Making a Unicorn Tear

(ユニコーンの涙)

I first came across a peculiar Japanese food called “Mizu shingen mochi” via some blog I follow sporadically about a year ago. It looked like a giant droplet of water served with a black sugar syrup (kuromitsu) and roasted soybean flour (kinako).

I was curious about it and filed it away at the back of my mind as “something to check out when I get time/go to Japan”; Shingen mochi is a trademark, made by the Kinseiken Seika Company in the Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan. Shingen mochi is a type of rice cake and Mizu shingen mochi is literally a “water cake”.


original Mizu shingen mochi from the Kinseiken Seika Company

The descriptions of it were intriguing, the taste was like slightly sweet spring water — not surprising, since the company say they use Southern Japanese Alps water, somehow gelled into a fragile jelly like sweet that melts in about half an hour at room temperature.

Occasionally, when I get bored, I like to experiment in the kitchen and one day, I saw the Mizu shingen mochi on another blog and decided that I’d have a go at it. How hard could it be after all?

I’d also recently bought a Hakuto jelly from Minamoto Kitchoan in London and was blown away by it. So sweet and tasty. A read of the ingredients revealed that the gelling agents used for that were carageenan, xanthan gum and locust bean gum, all of which I could get my hands on. I went shopping and came back with a packet of agar (a staple of Japanese jelly making), carageenan, xanthan gum, locust bean gum (in a sachet called “vege-gel”) and gelatine. I thought I’d try all of them and see which worked best.

Armed with the above ingredients, I started to make jelly. I followed the recommended amounts of gelling agents at first, and ended up with wobbly, but stiff jellies. The descriptions I’d read said that the Mizu shingen mochi felt like it would fall part if you shook it too much, so these certainly wouldn’t do. Try again…

Attempt 2 was with half the recommended amounts. Gelatine and vege-gel held together, but agar just didn’t solidify at all. Time for another go.

Attempt 3 was with slightly over half the recommended amounts. All 3 gelled up nicely, not too firm and not too loose. The taste tests were mixed though. Vege-gel tasted slightly dull, gelatine was bland, but agar preserved the ‘crispness’ of the water.

Attempt 3 using agar

I’d need to be careful though, as it was easy to trap air bubbles in the jelly and they did ruin the look of it somewhat. I also didn’t have any kuromitsu or kinako to hand, so I quickly knocked together a fruit reduction to serve with it.

Attempt 3 with a fruit reduction (aka the ‘I have a bad cold’ look)

The sauce did overpower the delicate water flavour of the jelly, but the entire experience was something quite unique — it literally melted back into water as soon as it hit my mouth. I left half of it on the kitchen counter as a “will it melt in half an hour” test.

Attempt 4 did away with the vege-gel and gelatine and concentrated purely on agar. I used spring water from the local shop (not having a mountain stream nearby, it was the best I could do), added a pinch of home made vanilla sugar, just over half the recommended amount of agar in stages to the water, stirred carefully to hopefully reduce the amount of trapped bubbles and then carefully decanted the mix into a half-sphere mould, which was then placed in an ice bath to gel.

After 20 minutes, a careful prod told me it was about set, so I transferred the mould to the fridge for a little while longer and waited impatiently. After another half hour, I took the mould out of the fridge and carefully decanted the jelly onto a wooden board.

Final version of the Mizu shingen mochi, which I call the Unicorn Tear (ユニコーンの涙)

The vanilla sugar gave it a pleasant sweetness, it melted into water as soon as it hit my tongue and the part I left as as “will it melt in half an hour like the original does” did indeed disappear into a puddle of water in about half an hour. I’d call that a success!

So, here is my recipe for making a Unicorn Tear (ユニコーンの涙)…

Ingredients:

  • 240ml Mineral water
  • 2½/3g Agar flakes (depending on water used)
  • a pinch of vanilla sugar

Method:

  • Add the water to a double boiler and sprinkle half the agar flakes on top.
  • Heat until boiling without stirring.
  • Add the rest of the agar gradually to prevent lumpiness.
  • Add the vanilla sugar.
  • Stir occasionally, trying not to introduce too many bubbles for around 5/10 minutes, until the agar has completely dissolved.
  • Pour into a half sphere mould and cool in an ice bath, then transfer to the fridge to set.