Yeah, me too, Pompompurin…that’s the kind of look I get when I’m about to have some silky custard for dessert (or for breakfast…).
Purin (プリン) is a chilled egg-custard dessert topped with caramelised sugar. It’s basically the Japanese version of French crème caramel, or Mexican/Spanish flan. Like most youshoku (洋食) purin was introduced after WWII, during the westernisation of Japan. Egg consumption was encouraged by the Japanese government as it was a high protein food, which was thought to help promote health and growth. It was also an ingredient linked to wealth and moving up the social and economic ladder. For those that lived through the war and food shortages, being able to eat an egg-rich dish like purin, on top of being able to eat sugar-rich food, must have been a treasured moment. Purin‘s silky smooth texture, eggy vanilla flavour, and caramelised sugar crown makes it popular with children and adults alike. And with it only requiring a few ingredients to make, along with the ease of making it, it’s little surprise purin is a comfort dessert for many Japanese.
Purin…? But It Has Eggs!
The name purin (プリン) is an abbreviation of pudingu (プディング) – pudding. But since it’s more like a crème caramel, I wondered why they named it purin, as opposed to something like kuremu karameru. And here’s where I go off the Japanese trail a bit and explore “pudding” as it’s interpreted in various places around the world.
The word “pudding” comes from the Latin word “botellus”, meaning “sausage” or “small intestine”. It then changed to “boudin” in French to refer to a sausage made with blood, which the English called “black pudding”. Say “pudding” and “boudin” [boo-dan] one after the other – they do sound similar.
Now I’ve lived in America and now Australia, so “pudding” was always a specific dessert for me – namely one with lots of carbs and a lovely sauce, like a bread and butter pudding, or a sticky date pudding…or a sticky date bread and butter pudding with lashings of caramel sauc– *ahem* ANYWAY! But in the UK and Ireland, “pudding” refer to certain sweet AND savoury foods (think Yorkshire pudding). Originally, the word “pudding” was used to describe food made with a pudding bowl, and thus had that rounded, flat-bottomed shape. The first puddings were made by mixing ingredients with a grain product, or other binding agent (such as suet, egg, or butter), and then either baking, steaming or boiling. This resulted in heavy and dense puddings, like Christmas pudding. Later on newer types of pudding were developed. These did not have copious amounts of wheat, grain, or similar (if at all), and used milk, sugar, and a thickening agent (eg: egg, gelatin, cornstarch). Instead of using the harsher cooking methods of their predecessors, these puddings were set by refrigeration, gentle steaming, or baking in a bain-marie. They were typically sweet and served chilled.
Nowadays, if you hear or see the word “pudding” in the UK and Ireland, it generally refers to sweets, or the sweets course (aka: dessert/ dessert course), unless it is qualified. The word “dessert” does also exist there, and if we want to get down to the nitty-gritty, “pudding” generally refers to sweets that are considered more rustic, heafty, and hearty. A major ingredient is a form of carbohydrate, and they are often baked. They are desserts you’d expect at home. “Dessert” refers to sweets that are more dainty and sophisticated; something you’d order at a restaurant. And “desserts” are always sweet, never savoury.
Now hop on a plane to America and “pudding” refers to a specific dessert made from heating milk and sugar on the stovetop with cornstarch (or similar) to thicken it. It is then left in the fridge to thicken. It looks like dense, shiny chocolate mousse (as chocolate is the most popular flavour for American-style pudding). For those Down Under, it’s similar to a very thick, very spoonable custard sauce…except without the egg. American-style pudding contains no egg. (…Okay purin…you got some ‘splainin’ to do…). In this sense, it would be an American version of the French blancmange – an eggless milky dessert set with cornstarch and usually almond flavoured.
In that case, it’s most likely that purin derived its name from the aforementioned “newer” types of puddings, now called “custards”. “Custard” is the name for the class of desserts made from egg and milk/cream, but it can also be a dessert dish in itself. In parts of Europe, and Australia, “custard” generally refers to a custard sauce – thickish, but still able to be easily poured. In America, “custard” is pudding’s eggy cousin. You can eat it with a spoon – definitely not a sauce. “Custard” as a class name includes: crème caramel, flan, crème bruleé, pots de crème, and pannacotta.
TL;DR: the name purin most likely comes from the second wave of desserts called “puddings” (in the UK/Ireland) which are made with egg, milk/cream, and gentle cooking processes, of which includes crème caramel.
Your Purin vs. My Purin
There are three kinds of purin in Japan:
- Yaki-purin (焼きプリン): cooked in a bain-marie in the oven
- Mushi-purin (蒸しプリン): steamed in a saucepan on the stovetop
- Purin (プリン): mixed with gelatin and set in the refrigerator
Purin is made in homes all over Japan, but mass-produced purin is always the gelatin kind; thus people usually refer to all three as simply purin. Even though purin is translated as “pudding”, purin ONLY refers to the eggy crème caramel dessert. Other puddings exist in Japan, and they are always prefixed with their main ingredient.
- Maccha-purin (抹茶プリン): matcha (green tea) pudding
- Miruku-purin (ミルクプリン): milk pudding
- Toufu-purin (豆腐プリン): tofu pudding
So sometimes you’ll hear purin being referred to as kasutaado purin (カスタードプリン) – custard pudding – especially if someone wants to draw a contrast between purin and another flavour of pudding dessert.
Purin: Setting World Records (among other things)
Purin really is popular in Japan. You can get purin flavoured snacks and confectionary, and Sanrio has a purin-based character called Pompompurin. Pompompurin is a pudgy golden retriever with a signature brown beret. He loves milk, crème caramel, and anything soft. You’ll also see purin in many manga and anime, particularly cooking-based ones. The anime Yumeiro Patisserie has a whole episode based on purin.
Mass-produced purin are a big hit and the most successful brand is “Pucchin Purin” from the Glico company. It was introduced in 1972 and by 2012 they sold more than 5.1 billion units, making it into the Guinness World Records. A lot of their success lies within their unique packaging. Back when purin was first introduced into the Japanese market, it wasn’t unusual for somebody to be having trouble getting their purin to invert onto a plate without ruining its integrity. Glico solved this by putting a tab on the bottom of their containers. When you click the tab down, it makes a “pucchin” noise and introduces air into the container. This breaks the vacuum seal and the purin slides effortlessly onto the plate, intact.
Are you craving a bit of eggy goodness now? Luckily purin is quite simple and quick to make, especially if you’re making mushi-purin, the steamed version. I made mine in about half an hour, as a little break from my studies. Just One Cookbook has a recipe for purin and mushi-purin. Or if you learn by seeing, Cooking with Dog has a video recipe for mushi-purin. With a bit of cream and some fruit, it’s perfect for a dinner party!
(Or a midnight snack…ぱくぱく).
- 蒸す [むす] (transitive verb): to steam (food, towel, etc.)
- 蒸かす [ふかす] (transitive verb): to steam food
- 蒸らす [むらす] (transitive verb): to cook by steam
- ゼラチン (noun): gelatin
- バニラエッセンス (noun): vanilla essence
- ぱくぱく (onomatopoeia): eating heartily
- ふわふわ (onomatopoeia): soft; fluffy; spongy
Bowman, B n.d., ‘Flan’, Gourmet Sleuth, viewed 15 September 2017, <http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/flan#section0>.
Chang, J 1998, ‘A Trio of Silky Custards’, Fine Cooking, no. 25, viewed as webpage on 15 September 2017, < http://www.finecooking.com/article/a-trio-of-silky-custards>.
Chen, N 2016, ‘Pudding プリン’, Just One Cookbook, blog, 10 September, viewed 15 September 2017, <https://www.justonecookbook.com/pudding/>.
Foster, K 2015, ‘What’s the Difference Between Pudding and Mousse?’, Kitchn, blog, 23 March, viewed 15 September 2017, < http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-mousse-and-pudding-word-of-mouth-216998>.
Lemm, E 2017, ‘What is the Difference Between Pudding and Dessert’, The Spruce, 4 April, viewed 15 September 2017, < https://www.thespruce.com/difference-between-pudding-and-dessert-435332>.
Wilson, D 2014, ‘Creamy Deserts: pots de crème, panna cottas, custards, and puddings’, Bakepedia, 2 April, viewed 15 September 2017, < https://www.bakepedia.com/tipsandtricks/creamy-desserts-pots-de-creme-panna-cottas-custards-and-puddings/>.
Ref 2: http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/396703/Hairy-Bikers–Yorkshire-pudding
Ref 3: https://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/6689-creamy-chocolate-pudding
Ref 4: http://getnavi.jp/cuisine/79393/