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Matcha Buns with Cheese

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Japanese pan or bread has a distinctive and complex chronicle, emerging eventually to develop into a crucial component of the Japanese diet. Japan’s flourishing “bread ethos” came with it many different varieties of exclusive, delightful, sweet or savoury breads in Japan. The well-loved Matcha Buns with red bean paste fillings is a popular and modern variation of Japanese bread or pan. For my gluten free Matcha Buns with Cheese recipe that gives soft and fluffy matcha buns, I have used vegan cheese as the bun fillings. I used My Life Bio Cheese (original or cheddar flavour), vegan cheese brand products made from coconut oil that can be purchased from both Coles and Woolworths in Australia. The pairing of matcha and cheese is a perfect flavour combination for these soft and fluffy buns. This recipe is not only gluten free, it is also vegan, dairy free, egg free, nut free, corn free and refined sugar free.

Matcha Buns with Cheese

The history of Japanese Bread Culture

Bread was introduced into Japan by Portuguese traders and missionaries in 1543. However, consumption of bread stopped when Japan famously closed its borders to foreigners in 1635 and became isolated from the rest of the world for more than two hundred years. During Japan’s swift industrialization in the Meiji era (1868-1912), there was an upsurge of westernization, and Japanese bakers started to bake bread for the foreign nationals who live in Japan but bread did not really become a local staple. It was not until the Opium War in 1840 that bread were manufactured in large amounts as handy battle food portion for soldiers. The culture of bread making and consumption took off after World War II due to food shortages. The Japanese modified the bread to local tastes and made them much softer than the Western versions and with their favourite desserts fillings for the buns. Bread became regular staples for snacks, breakfasts, tea breaks and standard school lunches. The term pan for bread in Japan was adapted from Portuguese pão.

The distinctive variety of Japanese snack bread began at the famous Kimuraya bakery in Tokyo in 1874. The founders were a former samurai named Kimura Yasubē and his son who started the bakery in 1869. Together, they created their celebrated Japanese anpan, a sweet red beans paste filled bread bun. As of today, the Kimuraya bakery is still located in Tokyo’s Ginza district and also has its own café, grill and restaurant onsite. The yeast from sake is used in making Japanese bread in place of traditional wheat providing Japanese bread with a unique taste.

Matcha Buns with Cheese
Matcha Buns with Cheese

Bread in Japan Today

In Japan, although rice is considered as part of its ethnic heritage, bread or pan is very much embraced as a crucial part of its national diet nowadays. In 2011, Japanese consumption of bread exceeded rice and has raised many eye brows in Japan. There are currently more than 10,000 Japanese bread shop or or panya-san in the country alone.  Today, Japanese bakery shelves are packed with a wide variety of soft buns, from the sweet classic anpan and square white bread called shokupan to chocolate croissants, strawberry danish, creamy muffins, akin to cupcake delights to savoury bread like cheese bread, curry pan (karepan), thick mayonnaise sandwiches, sausage pan (soseiji pan) and the foremost Tonkatsu sando, a pork sandwich with deep-fried crumbed pork cutlet on two slices of square white bread with some mustard. Other popular bread buns are the oval shape or leaf shape Jam pan; cream pan, a bun filled with smooth custard cream; melon pan created by coating a standard sweet bun with cookie dough and then baked, resulting in a crispy and sugary top with zigzag pattern that looks like cantaloupe skin and a soft interior bun; cornet (corune), a sweet roll with a unique cone shape filled most commonly with whipped cream, custard or chocolate; shu kurimu (choux cream), or Japanese cream puffs, a favourite French dessert and yakisoba pan essentially just a hot dog bun with fried yakisoba noodles mixed inside the bun. Some specialty bread shops also sell fantastic bagels and German-style brown and nut breads.

Japanese bread culture has achieved success overseas, especially to nearby Asian countries for a long time. Many Japanese style bread shops have also made its way to numerous Western countries especially in Chinatown for many years. Japan has quite a number of world-class bakers, and many potential bread makers from Asia will study Japanese baking techniques in Japan instead of travelling further away to countries like Europe.

With so many soft Japanese buns available, I will be posting more gluten free version of soft Japanese and Asian bakery buns in the future.

Matcha Buns with Cheese

Food Intolerance and Allergy in Japan

The snowballing of food allergy and gluten intolerance worldwide is rising, particularly in developed nations and Japan is not an exception. As the consumption of wheat increases, wheat allergy and gluten intolerance have also become more prevalent in the Japanese population. The most common types of food allergy for children in Japan are egg, dairy milk and wheat. Growing trends of food allergy in other food items are fruits, peanuts and sesame. The top 7 food allergens in Japan are: crab, prawns, wheat, buckwheat, eggs, dairy milk and peanuts.

Why are GMO crops so problematic?

Modern wheat that are genetically modified at present are creating more problems for both human intake as well as animal consumption. Genetically modified organism (GMO) crops like wheat, corn, soybean, canola, cotton, sugar beet and alfalfa seeds, have all been modified to be glyphosate-resistant (regulary called Roundup Ready – seeds have been genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup, a popular herbicide manufactured by Monsanto). Equally, organic wheat fields have likewise been contaminated with Monsanto’s GMO seeds dispersed from other farmers’ fields. As Japan is extremely worried about the potential health risks caused by these GMO wheat, steps are taken to stop the supply of wheat from the United States. Reference: Connealy, L. E. (2013). Why the rise in gluten allergies & celiac. HumanEventsHealth.com.

Matcha Buns with Cheese

Gluten Free Bread Shops and Bakeries in Japan

As there are an increasing number of Japanese with food allergies especially wheat and also gluten intolerance, there are now a small number of gluten free specialty bakeries in Japan that make gluten free pure rice flour bread made from 100% gluten free domestic Japanese rice flour from Niigata and Kumamoto. These type of domestic Japanese rice flour is the secret to Japanese soft and fluffy rice breads, not the ordinary rice flour that we purchase from the supermarket and Asian groceries stores. Other desserts available in these gluten free bakeries are rice flour cookies, muffins and Chiffon cakes with a wide range of flavours like cocoa powder and chocolate, Earl Gray tea, strawberry and matcha and even mocha (chocolate and coffee). Two well-liked specialty gluten free bakeries popular in Tokyo, Japan are Beicon and Komehiro offering a range of gluten free and allergy friendly pure rice flour bread free from wheat, eggs and milk. In addition, Otaco Sweets is a rice flour chiffon cake specialty store that is also a 100% gluten free bakery in Tokyo.

For history, nutritional values and health benefits of Matcha (green tea) powder, check out my post Vegan Matcha Buns with Raspberry Jam.

Matcha Buns with Cheese

Disclosure Statement: I am NOT paid by Laucke Easy Bakers or My Life Bio Cheese for this post!

Matcha Buns with Cheese
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2 Responses

  1. Amy Chung
    | Reply

    My daughter is a matcha fanatic. I’m amazed she didn’t turn green in Japan! LOL! I’m going to give this recipe a go. And yes, GMO crops scare the crap out of me. Its no wonder allergies have gone through the roof.

    • daphnegoh
      | Reply

      I love matcha too! Its not only very versatile in culinary uses, it is also packed full of nutritions.

      Yes, GMO crops like wheat, corn, soybeans etc, are not really what they used to be, loaded with chemicals and leading to rapid rise in food allergies and food intolerances.

      Hope both you and your daughter enjoy the recipe! :)

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