Injeolmi (인절미) is a variation of tteok or a Korean rice cake made from steamed and pounded glutinous rice flour, shaped into bite-sized pieces, and typically covered with cooked powdered dried beans or other elements.
The dessert is a representative sort of glutinous pounded tteok and has variations depending on what kind of gomul (something to coat the rice cake) is used. You can make gomul with sliced dried jujube or powdered dried sesame seeds, azuki beans, or soybeans. The subsidiary ingredients are mixed into the steamed rice as it’s being pounded on the anban or wooden pounding board. Kkaeinjeolmi and patinjeolmi are varieties of injeolmi, coated with sesame and azuki bean powder, respectively. Synurus deltoides and artemisia are added in surichwi injeolmi and ssuk injeolmi. In the summer, it’s better to use soybeans gomul since it’s prone to damage. Meanwhile, red beans gomul is used a lot during the fall, winter, and spring.
Not only is injeolmi a popular snack, but it’s also considered a high-quality rice cake used for janchi (feast, banquet, or party) in South Korea. This type of sticky, chewy rice cake is customarily served on the table at traditional Korean weddings. The snack is also one of the main wedding foods the bride offers to the groom’s family, wishing for the newlyweds to live closely and happily, just like how the sticky rice cakes are close to each other.
Injeolmi is nutritious and can be easily digested. You can store it inside the fridge and only take it out when needed. If you heat the tteok slightly in a microwave, it may taste almost the same as the newly made one. Office workers sometimes have injeolmi instead of bread or rice because they often have no appetite in the morning and can easily digest the rice cakes when pressed for time.
Injeolmi in History
The snack has even fascinated a king during King Injo’s reign, the 16th king of the Joseon Dynasty, from 1623 to 1649. A man named Yi Gwal surged in rebellion, leading the king to leave for Gongju from Hanyang, Seoul’s old name. King Injo was hungry on his arrival in Gongju. One of his servants offered him a bowl of rice cake that’s covered in soybean powder, which a commoner initially created. The king loved the soft yet chewy texture of the snack and its taste. He then asked the servant for the name of the dish, to which he answered that he doesn’t know the name of, but that it was originally made by someone with the surname of Im or Yim. So King Injo ordered for the food to be called “imjeolmi” (任絶味), meaning a “rice cake made by a person called Yim.” They later changed the name to this day’s injeolmi.
These days, you can see people trying to tteongme, meaning to pound a steamed rice cake mixture with a massive mallet-shaped stick (also called a tteongme) at traditional festivals. This spectacle can be seen pretty often at special folk events or just before traditional holidays. As a matter of fact, it’s said that the injeolmi that’s pounded with a tteongme mallet is much chewier and more delicious than a sticky rice cake beat with a jeolgu, a kitchen tool used in pounding rice cake dough.
How to Make Injeolmi
Make your own injeolmi at home by following this recipe:
- 300 grams / 3 cups powdered glutinous rice
- 3 grams / 3/4 teaspoons of salt
- 30-45 grams / 2-3 tablespoons water
- 20 grams yellow soybean powder
- 20 grams green soybean powder
- 2 kilograms / 10 cups water (for steaming)
- Add salt to the glutinous rice powder. Using a strainer, air the powder mix. Add water and mix thoroughly.
- Pour water in a streamer and cook it over high heat for approximately nine minutes. When it starts boiling, cover with a wet cotton cloth and add in the rice powder. Steam for 15 minutes.
- Start pounding the steamed mixture and continue for three minutes.
- Cut the pounded dough in half. Sprinkle yellow soybean powder over the first half of the mixture, and sprinkle green soybean powder over the second half.
- Shape each loaf of dough into a rectangular shape that’s around two centimeters thick. Cut each one into three by four-centimeter squares.
- Sprinkle more soybean powder over each of the rice cake squares.
The method of making injeolmi has a strong effect on the characteristics of the snack; whether the glutinous rice is Japonica/Indica or Japonica, and whether it’s steamed in rice powder or rice grain. The characteristics of the rice cake were investigated through the Instron Universal testing machine and sensory evaluation.
There are also various foods being released that use injeolmi. Restaurants have even created a patbingsu, or the famous Korean shaved ice dessert, using injeolmi as their toppings.