Guide to Chè Ba Mau

Chè ba màu is a Vietnamese dessert made with a combination of ice slush, bouncy jelly, soft beans, and topped with a layer of rich coconut sauce. Chè ba màu translates to “three-color dessert” in Vietnamese and is similar to chè Thái. It also shares some similarities with Filipino halo-halo. While this dessert is pretty easy to make, some steps need a bit of waiting, such as the pandan jelly and the mung bean layers. You can make all Chè ba màu’s layers ahead of time and mix them when you’re craving something sweet and refreshing.

This popular dessert is pronounced as “jeh-ba-mao” or “chey bah ma-oh.” Though, you can just simply call this Vietnamese dessert rainbow or three-color dessert.

Making Chè Ba Mau

What You’ll Need

Chè ba mau has got a few layers going, but it’s made with pretty simple ingredients. Aside from the beans, you’ll need coconut milk, sugar, agar-agar powder, pandan extract, salt, cornstarch or tapioca, and shaved ice.

The Yellow Layer – Mung Beans

To make this layer, you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup dried split mung beans
  • 4 3/4 cups water
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  1. Add the mung beans into the rice cooker and add water.
  2. Set it for the standard rice cooking time (or around 35 minutes).
  3. When the beans are done, mash the softened beans using a rice paddle and add sugar.
  4. Place in a container to cool before using in the dessert.

Mung beans are popular ingredients used in Asian desserts. To cook these, you need to soak them in water for at least four hours or overnight (recommended).

While most recipes call for cooking the beans in a pot or steaming them in soaking, you can rice cooker instead. Using this equipment is a hands-off method that can give predictable results. If you don’t own a rice cooker, you can try steaming the beans, as it’s more predictable than using the stove-top, and you won’t have to worry about heat and water ratios as much.

The Green Layer – Pandan Jelly

To make this layer, you’ll need:

  • 1 tbsp 100% agar-agar powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pandan extract
  • 2 cups water
  1. In a saucepan, pour the water a bring it to a boil.
  2. Mix in the sugar and agar-agar powder until dissolved.
  3. After about one minute of boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add in the pandan extract.

Consider using a glass container so you can easily move the jelly into the refrigerator to harden after it has cooled to the touch. The jelly should take around two to four hours to form; then, you can cut it into any shape you prefer.

Many Asian recipes use agar-agar powder in place of gelatin. The powder is made of seaweed, making it dairy-free and vegan—perfect for people with dietary restrictions.

When you’re using agar-agar powder, be sure to pick the pure agar-agar powder, as it will allow you to control the sweetness and firmness of the jelly independently. Some brands put sugar as a filler in the powder, which can affect the forming of jelly.

Red Bean Layer

To make this layer, you’ll need:

  • 1 can / 16.5 oz boiled red bean paste

You can use a store-bought can of boiled and sweetened red bean paste from your local Asian market. The sweetness level in the paste is perfect for making the dessert. However, if you prefer to make your own red bean paste, you can buy canned red kidney beans and soak the beans in sugar water. Or, you can also make yours from scratch using dried red beans.

The Coconut Sauce

To make this sauce, you’ll need:

  • 7 oz coconut cream
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch or tapioca starch
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  1. In a small saucepan, add coconut cream, salt, and sugar. Mix over medium heat.
  2. Add the cornstarch or tapioca starch and whisk thoroughly.
  3. Continue cooking for one to two minutes until slightly thickened to a pudding consistency.
  4. Remove the pan off the heat and cool.

Coconut sauce is an excellent addition to the Vietnamese three-color dessert because it gives the delicious three layers and shaved ice an extra creamy taste.

You could simply mix sugar with the coconut milk and use this as the coconut sauce, but slightly cooking it smooths out the graininess you get from the can.

The Ice and Assembly All the Layers

Refrigerate all the ingredients before you assemble the dessert to make sure all of them stay cold as you eat. You can use a high-powered blender to make crushed ice, or you an ice shaver.

Layer your chè ba màu by starting from the base: ice, coconut sauce, red bean paste, mung bean layer, pandan jelly, another layer of ice, and more coconut cream.

This Vietnamese dessert is a satisfying treat, best enjoyed while eating crispy fried spring rolls, slurping down phở noodles, or as a dessert after meals. Make sure to eat it as soon as possible before the ice begins to melt!