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Even if Jack and the Beanstalk is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, what adzuki beans can do for your skin isn’t. Otherwise, they won’t have been used by Japanese women for centuries, or would they? It was their method to cleanse and draw out any sebum or debris out of the pores leaving behind silky smooth and balanced skin.

Adzuki beans, photo by Sanjay Acharya

Other than that, not only are azuki beans a delicacy but they’re a rich source of low-fat protein, fibre, and several types of vitamin Bs as well as manganese and more.

A little bit about the ingredient

The azuki bean has a long history. It’s an ancient food, domesticated 4’000 years ago. It’s native to East Asia and the Himalayan region and is commonly eaten in Japan, China, Korea, and other Asian nations.

Adzuki is a transliteration of Japanese アズキ, although the pronunciation often sounds like “azuki”. The Japanese also have a Chinese loanword 小豆 for small bean – on a side note, the counterpart 大豆 or daizu is the soybean.

You’ll also hear other names such as azuki bean, aduki bean, red bean, red mung bean, or hongdou (红豆) in Chinese – and not xiaodou 小豆. If you want to find it in the formulation of a product, look for its scientific name Vigna angularis.

The adzuki bean is part of the botanical family Fabaceae. It’s related to soy, fenugreek, peas, and peanuts. This legume is an annual vine and cultivated for its small, about 5 mm long bean. The bean colour ranges from white to black. There are also mottled varieties, but it’s generally red with a white ridge along one side. That’s why the Chinese call it hongdou (红豆) – red bean, and also why it goes by the name red mung bean.

With a mildly nutty, sweet taste, firm and chewy texture, adzuki beans are often used in East Asian desserts and dumplings. For festivals, special holidays and occasions, rice is cooked with them (赤飯; sekihan). You can also find it commonly eaten sprouted or boiled in a tea-like drink.

Although it’s a highly nutritious bean and full of fibre, it has more protein but fewer calories than other legumes. It’s packed with countless essential nutrients such as the aforementioned proteins and fibre, but also healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, and minerals. They’re just as healthy as they’re tasty, in short, a super food.


Comprising of umpteenth proteins, vitamins, and minerals, adzuki beans may help in weight loss, optimise digestion, heart health, and contribute to growth and repair. Its nutrients include

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B9 (folate)
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc

It’s also a rich source of antioxidants like polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonoids, saponins, and tannins.

The secret to healthy and beautiful skin is to eat nutrients that activate your metabolism to encourage the regeneration of old tissues. Many parts of your body need protein – muscle, blood, skin, hair, and nails. So it’s key to include protein in your diet. The protein you eat will then be broken down into amino acids which your body will use as the building blocks to make all the proteins needed in your skin, muscles, and other tissues. Adzuki beans are ideal, for it’s a rich source of protein.

Further, the adzuki bean is also a good source of vitamin Bs, where vitamins B2 and B6 aid your body to regenerate cells such as for your skin, hair, and nails.

Traditional uses

To keep their skin smooth and pristine, Japanese women ground the adzuki beans into a powder and put it in a silk bag. They then moistened the bag with water and rubbed it on their skin. This created a creamy cleanser that would leave their skin glowing, tightened, and silky-smooth.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) valued the adzuki for their qualities in clearing and resolving damp-heat. Chinese Medicine practitioners use them to remove dampness, reduce swelling, eliminate toxins, and who would have guessed it clear skin.

What can the adzuki bean do for your skin?

Remember how the adzuki bean comprises countless essential nutrients such as vitamin B complex and antioxidants? These will deep-cleanse your skin and while at it, kill acne-causing bacteria and protect against damage from the sun and pollution.

Deep cleansing

The reason why Japanese women used adzuki beans to cleanse is because of the saponins found in them. Saponins come from Latin “sapon” (soap) and “in” (one of). Saponins are both soluble in water and oil. They’re surfactants, in that they can lower the surface tension between liquids which is why they have their foamy, soap qualities.

The adzuki beans will remove oil and dirt sitting on your skin. And then some: it can also go into your pores to draw out sebum, dirt, dead skin cells, and other impurities. And as if this is not enough, they can also zap bacteria that cause a breakout. And did I mention that they’re completely biodegradable?

Preventing oxidative stress

Containing manganese and other antioxidants, the adzuki bean can aid you to prevent a chain reaction caused by free radicals that can lead to damage to your cells.

As a short refresher free radicals can form when you’re exposed to the sun, pollution, or cigarette smoke. When you got too many red radicals in your body, they trigger a chain reaction that causes oxidative stress and then may damage your cells.

Antioxidants help prevent these chain reactions by donating an electron to the free radical. This renders the free radical harmless and they don’t turn into a free radical themselves. This breaks the chain which in turn means that they prevented the damage to cells. In terms of your skin, this means the damage that can be seen as wrinkles or age spots was prevented.

Evening out skin tone

If you’re contending with dark spots, you get a simple, healthy, and cost effective way to fade them. The adzuki bean contains vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide). It’s an ingredient loved by skin care buffs since it can do everything from controlling excess oil, large pores, dryness, brightening, and even repairing sun damaged skin.

Research has shown that vitamin B3 promotes healthy DNA repair, increases the rate of cellular reproduction, and reduces healing time.

Wrapping up

Many products formulated with adzuki beans include it as a powder-based physical exfoliating agent. Be sure to find a finely ground version, you don’t want to irritate your skin with something too coarse that might even cause micro-tears in your skin.

You can also go the DYI route and make your own cleanser or face packs. If your local grocers doesn’t stock adzuki beans, try your luck in an Asian supermarket. You should be able to find the whole beans and powder.

If you want to whip up some adzuki magic in your own kitchen, tell me in the comments below.

Edible Skin Care: Oil Control With Adzuki Beans

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