Japanese Green Tea for Confectionery
Powdered matcha green tea is seemingly everywhere today. While you may have seen matcha-flavored lattes and frappuccinos in your local coffeeshop, in Japan the uses for this bittersweet green powder stretches much further, to sweets, chocolate, and baked goods. Walk into a 7-eleven in any Japanese city and you'll immediately be hit by a vast array of bright-green food products vying for your attention. And the popularity of matcha-green-tea flavored food is quickly spreading around the world.
The perfect natural additive
Matcha is an ideal natural flavoring and coloring, that can easily be added to almost any recipe thanks to its convenient powdered form. It can be mixed into batters, kneaded into doughs and stirred into ice cream. The slight bitterness of matcha offers a welcome contrast to the sweetness in candies and other confections, creating a more rounded, multi-dimensional taste experience.
Unlike green teas such as sencha, which are grown in full sun, matcha has lower levels of catechins and higher levels of theanine, a result of at least three weeks of shading before the leaves are harvested. As catechins have a bitter flavor, and theanine has umami, matcha has a sweeter, more umami flavor profile than most green teas, and therefore the bitterness is never too overpowering when matcha is used as a flavoring in confectionery. Not only this, but any product made with matcha becomes visually arresting with its unique, electric-green coloring.
Japanese matcha confectionery
It is believed that green-tea-flavored ice cream was served to royalty as far back as the Meiji period in Japan, at the turn of the last century. It developed real mainstream appeal in the 1990s however, and since then the number of Japanese green-tea sweets has increased exponentially. Not only traditional Japanese wagashi confections such as manju and yokan, which are themselves often served alongside a cup of matcha at tea ceremonies, but also roll cakes, rice crackers, and rice cakes get the green-tea treatment. Sometimes the matcha is mixed with the cream filling, sometimes into the dough, such as in these Confetti-Kyoto Uji Matcha Green Tea Cream Sablé Biscuits. Other times, it is mixed into both, as is the case with these Matcha Green Tea Sandwich Crackers.
Western-style sweets and baked goods
The Japanese have also been experimenting with incorporating matcha into western-style confections and baked goods. Cafés in Tokyo and Kyoto serve bright-green matcha cakes, pancakes, cookies and brownies, while one café in Kyoto offers a doughnut with green matcha icing. Even the big brands are getting in on the act, with matcha chocolate Kit-Kats, and matcha-flavored cream Oreos.
Professional and home bakers the world over are steadily adopting matcha as a flavoring in everything from buns and bread to croissants. It is entering into the creations of celebrity chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, and the macarons of Parisian patissiers such as Sadahari Aoki and Pierre Herme. Matcha finds its way into parfaits, truffles, tarts, duomos and mille-feuilles in the cafés of trendy Paris.
Cooking with matcha
As the matcha in confectionery will be combined with other, generally sweeter, ingredients, the premium grades of matcha which are used in tea ceremonies are not necessary when used for cooking or baking. Instead, lower grades are specifically sold as Matcha for Confectionery or Matcha for Confectionery or Cooking. These retain the same great matcha-green-tea flavor, and bright green color, at a significantly lower price.
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