As sweetpotatoes and taros are in season and plentiful at the moment, I decided to buy some and experiment on the chewy balls or cubes which are a specialty of Taiwan. They are known as yuyuan (芋圓) which is made with taro, or diguayuan (地瓜圓 or 蕃薯圓) which is sweetpotato.
As I have never tasted the real thing myself, it was really a blind experiment for me to start with. These chewy balls are always described as having a ‘Q’ texture, a Chinese Hokkien term for bouncy texture. I assume the chewiness would be something similar to the chewy pearl balls served in bubble tea that was very popular a few years ago. However I have always queried about the texture of the bubble tea too, unless the only one time I tried it, I had a bad one and I didn’t like it at all. To me the texture of the chewy pearl balls was way too bouncy or rubbery to be described as ‘Q’. To me, ‘Q’ texture is one that is soft and bouncy but still very easy to chew in half such as the texture of a firm agar-agar jelly. However those pearl balls were such that I don’t think they can be referred to as ‘Q’ texture anymore, more like rubbery. I would say they went way over the ‘Q’ factor and into the chewy, ‘jun’ territory. ‘Jun’ (韌) is a Chinese Hokkien term which means so bouncy that it is extremely hard to chew in half, imagining trying to chew a small soft rubber ball, or a tough piece of beef. So is this the type of chewiness that the Taiwanese called very ‘QQ’ and really what the texture of the chewy cubes should be? I really don’t know, but I went ahead with the experiments anyway.
I started with the taro version first and using sweetpotato starch (also called sweetpotato flour) which is granular in texture.
I steamed the sliced taro for about 30 minutes until soft, then added quickly into the sweet potato starch in a mixing bowl. Then immediately mashed the taro into the starch, adding a little sugar to taste and formed into a dough. The dough was quite dry and just managed to form into a dough without any more water.
The purple taro dough.
The purple taro cubes before cooking.
Then rolled the dough into a long sausage, cut into cubes and tossed in more sweetpotato starch to prevent them sticking together. I then boiled the cubes until they floated to the surface. These taro balls were soft and slightly ‘Q’ in texture.
Next I tried the purple sweetpotato, doing the same thing as the taro version. This time the steamed purple sweetpotato was more juicy than the taro. So the dough was softer with more liquid content in the sweetpotato.
The purple sweetpotato dough.
The purple sweetpoatto cubes before cooking.
The result, the cubes were still soft but with a bit more bite to it, more ‘Q’ in texture.
For the orange sweetpotato version, I decided to try a different tact by using tapioca starch instead of the sweetpotato starch. I also didn’t add any sugar since I thought the orange sweetpotato was usually quite sweet in itself already. However, after steaming the sweetpotato, there was quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl and I added it all to the 40g tapioca starch. This excess liquid made the dough very sticky, so I had to add almost another 50 to 60g of the tapioca starch to just form it into a non-sticky dough. After cubing and boiling the cubes, they tasted way too bouncy and chewy. They were more ‘jun’ than ‘Q’ in my opinion. But I wondered if this was actually the texture these Taiwanese chewy balls should be after all. I also wondered if the change in the starch also affected the result.
All the three different types were softer when hot, but increase in chewiness when cooled. Personally I liked the purple sweetpotato version the best, soft and ‘Q’, chewy but still easy to bite through.
Makes approx. 1 cup cubes
100g peeled taro or sweetpotato, sliced
40g sweetpotato starch, or tapioca stach
1 tablespoon caster sugar, or to taste
1. Place the sliced taro or sweetpotato in a shallow bowl and put into a boiling steamer.
2. Steam for 20-30 minutes, or until soft.
3. Put the sweetpotato starch in a big mixing bowl.
4. When the taro or sweetpotato is cooked, remove from the steamer and immediately tip into the mixing bowl containing the starch
5. With a fork, immediately start mashing the taro or sweetpotato into the starch. Add sugar and knead until it forms into a dough. If the dough is too dry and crumbly and cannot form into a dough, add 1 to 2 tablespoons boiling water. If it is too sticky, add more starch.
6. Roll the dough out into a long sausage about 1cm in diameter. Use a knife to cut into 1cm thick cubes. Toss the cubes in extra sweetpotato starch to prevent sticking. Shake off extra starch and set aside.
7. Boil a pot of water. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the cubes. Stir immediately to prevent them sticking together.
8. When the cubes float to the surface, boil another minute, then drain. Serve hot or cold in syrup.
Taste: Chewy & bouncy
Consume: Serve hot or cold with syrup
Storage: Uncooked dough cubes can be frozen
Recipe Reference: ‘九份芋圓＆地瓜圓’ recipe by Taiwanese cookery teacher 蔡季芳 老師