Recipe Dessert: Cantonese Style Red Bean Soup (with Sago)

Red bean soup (Hong dou tang, 红豆汤) is surprisingly simple to cook, at least easier than I expected it to be. Just that the steps might be time consuming. The soup is not only yummy, it also provides many health benefits.

According to this article on Today, “Red bean tops 100 other foods in its antioxidant content. Antioxidants help fight harmful free radicals that can damage cells. Cell damage is believed to be one of the factors leading to certain diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Moreover, red bean’s water-soluble fibre can lower cholesterol levels and help maintain a more stable blood sugar level. They are also low in fat and are cholesterol-free. In addition, red beans are a good source of protein.”

Moreover, in an Eu Yang Sang’s article about “Ways To Maintain A Healthy Weight”, “A bloated appearance, puffiness and weight gain may be caused by fluid retention in the body. One way to get rid of excessive water or dampness is to take herbs that induce urination. Red bean is one of them.”

Personally, I prefer the “mushy” type of red bean soup, where the beans disintegrate. It’s the cantonese style of cooking red bean soup. So here’s the recipe for it!


Prep and Cook Time

Prep Time: 20 minutes (excluding overnight or eight hours of soaking)

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Cook Time: 1.5 hours


  • Red Beans (also called Adzuki beans): 2 cups (100 grams)
  • Water: 6/8 cups (1.7L)
  • Pandan Leaves: 1 piece
  • Dried tangerine peels (chenpi 陈皮)*: 1 piece
  • Small Sago / Tapioca Pearls: 2 tablespoons (more if you prefer)
  • Rock Sugar^: 70 grams / 5 mini pieces (more if you prefer)
  • Optional: Lotus seeds or ginkgo nuts (80 grams canned or vacuum-packed)

* Dried Tangerine Peels: Deciding the amount of dried tangerine peels to use depends on their age. For peels kept for more than 10 years, the colour is darker and stronger than the 3 to 4 years old peels.

^ Rock Sugar: Stir in and taste after the rock sugar melted. If it’s not sweet enough, add more. Rock sugar is lumps of crystallized sugar. It is not as sweet as granulated white sugar. It tastes milder and thus works well in savory dishes. You can substitute it with regular sugar if you have no rock sugar in your food cupboard.

Preparation Steps

  1. Wash and soak the red beans in water overnight (or for at least 8 hours).
  2. Cut the dried ends of the pandan leaves. Wash the leaves and tie them in a knot.
  3. Pre-cook the small sago / tapioca pearls for the red bean soup.
    • Rinse the sago with water. Boil a small pot of water and add the sago.
    • Simmer for 10 minutes, occassionally stirring the sago to prevent them from sticking to the pot or to one another.
    • Turn off the heat. Stir the sago and cover the pot with a lid for another 10 minutes or until the sago turns translucent.
    • Run the cooked sago through a fine sieve/strainer. Rinse the sago with water and sieve it out again. Set aside for later use.
  4. For the dried tangerine peels,
    • Soak in water for fifteen minutes or until fully hydrated.
    • Use a metal spoon and scrape off the pith (the inner lining), removing some of the bitter taste. Try not to put too many peels, otherwise the soup will still taste bitter.
    • Cut into small pieces so that the peels will disintegrate into the soup during the boiling process.


Before “Mashing”

  1. Drain the red beans from the soaking water.
  2. In a big cooking pot, add the red beans, 1.7L of water, dried tangerine peels, and pandan leaves.
  3. Bring to a boil, then simmer for over medium heat for about 1 hour (or until the beans are soft).
  4. Optional: Add lotus seeds/gingko nuts once you start to simmer.
  5. Stir the pot occassionally. Add hot water at any time when necessary.
  6. After an hour, or when beans are soft, discard the pandan leaves. And time to mash up some beans!

Mash the Red Beans

There are a few ways to mash up the red beansby blender, food processor or hands. I tried the blender method on a small batch but over blended it to become like red bean paste. So pulse carefully to make sure there are still whole beans in the soup. I decided to do the manual method in the end because I can control the consistency easily. It’s not as time consuming as it seems and one less piece of equipment to wash!

  1. Sieve the red beans through a seive/strainer.
  2. Mash about 80% of the beans with the back of a spoon, and keep the rest as they are. This way, you will have some whole beans in the soup. I mashed the beans while the beans are in the sieve.
  3. Put the mashed beans back into the red bean soup.
  4. Stir in rock sugar until it is dissolved. Discard any undissolved tangerine peels.
  5. Add the cooked sago prepared earlier into the red bean soup. (Another way is to add uncooked sago 20 minutes before the rock sugar.)
  6. If you want a thicker red bean soup
    • Turn off the heat and put on the lid. Let it sit for 30 minutes. The red beans will also disintegrate further.
    • Chill the soup overnight.
  7. Serve warmed or chilled.

Cooked and slurped? Let me know how it taste in the comments below!

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