What is Yokan? And Why Are Runners Using it as Energy Gel Alternative?

Yokan is a traditional, jello-like dessert widely popular in Japan. Its primary ingredients are red bean paste, agar (a “vegan gelatin” extracted from seaweed), and sugar. Sports nutrition makers in Japan have reimagined this classic snack with enhanced nutritional profiles and packaging to make it ideal as a mid-race fuel.

What is yokan?

Yokan is a traditional, jello-like dessert widely popular in Japan. Its primary ingredients are red bean paste, agar (a “vegan gelatin” extracted from seaweed), and sugar.

There are two types of yokan – neri yokan and mizu yokan. Their main difference is the water content. Mizu means water in Japanese, and therefore, mizu yokan has higher water content and is more similar to jello in texture. Neri yokan is drier and more paste-like.

So why are runners eating yokan as an energy gel alternative?

Here is the nutritional profile of conventional yokan per oz or 28 g.

It’s fairly energy-packed with 37 calories and 8.6 g of carbohydrates, of which 7 g are from sugars. It also contains some micro-nutrients such as electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins.

Yokan’s texture is ideal for consumption on the move. Its form and consistency stay the same in both high and low temperatures. Flavor preference is subjective, but most endurance athletes should find yokan delightful and a nice change of pace from the typical energy gels and energy chews we use.

What is Imuraya Sports Yokan? A dessert snack elevated for endurance athletics

Several Japanese manufacturers of sports nutrition have redesigned this traditional snack to specifically cater to fueling during endurance sports. One of the most popular is Imuraya Sports Yokan, a product we have used frequently.

Imuraya Sports Yokan nutritional facts and ingredients

It comes in two sizes – 38 g and 18 g packs. Let’s use the smaller version as reference (amounts for the 38 g version are slightly more than double).

At 18 g, Imuraya Sports Yukan provides 51 calories, 11.9 g of carbohydrates, and modest amounts of four electrolytes. It’s not super nutritionally packed but is on par with most energy gels on the market.

  • Energy: 51 calories
  • Protein: 0.6 g
  • Fats: 0.1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 11.9 g
  • Salt equivalent: 0.06 g
  • Potassium: 4 mg
  • Magnesium: 3 mg
  • Calcium: 6 mg

Ingredients: maltodextrin, raw adzuki bean (red beans), sugar, paratinnorth (isomaltulose), agar, and salt.


Imuraya Sports Yokan taste and consistency

It’s difficult to describe the flavor to people who have never had red bean-based desserts and soups. Imuraya Sports Yokan tastes like red beans in jello form (I know, not much help here) since it’s indeed a red bean-flavored jello. You just have to trust me that this sweet and mildly savory flavor is pretty decent.

Since yokan uses agar to replace gelatin, this product is vegan-friendly.

Imuraya Sports Yokan is closer to energy chews regarding texture but much less chewy due to its jello-like consistency.


Excellent packaging of Imuraya Sports Yokan

The 18 g version is compact at 9 cm x 3.5 cm. You can eat it using just one hand. Simply squeeze down where the “push” is to get the yokan to pop out from the top. This unique design takes yokan to the next level as an on-the-go sports nutrition.

It’s available on amazon if you’re interested in learning more and giving it a try.

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