At this time of the year, apples are at their peak. This light and easy dessert takes a leaf from the book of macrobiotic cuisine and showcases a clean, pure and smooth essence of apples – a naturally sticky base of millet cooked in apple juice, a tart apple juice gel set with kudzu and kanten (also known as agar), a gingerbread spiced apple crumble accompanied with coconut aquafaba whip and black tahini. It is nut-free, oil-free, flour-free, no-bake and can be nut-free if you omit the crumble or use seeds in place of walnuts.
Although I am familiar with kanten / agar, it is my first time using kudzu. Agar alone produces a brittle gel, but when used in lower percentages (1-1.2%) and in combination with kudzu such as in this recipe, the result is smoother, tamer and has a more desirable texture as a multi-hydrocolloid gel. Below is a primer of kudzu root starch for those uninitiated.
What is kudzu root starch?
Kudzu (also known as kuzu; Pueraria lobata) is a fast-growing climbing vine of the pea family originating from China. The starchy roots are used to produce kudzu powder (kuzuko) that has been used in Asian countries since ancient times (at least 200 BC) as a food thickener and natural medicine to treat colds, headaches, diarrhea and strengthen the stomach. Kudzu is a popular ingredient in macrobiotic cuisine founded by George Ohsawa, and is believed to have yang qualities which can be used to counterbalance yin ingredients such as fruits and vegetables. Kudzu root is high in flavanoids, which is in part responsible for its medicinal properties including relieving smooth muscle contractions and cramping.
Applications and directions to use kudzu powder
Kudzu powder can be used as a thickening agent in a wide range of dishes from sauces, soups, puddings and jellies. The table below summarises the amount of kudzu powder required to produce different thickening or gelling consistencies (reproduced from The Book of Kudzu: A Culinary and Healing Guide).
|Preparation Type||Liquid||Kudzu Powder|
|Clear soups||1 cup||1/2 teaspoon|
|Beverages||1 cup||1 teaspoon|
|Thin sauces||1 cup||2 teaspoons|
|Thick sauces||1 cup||1-2 tablespoons|
|Gels and glazes||1 cup||2 tablespoons|
|Tofu gels||1 cup||2 1/2 tablespoons|
|Kudzu Noodles||1 cup||4 tablespoons|
|Kudzu Mochi||1 cup||5 tablespoons|
When you buy kudzu powder, it will be in small white chunks. Place the chunks on a piece of parchment paper, crush with the back of a spoon and sift the powder through a fine-mesh strainer before using. Dissolve the required amount of kudzu powder in a little cold filtered water, then add it to the other ingredients near the end of cooking time. Gently bring the mixture to a simmer and stir continuously for 1 to 2 minutes while the kudzu thickens and becomes translucent then transparent. In most situations, stir the mixture for another 1 minute before removing from heat. However, for firm gelled preparations, continue to stir the mixture for up to 10-15 minutes over low heat to develop a smooth, resilient texture. If using moulds to set, oil your moulds prior to pouring in the kudzu mixture to prevent sticking and for easy removal.
Acidic liquids such as lemon juice can inhibit gelling; use 10-15 percent more kudzu powder if your dish contains acidic liquids.
How does kudzu powder compare with other starch thickeners?
Kudzu is different from other thickening starches such as arrowroot, cornstarch and potato starch in the flavour and texture it imparts to food and its method of production.
Arrowroot and kudzu are fairly similar and are the healthier choices as starch thickeners. Both are made by a simple, natural process and once cooked, both have a clean subtle taste and produce clear and glossy results. The advantage of arrowroot is that it is not weakened by acid, is freeze-thaw stable and is much less expensive than kudzu despite its weaker gelling strength. The advantage of kudzu is that it is twice as strong as arrowroot in gelling, possesses alkalising and healing properties (more yang than arrowroot) and does not break down if overcooked or allowed to stand too long before serving. Kudzu gel remains stable for 2-3 days. Kudzu also provides the greatest translucency, smoothness and sparkle.
Cornstarch and potato starch are more highly refined and best avoided. The only advantage of cornstarch is that it has the unique ability to stand up to prolonged high heat and thus useful in dishes such as a baked pie.
The table below summarises how to substitute kudzu for various starches in recipes (reproduced from The Book of Kudzu: A Culinary and Healing Guide).
|1 teaspoon kudzu powder||3 teaspoons flour|
|1 teaspoon kudzu powder||2 teaspoons arrowroot starch|
|1 teaspoon kudzu powder||2/3 teaspoon cornstarch|
- 70 g (1/2 cup) millet
- 300 g (1 1/2 cups) apple juice
- Pinch Himalayan salt
- 16 g (1 tbsp) tahini
- 480 g (2 cups) apple juice
- 40 g (1/6 cup) lemon juice
- 7 g (1 tbsp) agar powder
- 20 g (2 tbsp) kudzu powder, finely crushed
- 90 g (6 tbsp) coconut nectar
- 70 g (1/2 cup) activated almonds
- 50 g (1/2 cup) activated walnuts
- 16 g (1 tbsp) maple syrup
- 16 g (1 1/2 no) pitted dates
- 12 g (1 1/2 tbsp) coconut sugar
- 12 g (2 tbsp) oat flour
- 1 1/2 tsp gingerbread spice (DIY recipe below)
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp mesquite powder
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 apples, peeled and small diced
- 3 tsp ginger powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp allspice powder
- 1 tsp nutmeg powder
- 1 tsp cloves powder
- Place millet, apple juice and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until millet is soft and sticky and there is no liquid remaining. Allow the cooked millet to cool until slightly warm, mix in the tahini, then press the mixture into an 8x8-inch mould. Place the mould in the refrigerator to allow the millet to set.
- In a saucepan, add the apple juice, lemon juice and agar powder and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1-2 minutes until all agar dissolves. Hydrate the kudzu powder by mixing it in a little cold water first and then adding it to the heated apple juice and agar mixture. Continue stirring for a another 1-2 minutes to allow the kudzu to thicken. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the coconut nectar. Allow the mixture to cool to hand-hot temperature (about 60°C), then pour the mixture over the millet base. Return the mould to the refrigerator and allow to set for at least 2 hours or overnight for best results.
- In a food processor, pulse the almonds and walnuts separately into coarse crumbs. Return the crushed nuts and remaining ingredients except the apples into the food processor and pulse a few times until well-combined. Transfer the mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in the chopped apples. Spread out the mixture onto dehydrator sheets and dehydrate at 47°C for 1 hour, or until apples are soft and have absorbed the spices.
- Carefully unmould the cake and cut into serving sizes. Garnish with apple crumble and serve with coconut whip or tahini (optional).
- Recipe makes one 8x8-inch cake.
- To make it nut-free, replace almonds and walnuts with equal amount of your choice of seeds or desiccated coconut.