman Marcus and the new 320,000-square-foot Nordstrom will catch on; until then, they’re more than worth the hunt.

Photo: Courtesy of Toraya Confectionery

Originally Appeared on Vogue