Bingsu, literally translated as shaved ice with toppings, is a refreshing summer treat that is super popular in Korea. While it may not be as well-known here in America, that doesn’t mean that it’s something to miss out on. The scorching heat on the east coast makes a perfect backdrop to cool down with some bingsu. Let’s learn more about it!
The most traditional version of Korean bingsu you will come across is known as pat bingsu. This variety has deep roots in Korean history since it goes all the way back to the Joseon Dynasty. In its original form, bingsu was essentially a pile of ice chips that was crushed into small crystals and mixed with sweet red beans. Although the beans are used as the main topping, milk is another layer added to the dessert to give it more flavor. The finishing touches for this type of Korean bingsu typically come in the form of nuts and seeds, much like you would add peanuts or walnuts to an ice cream sundae. But the most popular toppings for bingsu are called misutgaru (a mix of roasted rice and powdered grain) or large chunks of rice cake that are nice and chewy.
Modern bingsus have evolved to include many different types of toppings. For those who can’t eat red beans, fruit is another delicious option. When fruit bingsu is prepared, the fruit is either freshly cut and diced or is mixed with honey and syrup. Fruit extracts added directly into the mixture accentuate the fruity flavor, providing maximum refreshment. What types of fruit can you have on your fruit bingsu? Mangoes, strawberries, and even grapefruits are some of your choices.
Healthy bingsu is another variant worth trying. Toppings for this bingsu include pumpkin, jujube, and almond. A wider range of flavors appeal to different palates here, but something they all have in common is that they are intended to make the consumer feel better. Hanbang (medicinal herbs) is a bingsu concocted with gugja (wolfberry), odi (mulberry), fruits, nuts, and cinnamon powder. This type of bingsu greatly resembles a classic Korean tea called sujeonggwa, or cinnamon punch. Sweet potatoes are also often used for healthier bingsus, as the sweetness complements the sweetness of the whole dessert. Using purple sweet potatoes for bingsu is especially enjoyable because of the beautiful color that it gives to the overall presentation.
All sorts of unique bingsus can be found wherever you go in Korea, especially if you know where to look. One exotic flavor is caramel, while cacao integrates the robustness of chocolate. Dango is another type of rice cake often used on bingsu, although dango hails from Japan, so it is not likely to be the same as the rice cake used on pat bingsu. The main draw of these unique bingsus is not only how eye-catching they are, but how scrumptious they are too.
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