Tokoroten (ところてん) is a unique type of noodle made from seaweed jelly (i.e. agar). It is eaten all over Japan.
It is particularly popular in the summer thanks to its cool, refreshing taste and texture. Tokoroten by itself has very little taste, so it is typically mixed with either sweet or salty/savory sauce before being enjoyed. Flavors differ greatly by region.
Tokoroten has an extremely long history in Japan; it has been eaten since the Nara period (710 to 794)!
Read on for more interesting info about tokoroten:
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What is Tokoroten made of?
The main ingredients of Tokoroten are:
Specifically, tokoroten is traditionally made with a red algae called tengusa (テングサ) that is found in Japan, and other parts of Asia.
These days, some other types of seaweeds like ogonori (海髪) are also used for commercially/mass produced tokoroten.
How it’s made
Tokoroten is quite straight forward to make. First, the seaweed is cleaned and dried. After being dried, it will turn a white color.
The dried seaweed is then boiled to make a broth. The resulting broth is then filtered, and chilled. Once chilled, the broth will solidify into a jelly like substance. The jelly is cut into noodles using a special tool called a “tensuki” (てんつき).
These days, you can also buy agar powder at the supermarket to make your own tokoroten. Simply mix the powder with water and cool it like jello. The powder typically contains other imported ingredients, and is not pure Japanese tengasu.
Tokoroten is mainly made of water, and contains no sugar or fat.
It also does not contain much vitamins or minerals. Here is some basic nutrition data for tokoroten (per 100g)1https://delishkitchen.tv/articles/1225#contents4; https://www.olive-hitomawashi.com/column/2019/07/post-5919.html:
- Dietary fiber…0.6g
- Sodium … 3mg
- Potassium … 2mg
- Calcium … 4mg
- Magnesium … 4mg
- Phosphorus … 1mg
- Iron … 0.1mg
Location / Where to Eat
Tokoroten is eaten all across Japan. It is particularly popular to eat during the hot summer months thanks to its cool and refreshing taste/texture.
The most famous tokoroten in Japan is found around the Izu Peninsula. This area is known for its high quality tengusa (i.e. red algae used to make tokoroten). In fact, the area accounts for more than half of Japan’s production of tengusa, and is always rated among the best in Japan.
You can also buy tokorten / agar mix at the local supermarket to make it yourself!
History / Origin of Tokoroten
Tokoroten, and its production method, is believed to have been introduced to Japan from China sometime during the Nara period (710 to 794) or earlier. This was around the same time that Buddhism (and vegetarian diet) was introduced to Japan.
At first, tokoroten was a rare food that was only eaten by aristocrats and other wealthy people.
Over time, it eventually became a common food. During the Edo period, it was sold on the streets by merchants who would carry baskets of tokoroten around on their shoulders (see image above).
Tokoroten is eaten in different ways depending on which area of Japan you are in.
For example, in the Kanto region (i.e. Tokyo area), it is often eaten as a salty/savory dish made with vinegar and soy sauce. In the Kansai region (i.e Osaka, Kyoto, etc), it is popular to eat tokoroten as a sweet dish made with brown sugar/syrup.
Below is a simple recipe for sweet Tokoroten Kuromitsu (black sugar syrup)
Simple Tokoroten Kuromitsu RecipeCourse: Sides, Snacks, DessertCuisine: JapaneseDifficulty: Easy
Simple recipe to make sweet brown sugar/syrup tokoroten. Assumes you can purchase ready made tokoroten noodles. Original recipe from Rakuten recipes.
Tokoroten (buy on Amazon) … 200g
Brown sugar … 50g
Water … 50g
- Wash the tokoroten, and thoroughly drain it in a colander.
- Put the brown sugar and water in a pot and bring to boil under low heat. Boil until it thickens (about 2/3 of original water remains)
- Put the drained tokoroten noodles in a bowl, and top it with the brown sugar syrup.
- Add other toppings like kinako (sweet soy powder), or azuki beans (sweet red beans).
Other Facts and FAQ
- Izu Tokoroten helps promote tokoroten made in the Izu Peninsula. If you’re in the area, check out their map to find some legit tokoroten shops.
- The kanji for tokoroten is 心太, which should be pronounced “kokorobuto” (こころぶと). The name changed over time, but the original characters stuck.
- The word “tokoroten” can also have a more vulgar meaning in Japanese slang 🤫
What is tokoroten in English?
Tokoroten does not have a direct English translation. Perhaps, the best way to describe tokoroten in English is: seaweed jelly noodles.
What does tokoroten taste like?
Tokoroten by itself generally has little to no taste. Traditionally made tokoroten does have a slight taste or scent of the “ocean”, due to it being made from seaweed.
Tokoroten is typically mixed with a sauce (either salty or sweet) before being eaten.
What is the tokoroten cutter / noodle maker?
The special tool used to cut tokoroten noodles is called a “tensuki” (てんつき).
It is simply a wooden box with a grate on one end. To use it, just put the tokoroten jelly inside the box, and push it out the grated side with the accompanying stick.
You can buy a traditional tensuki on Amazon here: Marusan Tokoro Tensuki (affiliate link)
Have you ever tried tokoroten before?
What did you think of it? Do you prefer the sweet or savory versions?
Leave your thoughts and comments below!