A popular, refresher or confection in China and neighbouring Asian countries is called "grass jelly." One of the most common plants used to make grass jelly is Mesona chinensis, an herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae). The plants are boiled in water containing potassium carbonate. The juice is cooked filtered through cloth and then cooled where it solidifies to a gelatinous consistency. I can't remember if a gelling agent such as agar is added or not.
This jellylike material is cubed, mixed with water, syrup and flavourings and consumed as a refreshing drink. It is canned and sold in Asian markets as "grass jelly."

According to Cornucopia II by S. Facciola (Kampong Publications, 1998), boiled figs (syconia) from the Asian creeping fig (Ficus pumila) are also used for grass jelly. The figs are picked ripe and placed in a porous bag to squeeze out the juice. The juice is cooked and then cooled into a gelatinous consistency called "pai-liang-fen." The jellylike material is cubed, mixed with water, syrup and flavorings and consumed as a refreshing drink. It is canned and sold in Asian markets as "grass jelly" of "ai-yu jelly."
Friends in a village out of Siem Reap "Mango Tree in the Forest" have a moderate production of grass jelly and make 10's of litres at a time. They allow the jelly to solidify in 20 litre bowls or square tins. This then is taken to the Siem Reap City Market and cut into  cubed blocks as required. Generally it's restaurants and hotels that are the main consumers of the original product.

The dense shiny black jelly appears as extremely elegant and looks great on a dining table. The flavour is almost neutral. It has a very slight smokey background most probably due to the open fire used to boil the grass material. There is a freshness about it similar to a very light Chinese tea similar to Puer tea and it's extremely refreshing. I enjoy it chilled with shaved ice, sprinkled with a little palm sugar and coconut milk.

The jelly can be purchased world-wide in cans. There are a few options ranging from jelly grass drink where the jelly is dispersed in a light syrup to diced jelly suitable for serving as a refreshing dessert or appertif.



© Used with the kind permission of Parvita Siregar


How to serve Grass Jelly:

  • grass jelly cubes
    simple syrup

  • grass jelly cubes
    palm sugar
    coconut milk

  • grass jelly cubes
    Fresh mango or any number of tropical fruits.
    syrup

  • grass jelly cubes
    natural Maple syrup

  • grass jelly cubes syrup with ginger slices.

  • in a drink with sweetened iced-coffee. Small cubes

Generally served chilled from the fridge.