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What Is Red Bean Ice?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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Red bean ice is a popular Asian drink made of red beans, ice cubes, and milk. The drink is typically served as a sweet snack or a dessert. There are many different versions of red bean ice, and iterations exist in almost all Asian cultures. Many believe that the drink originated in Hong Kong, but red beans — and red bean beverages along with them — are ubiquitous from the tip of Japan through the coast of Singapore.

Hong Kong cuisine, along with the cuisines of most Asian cultures, often treats red bean as a dessert ingredient. The red bean, or azuki as it is known in Chinese, has a naturally sweet flavor that both complements and thickens a great number of dishes. Red bean cakes and pastries, ice creams, and dumplings are some of the more common examples, and red bean ice joins these ranks.

There are many ways to make red bean ice. The most simple version comes tiered in a glass. Sweetened red beans sit at the bottom, often in a sugary syrup, and a layer of ice comes next, which is topped with milk, often also sweetened. The drink is meant to be stirred before consuming, so that all of the flavors will blend together.

Many cooks garnish these Hong Kong beverages with a scoop of ice cream, or substitute coconut milk or sweetened condensed milk to lend a richer, sweeter flavor. It is also possible to blend all of the ingredients together in order to make a sort of red bean smoothie or milkshake. So long as the beverage is cold and contains red beans and dairy, it can properly be called “red bean ice.”

Different cultures, cooks, and restaurants have added their own twists and modifications to red bean ice, as well. A red bean bubble tea, for instance, is essentially red bean ice with tapioca peals or small slices of coconut jelly. Tea powder may or may not be included, and the beans may be fresh or reconstituted from red bean paste.

Red beans can also be blended or added into iced tea to make red bean ice tea. Such a drink is commonly served with heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk, and is most popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Singapore. Singapore cuisine also features a related red bean dessert, known as ice kachang, which is essentially a shaved ice dome set atop of syrupy mixture of red beans. The ice in this dessert is usually topped with colored syrups, condensed milk, and fruit toppings.

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Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Jun 09, 2012

My friend uses an ice cream maker to make red bean ice cream, and it is surprisingly yummy. I had my reservations about eating an ice cream made from beans, but now, I am sold on the idea.

She heated up some water and sugar, and then she put some red bean paste in the pot and stirred it all together. She added some milk, and then she poured the whole thing on ice.

After that, she put it in her ice cream maker. Before long, I was enjoying eating something entirely new to me and outside of my comfort food zone.

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 08, 2012

@StarJo - The Chinese red bean is totally different from the American version of the red bean. I think that they got the idea to sweeten it because it already has a slightly sweet flavor on its own.

Yes, kidney beans and milk would be terrible together! However, azuki beans and milk make a great smoothie. I’ve even tried the ice cream version, and it’s delicious.

These azuki beans are good sources of iron, too. For a person like me who doesn’t eat much meat, they come in handy, because I have no problem drinking a smoothie or eating healthy ice cream.

By StarJo — On Jun 07, 2012

This sounds gross to me. Of course, since I’ve never had it, I may be imagining the wrong kind of red bean in this drink.

Are red kidney beans the ones used to make it, or are Asian red beans something entirely different? I’ve had red kidney beans before, and they taste just like regular beans. They would fall more on the savory side than on the sweet, so I’m thinking that a different kind of red bean must be in use here.

Mixing milk with red kidney beans would just be disgusting. It wouldn’t be sweet at all, unless you poured a bunch of sugar into it.

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