Is Bingsu Healthy? (Nutritional Value and History)

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Everyone loves dessert, and with Koreans’ infamous sweet tooth, they have several of their own versions. Bingsu is a fan favorite throughout the country. 

This soft-shaved ice comes with things like sweetened condensed milk, fruit, red bean paste, fruit syrup, and rice cakes. There are many other varieties too.

But, is bingsu healthy? Actually, it can be, but it depends on what comes with it. If it’s just shaved ice with some chopped fruit, then it’s the healthiest thing. 

Alternatively, if there’s any amount of syrup or whipped cream, then it’s going to lean toward the unhealthy side due to all the sugar.

Let’s dive deeper.

Bingsu, Its History & Ingredients

Bingsu has great popularity throughout the Asian world, not only in Korea but also in China and Japan. 

There are many varieties of Bingsu, but all of them have one thing in common: shaved ice. This is an excellent summer treat, which is perfect for sweltering hot and humid summer days.

Bingsu During the Joseon Period

In Korea, the most common type is Pat-Bingsu, which refers to using red bean paste. There are records of bingsu that go as far back as Joseon Period (1392 to 1897 AD). 

During this time, the shaved ice came with two or three toppings. This was almost always red bean paste along with rice cakes and powder.

Modern Bingsu

The most modern versions of bingsu in Korea today started at Seoul’s oldest bakery, the Taegeukdang in 1946. 

After the Korean War and additional exposure to the West, more items came as topping options. This included things like whipped cream, cereal, syrup, or even ice cream.

Today, most Korean bingsu do not follow the traditional versions. Therefore, you’ll see just about anything and everything that could pair well with shaved ice. 

Koreans will add coffee, green tea, yogurt, chocolate, condensed milk, syrup, and so many others.

Nutritional Value of Bingsu

Because the base of bingsu is shaved ice, the nutritional value of one can range greatly, and this is because of the toppings. 

For a typical serving, which is somewhere around 1⅓ Cup (320 grams), the calories can be 300 or as much as 900 or more.

However, for the average and typical pat-bingsu, it’s about 397 calories with 62 grams of carbs and 48 grams of sugar along with eight grams of protein. 

So, due to the sheer sweetness associated with one serving, regardless of the variety, the high sugar content should put healthy eaters on alert.

Staying Healthy with Bingsu

Therefore, if you really want to try one of these and stay within the confines of being healthy, order it with just fruit. Skip any syrup, chocolate, or any other high-sugar toppings. 

Go for things like green tea or coffee with the least amount of sugar possible.

Unfortunately, you will not be able to avoid the sweetened condensed milk part of the dish. This blends into the shaved ice and is part of it. 

In the event you find it at a restaurant, you will not be able to skip it during ordering. 

Another downer to the ingredients is that anyone with diabetes or lactose intolerance will not be able to eat bingsu. 

That is, of course, you make it at home yourself.

Nutritional Value of Bingsu

The following recipe is the classic Korean way to make pat-bingsu. After reading the recipe and the method of making it, you can adjust the ingredients to suit any dietary requirement.

Items You’ll Need

  • Ice Shaver (Manual or Electric)
  • 2 Large Mixing Bowls
  • 2 Serving Bowls
  • Spoons for Mixing & Serving
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife

Ingredients

  • 6 Cups Ice
  • ½ Cup Rice Cakes (diced)
  • 2 Fruits of Your Choice of 4 oz each (Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry, Mango, Passion Fruit and etc)
  • 1 Additional Small & Soft Fruit of Your Choice (Kiwi, Plum, Peach, Apricot and etc)
  • ½ Cup of Berries (Any kind will do)
  • 12 oz Condensed Milk (sweetened)
  • Fruit, Vanilla, or Chocolate Syrup (optional – enough for drizzling)
  • Whipped Cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Read the instructions for your particular ice shaver.
  2. Chop the rice cakes and keep them in a separate bowl off to the side.
  3. Prepare the fruit part of the toppings by chopping and blending them together, ensuring to keep all seeds and discarding any rinds.
  4. In the two serving bowls, divide the red bean paste and put it on the bottom.
  5. In your ice shaver, pour in the ice and blend with the sweetened condensed milk. You may have to do this by hand if your ice shaver forbids adding anything other than ice.
  6. Divide the milky shaved ice between the two serving bowls and top with your fruit mixture.
  7. Finally, drizzle your syrup over the fruit and top with whipped cream (if using syrup and whipped cream).

Notes

What’s great about bingsu is that you can change, adjust and rearrange the ingredients to suit your diet. 

For those who have diabetes, instead of sweetened condensed milk, use green tea or yogurt sweetened with honey. You can also opt to skip the red bean paste and rice cakes.

In the event you want to lose weight, avoid using syrup, whipped cream, and red bean paste. 

You can also make the portions smaller to keep the calorie count down.

Conclusion

Bingsu can be a healthy dessert that’s absolutely perfect on a hot summer’s day. But, its healthiness is in what you choose to have for the toppings. 

For more sensible eating, only get fruit and skip any extra sugars. If you do this, you’ll keep things light, healthy, and well-balanced. When in doubt, make it at home.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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