Little bean makes a big impact in food world

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Get ready to spill the beans on adzuki.

by Michelle Locke BERKELEY, Calif. — Get ready to spill the beans on adzuki. Wait. You’ve never heard of adzuki beans? You will. Also known as azuki, aduki and Chinese red beans, these pint-sized packages of protein have been moving from the shelves of ethnic markets to big chains like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s. They’re even showing up in snack foods and ice cream. “They’re becoming a lot more mainstream,” says Wendy Esko, marketing assistant in charge of product development and research at Eden Foods, which sells the beans under the name aduki. “In fact, out of the 33 kinds of canned beans that Eden offers, aduki beans rank No. 7.” And at Whole Foods, 18,000 pounds of adzuki beans were sold last year just in California, according to Patrick Wyman, grocery coordinator for the chain’s Northern California region. As for the multiple names. No great mystery here. The beans come from Asia and there have been some, er. translation issues. Whatever you call them, the beans first cropped up in America in the ‘60s as part of the macrobiotic movement, says Esko. The beans sold by Eden — both canned and dry — are grown in the United States from seeds imported from Hokkaido, Japan. Vibrantly colored and sweet, adzuki are commonly used in desserts in Asian cooking. But in America they often are put to savory use, mixed into salads, cooked with rice and dropped into soups. Like other beans, adzuki are a good source of protein. Unlike many other dried legumes, they don’t have to be soaked before cooking. And now they’ve even made their way into snack foods. Boulder Canyon Natural Foods sells several varieties of chips made from rice and adzuki beans, including chipotle cheese flavored and sun-dried tomato and basil (there is a Trader Joe’s version, too). The beans also are showing up in American gelato. Even Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse and Robert Irvine have done recipes using them. Dallas-area food blogger Alta Mantsch likes adzuki beans as an inexpensive way to add protein to her dairy and gluten-free diet. She first found the beans at the ethnic grocery stores where she likes to scout out new flavors, but has noticed they’ve been showing up in larger markets, too. She’s used the beans to create dishes like masala-spiced adzuki beans and rice. “They cook up a lot quicker than other beans and that’s nice,” she says. “They’re cute and they hold together even though they’re small.” Silvia Gregori, a private chef in the San Francisco Bay area, first tasted adzuki on a trip to the Paris Chinatown. She recently made a black quinoa and adzuki bean salad with fennel, carrots and mushrooms that was big on taste and color. She’s also turned them into a paste as a filling for crepes, appropriate since the beans are often used as a filling for mochi, the rice cakes popular in Japan. “They’re sweet and they’re cute and I really like the color,” says Gregori. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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