Tokoroten, also known as Japanese jelly noodles, are a cold noodle dish made from kanten, a gelatinous substance made from seaweed. This vegetarian and healthier alternative to pasta can be enjoyed as either a savory or sweet dish.

Hot comfort foods such as nabe hot pots and oden are delicious in the winter. But as warmer weather begins to approach in Japan, more refreshing treats, such as tokoroten, Japaneses jelly noodles, are better to taste. You can find these strangely gelatinous noodles all over Japan, with different regions having their preference for flavoring.

What Are Tokoroten Jelly Noodles?

Once reserved for the aristocracy in Japan, everyone can now enjoy tokoroten thanks to the 17th-century discovery of kanten. This discovery made the process of making Japanese jelly noodles much easier and less labor-intensive. Now, Japanese people enjoy it in abundance. You can find it in sweet shops, tea houses, and many other food establishments.

Kanten is the gelatin that is made from seaweed and often referred to in America as agar-agar. However, there is a slight difference between actual kanten and agar-agar; they use two different types of seaweed. The kanten jelly is also much firmer than agar-agar, and so better suited to various applications.

In addition to using it to make variety of sweets and desserts, kanten is also an ingredient to make tokoroten — Japanese jelly noodles. The noodles are purely vegetarian, gluten-free, and low in carbohydrates and calories. They are also high in fiber, and they are also supposed to help improve digestion and metabolism. Subsequently, they are a much healthier alternative to traditional pasta noodles.

How to Eat Tokoroten

Japanese jelly noodles can be either a savory or a sweet dish, depending upon the flavorings and garnishes. One savory dish that is popular in the Kanto region of Japan is tokoroten with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin. People typically enjoy these noodles with hot Japanese mustard, nori, and toasted sesame seeds.

The Kansai region of Japan prefers their tokoroten with sweeter garnishes and condiments, including assorted fruit, a sweet syrup, green tea matcha powder, or kinako — a toasted soybean flour often used as a topping for desserts.

Of course, you can experiment with your selection of condiments and garnishes, enjoying the spectrum of savory to sweet with this unique noodle dish. You can try it with your favorite hot sauce, or opt for something sweeter like honey.

And, while tokoroten is a traditional summer food in Japan, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it whenever you want. You can usually find Japanese jelly noodles in Asian supermarkets throughout the year, and even sometimes in the international aisle of regular supermarkets. Children especially might enjoy these jelly noodles, finding them fun to eat as well as tasty.

Keep in mind that these noodles should remain cold, not hot. Placing them in water or broth that is too hot will cause them to melt!