Grass Jelly Ice Dessert

November 29, 2022
1 Ratings
Photo by Mandy Lee
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

I know that to most people, this looks very very strange. What is grass jelly ice, and who the hell is "Meet Fresh"? But believe me when I tell you that this is bona fide food porn to the 23 million Taiwanese people and that number is spreading. It is spreading fast. Grass jelly used to be a very common, low-brow summer dessert item in Asia, refreshing in its unique tea-like fIavor. But it was brought to national stardom when a company called "Meet Fresh" reinvented and turned it into a shaved ice dish that completely changed the fate of this humble ingredient. Look, this stuff is huge in Taiwan. It's not just a dessert there. It's its own freaking food group. And I'm obsessed. Therefore I'm delightfully surprised by Meet Fresh's franchise's recent massive international expansion to all major cities around the world, which had me believe that, hey, maybe other people get this stuff, too.

So, to "get it", you have to embrace the concept of Taiwanese ice dessert. It's not a standardized item. It is a highly customizable combination (that's why there's a huge array of different combos in Meet Fresh shops) of different flavors, temperatures, and above all, and I emphasize, textures. The classic, the OG, the one that put Meet Fresh on the map, and my own personal favorite combo is what we are making today. The ice, which in this case is made of grass jelly, paints a broad brush of refreshing background flavor that contrasts generously with the starchy-sweet taste of mashed taro. The toppings, which oftentimes make or break the dessert because it provides the quintesential "QQ" (something chewy) to the party, are made from kneading cooked taro and yam together with various starches, to create "balls" that bounce to the bites. Then last but not least, invented by Meet Fresh I believe, is a last dash of coffee creamer that miraculously brings all parties together into a merry-making circle of culinary kumbaya.

If you're Taiwanese living in a city where this God's messenger for happiness does not visit, you're welcome, and yes you can name your firstborn after me. If you're new to this concept of grass jelly ice dessert, well, you will either scratch your head in utter bafflement. Or, you're about to embark on a lifelong obsession that can single-handedly lift depression for 5 minutes straight. I say the possibility of the latter is worth giving it a try. —Mandy @ Lady and pups

Test Kitchen Notes

* For precision, I'm providing the weight of taro after peeling. I would say it's about one medium sized taro. Do not use mini taro. They won't work. Remember, this combination is the classic. But there are many different ones available in Meet Fresh shops. If you can't find taro, you can use ube/purple sweet potato to make the balls. But mashed ube/purple sweet potato is too overpowering in taste in my opinion. Sugar-braised red beans, peanuts, mung beans, barleys, tapioca boba, are all popular toppings.

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Grass Jelly Ice Dessert
  • Grass Jelly Ice
  • 2 530g cans unsweetened grass jelly
  • 2 cups (480g) water (use 1 1/2 cup if you want it extra concentrated but reduce the sugar and honey by 10%)
  • 2/3 cup (130g) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (85g) honey
  • Taro Balls & Mashed Taro
  • 2 pounds (900g) peeled taro, see note *
  • 3/4 cup (90g) tapioca starch
  • 3/4 cup (90g) cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons hot cooking water, plus more if needed
  • 1/2 cup (120g) half-half (50% heavy cream + 50% whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup (60g) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (55 grams) maple syrup
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • Yam or Sweet Potato Balls
  • 1 pound (450g) peeled yams or sweet potatoes
  • 3/4 cup (90g) tapioca starch
  • 3/4 cup (90g) cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup (60g) granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons hot cooking water, plus more if necessary
  • To Serve
  • 6 coffee creamer capsules
  1. Make the grass jelly ice. Place one can of grass jelly in a blender with water, dark brown sugar and honey. Blend on high for 1 minute until the mixture is extremely smooth. Transfer into a shallow and wide baking dish that would hold, plastic-wrap and chill in the freezer. Every two hours or so, rough up the mixture with a fork, until the whole thing is frozen into large and small solid chunks, about 6 to 8 hours. Leave in the freezer until whenever needed. Take the other grass jelly out of the can, and grate it through the finely-shredded side of your box grater. They would look like tiny thin noodles, which is the texture I like. You can also cut it into chunks in the size that you prefer. Leave in a zip-lock container in the fridge for up to two weeks until needed.
  2. Make the taro balls and mashed taro. Cut the peeled taro in quarter, then into ½-inch-thick slices. You can't boil the taro in water because they tend to disintegrate. Put them in the center of a larger cheese-cloth or towel and tie it to enclose. You can now either steam the pouch in a pressure-cooker for 10 minutes under pressure (let it depressurize naturally afterwards), or a normal steamer on high for 30 minutes, or microwave on high on a 3 minutes interval, turn and repeat. Either way, you want to cook them until you can insert and break off the taro with a fork completely effortlessly.
  3. While the taro is still hot, transfer 400 grams of it into a stand-mixer bowl. Add tapioca, cornstarch, sugar, and 6 tablespoons of the cooking water and knead until evenly combined. Check the dough, which should be soft and slightly tacky, and should be able to be squeezed in various shapes without any dry cracks and stick to your fingers just slightly. If it feels too dry, add 2 tablespoons more cooking water.
  4. Transfer ¼ of the dough onto a working surface and roll it into a long strip about ½-inch (7mm) thick. Cut the strip into quarter length, dust with more tapioca starch to prevent sticking, line them up, and cup them into ¾-inch (15mm) long nuggets. Toss them in more tapioca starch until lightly coated and repeat with the rest of the dough. Scatter the taro balls in a shallow baking dish and freeze until hardened. Afterwards, transfer into a zip-lock bag and keep frozen for up to 3 months until needed. Transfer the rest of the cooked taro into a large bowl, add half-half, light brown sugar, maple syrup and pinch of sea salt. You can either mash this with an immersion blender (my go-to), which will give you a sticky, gummy and almost chewy puree. Or you can use a normal potato masher, which will give you something closer to a mashed potato texture. This is totally personal preference. Transfer to an air-tight container and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week until needed. You cannot freeze this, it will turn the mash grainy and kinda watery.
  5. Make the yam/sweet potato balls. Cut the peeled yam into ½-inch slices. Transfer into a pot and fill it with cold water. Set on high heat and bring to a boil, and cook for about 15 minutes until you can effortlessly insert a fork into the flesh. Drain very well, and the rest of the instruction is exactly the same as taro balls. Bring a pot of water to boil. One serving of taro and yam balls is about ⅓ loose cup each. Add the amount you need into the boiling water, and once the balls start to float to the surface of the cooking water, cook for another 1 minute or so, or until they start to swell up. Meanwhile, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in 1½ cup of water to make a sugary water. Once the balls are cooked, rinse them under cold water to get rid of a little bit of the starchy surface, then drain and transfer into a bowl. Fill the balls with the sugary water until just submerged (this is to prevent it from sticking together). You can prepare this up to 2 hours ahead of serving.
  6. To Serve. The suggested ratio is this: 2 loose cups of grass jelly ice on the bottom, ¼ cup of shredded grass jelly on top, 1 ice cream scoop of mashed taro, 1 serving of taro and yam balls each. Then at last, a drizzle of coffee creamer. Devour immediately.

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2 Reviews

Catherine S. June 28, 2023
I love, love, love grass jelly and taro! I've never been to Taiwan, but this dessert looks super delicious. I will try to make this and see what flavor sensations await me.
Vikki S. December 9, 2022
This Signature Grass Jelly is my favorite dessert (not too sweet 😁). And taro balls were a childhood obsession of mine. I can’t wait to make it.