If this is the first time you have ever heard of this much loved Asian dessert, you’d probably think to yourself, grass and jelly - what an unlikely combination. In fact, when thinking about jelly flavours, I’d doubt that ‘’grass’’ would ever be one of the biggest mentions. So what is grass jelly? Is it really made from grass?
Well, to be precise, Herbal Grass Jelly, also known as cincau or thach suong sao is made from a certain plant called Mesona Chinensis, a member of the mint family. Harvested once a year during spring, the leaves are then left out to dry in sunlight to be boiled, much similar to black tea. During the process, corn starch or rice flour is added and stirred, giving the final product the jelly texture.
In Vietnam, locals to Cao Bang, the largest preserve of Mesona Chinesis in the country, have always used Herbal Grass Jelly as a snack to cure constipations and lower blood pressures. Some elders have also said it is the perfect food to cure a hangover. I’ve never personally had Grass Jelly after a wild Friday night out so I cannot confirm these statements, but with its cooling effect and chewy taste, it definitely makes a fun feast on a hot, sunny day.
Herbal Grass Jelly - A favourite childhood past time snack!
If you’ve ever travelled to street vendors in Vietnam or Taiwan, grass jelly is usually peddled into large cubes, and sellers will slice off how much you’re buying just like a piece of meat.
For me and many others who grew up with Vietnamese street food, Grass Jelly is often served with che or Vietnamese pudding. Mix some ice, red or black beans with some fruits and sugar water, then top with coconut milk, and you have the perfect after-school dessert. That was the definition of happiness.
Grass Jelly with mango, mixed with yoghurt and coconut milk. An instant nutritious snack in just 5 minutes or less.
In our neighbouring countries like Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia, Grass Jelly is also added into treats along with cendols, mango or tofu pudding. In countries like the US or the UK, Grass Jelly has also gained some popularity in recent years due to being one of the most common toppings for bubble milk tea.
The beauty of Grass Jelly is that it just works with everything: yogurt, soya milk, latte coffee. Just adding a few cubes of Grass Jelly will instantly make it better. Its minty, refreshing and not overly sweet taste will find its own ways to compliment your taste-buds, no matter how you choose to eat it.
Truly, a snack for anyone, anywhere and anytime!