It was a great farmer’s market find. Fresh Red Currants were ripe and ready at the market, and it was too hot to bake. So, I made kanten. Kanten is the plant-based world’s answer to Jell-o, and it couldn’t be more refreshing. Don’t tell anyone it’s vegan, just serve it. Kids and adults alike will relish the cooling treat.
The secretly awesome thing about kanten is that the sea vegetable that gels it is fiber rich and filling, so it is a light way to stave off hunger, as well as to hydrate with vitamin-rich fruit. It’s touted as a weight loss aid in Japan, if that’s of interest to you. I just love the way it melts in my mouth.
(I made a lovely Green Tea Kanten in this link)
Fruity Kanten is a Summer Treat
Kanten is actually the Japanese word for Agar Agar, the gelling powder, flakes or bars made from a kind of red algae. Don’t worry, it’s not even recognizable as a sea vegetable or algae, once wit’s been processed. I used powdered agar agar in this dish, for convenience. It’s similar to gelatin, but behaves a little differently. Because it’s a natural product, it sometimes varies in gelling power. It’s not a problem, in this dessert. If your kanten doesn’t set up, just strain it back into the pan, whisk in a teaspoon of agar powder, and heat until dissolved, then pour it over the currants in the baking dish to set.
Ruby Red Fruit in Sweet Kanten
Because of the nature of agar, the final gel has an almost linear texture, that cleaves into subtle shapes that remind me of rock formations. It’s still gorgeous and luminous in the light, and hey, no animals hooves were rendered to make it. Just plants. It also stays set at room temperature, unlike the melting jello of your youth. It’s most fun to eat when cold, though, and it keeps for a few days in the fridge.
To keep it simple, I just used bottled apple juice. You can use any juice you want, as long as you keep color in mind. I wanted a neutral color so that the currants could shine.
Red Currants are a Local Delicacy
When I hear red currant, I usually think of British food. Red currants seem to be synonymous with scones and jams from across the pond. But, who knew, the grow here in Minnesota! I was thrilled to find a stand selling them right here at the Mill City Market.
Good Courage Farm is a new vendor at the market, and it’s great to see some uncommon fruits, like gooseberries and currants, among the tried and true produce. The graceful trailing stems of berries are too pretty to pass up, and I hope that they are selling out every week.
Of course, kanten is as flexible as it is easy. Switch out the juice, or use another fruit, and it will be just as welcome when you crave something a little bit sweet. The bounty of local fruit is always inspiring, but it always seems to come at the hottest time of the year. I know I can only bake so many pies or scones before I’m ready for some kanten.
Make kanten a summer staple at your house, and keep cool all season long.
Fresh Red Currant Kanten
- 1 cup fresh red currants or fresh cranberries
- 4 cups apple juice
- 2 teaspoons powdered agar
- optional sweetener
- Wash the currants and pull from the stem, pat dry. Lightly oil a 9 by 9 inch or similar size dish.
- In a 2 quart pot, whisk the apple juice, agar, and an optional half cup organic sugar, if desired. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking until the agar is dissolved.
- Sprinkle the currants over the bottom of the container. Pour the hot kanten over the currants, use a spoon to distribute the currants evenly.
- Chill until firm. Slice in 12 squares. serve garnished with more currants and plant-based whipped "cream," if desired.