Imoyōkan (Steamed sweet potato bar)

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Broadcast date:October 25, 2013

  • Meat
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Ingredients (Serves 4 )

・200 g sweet potato
・40 g sugar
・1/6 teaspoon salt
・2 tablespoons flour


  1. Wash the sweet potato and slice it into rounds 2 cm thick. Soak the rounds in water for about 10 minutes; then drain in a sieve.
  2. Place the rounds in a saucepan with enough water to cover, and set to the boil over medium heat. Once the water comes to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer for 15-16 minutes until tender (when bits will break off from the edges).
  3. Drain in a sieve. Mash the sweet potato with a wooden spoon and press it through the sieve. Do this while the sweet potato is still warm.
  4. Mix in the sugar, salt and flour. Spread the mixture out on a piece of plastic wrap to a thickness of 2 cm. Wrap the plastic around the mixture and shape into a bar or rectangle about 10 cm long, 5-6 cm wide, and 2 cm thick.
  5. Put the wrapped mixture in a lidded steamer over medium heat for about 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from the steamer and allow to cool on a flat surface. Remove the plastic wrap. To serve, cut into small slices about 2 cm thick.

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Yōkan : Its history and the different varieties

Yōkan is originally a Chinese dish – a soup featuring mutton  – which was introduced to Japan around the 13th-14th centuries.  The prohibition for Buddhist monks against eating meat meant other ingredients were added to the soup, such as steamed dumplings fashioned from azuki beans, rice and flour.  

The steamed dumplings were served without soup as a sweet with the spread of tea ceremony in around the15th and 16th centuries.  Agar, which can set liquids in the same manner as gelatine, began to be used from about the 17th century.  Sugar and agar were simmered and added to pureed azuki beans, and set in wooden moulds into rectangles or bars.  This is the most popular variety of yōkan today.

Sugar and azuki beans were costly, however, which meant yōkan was out of the reach of most people.  A sweet shop in Tokyo came up with a variety of yōkan (imoyōkan) using inexpensive sweet potatoes around 1900.  

There are also varieties of yōkan made with local produce, e.g. chestnuts, persimmons, apples.

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