Grass jelly is a dessert of Asian origin that is made from the mesona plant. The plant is often called Chinese mesona. The leaves are what is used to make the grass jelly. The grass jelly can be made from the fresh green leaves or dried brown mesona leaves.
The leaves are held on a vine from the plant, and blend in well with other plants in its natural habitat. The vine itself is hairy and the leaves are often shaped like curved triangles that resemble the spade symbol on a deck of cards.
The grass jelly is eaten as a dessert by itself, or placed in a drink to make a bubble tea beverage. It can be substituted one for one in the amount of grass jelly to tapioca pearls replacement.
Grass jelly usually comes in two types: there is black grass jelly and green grass jelly. Black grass jelly is made from dried mesona leaves. After the leaves are dried, they turn from a healthy green color to an earthy appearance of brown dried leaves. At this stage they look very similar to dried tea leaves. The black jelly is the one that is most common.
Green grass jelly comes from the same mesona leaves, but they are not dried. The leaves are freshly picked and made into green grass jelly from those fresh leaves.
Grass jelly can be bought from online sources, as it does come in a can usually if it is premade, or it can be purchased as a powder to be made independently. Cans of grass jelly and the powder can be found at Asian supermarkets. The grass jelly can also come in packets.
The grass jelly starts out as a liquid, then it cools down, thickens, and geletanizes, taking on the inverted shape of what ever it is cooled into. This is the reason why it can sometimes look different, because it was placed as a liquid first in its container before it was cooled. Grass jelly starts out as one big piece of jelly before it is sliced into the traditional squares or rectangles.
Even though grass jelly is called grass jelly (sometimes it is called leaf jelly, herb jelly or mesona), it does not contain gelatin. It is a vegan friendly dessert (most of them) made directly from a plant as stated. Grass jellies are also gluten-free. The main ingredients used to make grass jelly is the mesona leaves, water, cornstarch, and possibly sugar.
The grass jelly, whether it is served as a bubble tea drink or a dessert in a bowl, is served majority of the time in milk with ice and some type of sweetener mixed in the milk. The grass jelly is scooped out with a spoon as pieces, or cut into squares and served in the milk.
The most commonly used milk for grass jelly is coconut milk. Milk is placed in a bowl or cup (cup for bubble tea), and grass jelly cubes/rectangles are placed in the milk. Sweetened condensed milk is drizzled on top of the milk and grass jelly as a sweetener, then ice cubes are placed in the cup or bowl to keep the dessert chilled before it is served.
For bubble tea, sometimes the grass jelly is placed first, then the ice cubes, followed by the milk last to fill the cup.
For either the dessert or bubble tea drink, other sweeteners can be used instead of sweetened condensed milk. Plain water and sugar is used, or water mixed with syrup as well. Also, chopped fruits or vegetables are sometimes added in as an additional topping(s).
The appearance of grass jelly is gelatin-like, deep dark brown in color, but it is not very translucent. It looks very similar to jello, but more thick and dense in appearance.
The grass jelly from a distance can appear to be black without good lighting, and light reflects well off of the surface of grass jelly, which makes it look rich and appetizing to most individuals. The slight translucency of the grass jelly however, doesn’t allow reflections to be seen very clearly from its surface when light reflects off of it.
Some forms of grass jelly actually appears green in color, so they can be either green or black. The green grass jelly also isn’t very translucent, but the color of the green is usually very similar to the leaves that they come from. They are the usually plant green. As stated, the green grass jelly comes from fresh mesona leaves, which is why it appears green instead of black.
The texture of grass jelly is more smooth than jello, and it is also firmer than jello, just like it appears more dense. Some individuals trying grass jelly for the first time, describe it as having a more desirable texture than jello.
Unlike jello, grass jelly can be held and pressed with the fingers more firmly without it tearing as easily. Grass jelly is more flexible and durable.
The taste of grass jelly is described by many individuals as bitter. It is often compared to the bitterness of black tea, a very common tea used worldwide. In other words, grass jelly tastes like strong tea without sugar. Only the flavor isn’t as intense.
Grass jelly isn’t known for being a great tasting dessert without sweeteners, however, because of its flavor, this bitterness makes grass jelly taste very good in desserts when it is combined with sweeteners. Because grass jelly has similar qualities in flavor to unsweetened tea, then it can be treated as such when sweetening it for a dessert or drink.
Green grass jelly is said to be neutral in flavor without the bitter taste unlike the black grass jelly. This is because, they do not go through a heating process when making the grass jelly. Instead, green grass jelly has a more leafy flavor to them.
How Grass Jelly Is Made
Grass jelly is made by grinding Chinese mesona leaves in a container, then boiling the leaves to remove the essence that makes the grass jelly. Afterwards it cools, and thickens during the cooling process to grass jelly.
Here is the step-by-step process of how this is done:
Black Grass Jelly
- The dried mesona leaves are gathered and washed in water using a large bowl.
- The mesona leaves are left out to dry in the sun for a period of time to become dry. Other heating elements can be used to get similar effects.
- After this, the leaves are washed off with water.
- The leaves are transferred to a pot to be boiled.
- The pot is raised in temperature and the leaves are placed in the pot of water to boil.
- The essence for making the grass jelly is extracted from the leaves in the pot.
- The leaves are boiled at high heat and stirred constantly in the water.
- This causes the essence that makes the grass jelly to come out of the leaves and go into the boiling water. As it extracts, the water turns brown, then darker and darker. Eventually if done long enough, the water appears black.
- The essence is strained from the mesona leaves.
- A tea cloth is used to hold the cooked mesona leaves and the essence. Then it is strained into a new bowl or tray using the tea cloth. The tea cloth strainer prevents the leaves and its particles from getting into the strained essence.
- The leaves are squeezed in the cloth, and the liquid essence goes through the towel and into the bowl or tray to cool.
- After the essence cools, it becomes grass jelly.
- Once the essence cools in the tray or bowl it becomes grass jelly, which is then cut into sections to make squares or rectangles.
- Large square sections can also be cut out to go into a cutter, which can be pressed on the section of the slicer to form perfect smaller squares. They go through the checkered slicers and come out as perfect cubes after the are pressed through.
- Slicing the grass jelly into squares or small sections is the traditional way of serving and eating the grass jelly.
Green Grass Jelly
- Mesona leaves are taken from the picked mesona plant.
- When picking the leaves, the vine is sometimes taken too that the leaves are attached to.
- The leaves are either picked from the vines and washed, or simply altogether washed and prepared.
- The leaves are grinded in a bowl with water with a grinder, or done this way by hand.
- The leaves are grinded or crushed until they release their essence in the water. The water gradually turns into a rich green color the more they are crushed and grinded.
- The contents are strained out through squeezing using a tea cloth to extract the juices into a new tray or bowl.
- The contents cool at room temperature and turn into grass jelly.
- Afterwards the grass jelly cools and is cut into squares or rectangles to serve.
The essence for either method for the grass jelly is cooled at room temperature or it can be store in a refrigerator to turn into grass jelly.
For either type of grass jelly, the sliced chunk of jelly is sometimes placed in the palm of the hands and sliced further into smaller cubes for a boba drink or a dessert. We advise against doing that, as there is always a risk of cutting yourself. Safety first. Do not slice anything in the palm of your hands, do it on a clean surface with a cutting board.