My earliest memory of grass jelly is from my Cantonese neighbor who lived above us way back when I lived in Shanghai. We all called her Ah–Mou, a respectful way to address an elderly woman in Cantonese.
I still remember what she looked like, and the stainless steel plates of varying sizes that she used to serve food on. She always had a game of majiang going in her tight quarters on the third floor, furthest away from the listening ears (as majiang was banned in those days). My grandmother was one of her game buddies, so I observed many of those “illegal” games up close.
A-mou loved grass jelly and had it often with sugar water in the summertime. As a child, I didn’t see the appeal of those dark brown jelly cubes, beyond the sugary water they came in. Today, though, it’s growing on me!
What Is Grass Jelly Made Of?
Grass jelly is made by boiling a plant called Chinese mesona along with starch and potassium carbonate (the same alkaline substance used to make alkaline noodles and jianshui zong).
Grass jelly is mostly tasteless, with a slight hint of bitterness and the texture of jello. People often cook their own grass jelly in China, or they make it from a powder that also requires cooking.
It comes in a can, much like cranberry sauce.
Simply open the can, use a butter knife to loose it from the edges, and pop it out. Then you can slice and dice the jelly into whatever shapes/sizes you like. It can be added to bubble tea, as well as some of the Asian desserts we’ve posted, like our Coconut Tapioca Dessert.
As it turns out, grass jelly might be a health food. Some say its health benefits include detoxification, weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and aiding those with kidney disease and arthritis. It is also a “cooling” food, meaning it expels excessive heat or “yang” in your body, according to Chinese medicine.
That’s why it’s usually eaten on hot days across Asia. Despite all that, it’s most often seen in sugary drinks and Asian desserts, so who knows how healthy it really is!
Grass Jelly Dessert Recipe
The grass jelly dessert we assembled for the photographs in this post includes:
- Cubed grass jelly
- A mixture of sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, and regular milk, like in our Mango Black Sticky Rice Dessert
- Cooked tapioca pearls
- Diced mango
- Green tea ice cream (optional)
We simply cubed the grass jelly and mango…
And mixed coconut milk with some regular milk and sweetened condensed milk to taste. (You could also use all coconut milk and omit the regular milk, if you prefer a stronger coconut flavor.)
And added the milk mixture to a bowl, topping it with the grass jelly, mango, tapioca pearls, and a scoop of green tea ice cream.
But you can create a grass jelly dessert from whatever ingredients you like, based on your own personal preferences and diet. That said, this recipe is more of a set of guidelines for you to create your own version.
You can’t really go wrong with any of these ratios or combinations, so look into your refrigerator and pantry, and build your own grass jelly dessert creation!
- grass jelly (cubed, sliced, or shredded)
- Regular milk, coconut milk or oat milk mixed with sweetened condensed milk to taste
- Sweetened coconut milk (dairy-free)
- Cold coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk
- Milk tea
- Simple syrup
- Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Dragon Fruit
- Soft boiled shelled peanuts
- Boiled lotus seeds
- Cooked red bean or mung bean
- Boiled taro
- Boiled yam/sweet potato
- Tapioca pearls
- Sweet rice balls
- Black sticky rice
- Ice cream
- Maple Syrup
- Crushed ice (not recommended by Traditional Chinese Medicine, but very refreshing)
Or whatever else you can dream up! Enjoy!