Japanese Azuki are a small, dried, oval-shaped bean with a distinctive deep red color and character. Azuki beans have a light nutty, semisweet flavor and are one of the few beans that contain low fat and high protein. They have been grown in the Far East for centuries and were introduced to Japan around 1000 A.D. Today, azuki are one of the largest crops grown in Japan with an annual production of over 120,000 metric tons. After the soybean, azuki are the second most popular bean in Japan. This beloved versatile bean is a key ingredient in a wide array of Japanese dishes and desserts. Azuki have been used since ancient times as an effective medicinal tea in Japanese "kampo" (Japanese traditional medicine) and are also employed externally as a beauty aid.
Azuki beans contain lower fats and oil than any other bean and possess noteworthy health benefits for the kidneys, bladder, and reproductive system. They are also known as the most "yang" (or warming) bean. The special Azuki that comes from Hokkaido, Japan are uniquely medicinal due to their vine structure and because they are grown in the rich and fertile volcanic soil of the island. Japanese Hokkaido Azuki beans are now highly regarded all over world and have come to be known as the "Mercedes" of beans. The Japanese particuarly are fond of Hokkaido Azuki and have chosen them for their important holidays. The beautiful red color imparts a pink hue to the famous dish called Sekihan or "Red Rice" which is served during their biggest holiday, the New Year celebration.