Yaksik is a popular rice cake that’s made with sweet rice (aka glutinous rice), dried fruits and nuts. It’s easy to make with your Instant Pot or electric rice cooker.
What is yaksik?
Yaksik (약식) is a type of rice cake that’s made with sweet rice (aka glutinous rice) as well as nuts and dried fruit such as chestnuts, jujubes (daechu, 대추), and pine nuts (jat, 잣). It’s a delicious dessert or snack that’s healthy and filling! I love it as a breakfast with a cup of coffee.
This brown color rice cake is also served on traditional holidays and special occasions, especially on Jeongwol Daeboreum (the first full moon of the Lunar New Year).
According to a legend, the origin of this dish traces back 1500 years to King Soji of Silla Kingdom, who was led by a crow, while on an outing, to a place where he met an old man. The king was saved from an assassination plot thanks to the crow and the letter he obtained from the man through the crow’s help. The king set the Jeongwol Daeboreum each year as a day to pay thanks to the crow with a ritual offering of chalbap (찰밥), cooked sweet rice.
The literal translation of yaksik means “medicinal food” due to the traditional addition of honey. In traditional Korean cuisine, honey was commonly referred to as medicine or “yak”(약) for its health benefits. This rice cake is also called yakbap (약밥), which literally means “medicinal rice.”
Yaksik is sweet and nutty with a hint of a caramel-like taste. It has a sticky, chewy texture with a bit of textural contrasts from the nuts and jujubes. When properly made, each grain of rice should be intact and not mushy.
What is sweet rice (or glutinous rice)?
Called chapssal (찹쌀) in Korean, sweet rice (aka glutinous rice) is a type of rice that’s especially sticky and chewy when cooked. Korean sweet rice is short-grain sweet rice and used for various savory and sweet dishes. It’s gluten free! The name “glutinous rice” actually comes from its gluey texture, not from gluten.
What’s in Korean sweet rice dessert?
Chestnuts (bam, 밤) and dried jujubes (daechu, 대추) are the two most traditional ingredients in yaksik. Pine nuts are also classic. These days, other nuts, seeds and dried fruits, such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins, craisins, etc., are also used. Dried apricots and persimmons (gotgam, 곶감) are great options as well. Feel free to try different additions you like.
In Korea, fresh chestnuts are commonly used in yaksik because they are abundant and delicious. I conveniently use frozen chestnuts, which are simply fresh peeled chestnuts that are frozen. You can also use canned chestnuts. Korean canned chestnuts are typically cooked and sweetened.
The seasonings are basically soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, and sesame oil.
You might find soy sauce a bit strange in a sweet dessert dish, but it gives this rice cake a nice brown color and a hint of savory taste without overpowering.
These days, dark brown sugar is commonly used as a sweetener for its caramel-like flavor and color. I like to also add honey. Remember “honey” is where the name of the dish came from! You can simply use brown sugar if you like.
I also use the jujube seeds to make jujube flavored water to cook the rice with. It adds a subtle fruity flavor to the rice. I then add the seasoning ingredients and briefly boil it all together to completely melt the sugar and to allow the flavors to meld. You can, of course, simply use water.
How to cook the sweet rice
Traditionally, yaksik was a highly time-consuming dish. First, the sweet rice has to be soaked for hours. Then, the rice is cooked in a steamer for 40 minutes to an hour, mixed with the seasonings, and then steamed again for another 40 minutes to an hour. Although there are other methods that take much longer, this is how my late mother-in-law used to make this dish.
In modern days with high tech appliances, yaksik can be much easier and faster! It’s very common these days for Korean households to make this dish in the electric rice cooker. This recipe works with both – Instant Pot and electric pressure rice cooker.
For both of these methods, I recommend you soak the sweet rice for about an hour or up to 2 hours, and drain well before cooking. The rice cake will be slightly softer with two hour soaking.
Instant Pot yaksik
After testing different settings and time, I’ve found the Rice setting on the Instant Pot, which is set to 12 minutes on low pressure works just fine for this sweet rice with 10 minutes of natural pressure release. The texture of the rice was great, and the rice did not stick to the bottom of the pot at all.
You can achieve the similar results with 5 minutes on Manual High pressure with 10 minutes of natural pressure release. Try it if you want to save some time.
This recipe is based on my 6 quart Instant Pot, and I have not tested it in the 8 quart pot.
Electric pressure rice cooker yaksik
If you have an electric pressure rice cooker. All you need to do is to cook the sweet rice in the rice cooker as you normally cook your short grain white rice. Easy! I own an old model of a Korean made electric pressure rice cooker. The result may vary slightly depending on your rice cooker.
Yaksik (Sweet Rice Cake with dried fruits and chestnuts)Dessert
- Electric rice cooker or Instant Pot
- 2 cups sweet rice (aka glutinous rice), chapssal (찹쌀) Standard measuring cup before soaking
- 4 ounces peeled fresh, frozen, or canned chestnuts - about 12 to 15 whole chestnuts depending on the sizes ½ to ¾ cup cut pieces (See note 1)
- 2.5 ounces jujubes (daechu, 대추) - about 10 to 15 depending on sizes ½ cup, packed, cut pieces
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts - optional
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds - optional
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce See note 2
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar use ⅓ cup for less sweet yaksik
- 2 tablespoons honey or use about 2 to 2.5 tablespoons more brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder - optional
- Rinse the sweet rice 3 or 4 times until the water is fairly clear. Soak the rice for an hour or up to 2 hours. Drain well while preparing the other ingredients. Tap the strainer to shake off any excess water. See note 3.
- Meanwhile, rinse the jujubes. Cut around the seed of each jujube to separate the flesh, and then cut the flesh into small pieces. Reserve the seeds to make jujube water. See step 4.
- To make jujube flower decorations, roll the flesh tightly, and cut into thin slices.
- In a small saucepan, boil 3 cups of water and the jujube seeds over medium high heat until the liquid is reduced to 1.5 cup (15 to 20 minutes). Measure this for the accurate ratio of rice and water.
- To 1.5 cup of jujube flavored water, add the soy sauce, sugar, and honey. Bring it to a boil and continue to boil for a minute, which will yield about 1 and 3/4 cups of seasoned water. Add the sesame oil.
- Place the rice in the Instant Pot, pour the seasoned water over the rice, and gently shake the pot to evenly spread the rice.
- Add the chestnuts and jujubes on top. Do not stir. The optional pine nuts and pumpkin seeds should be added after cooking the rice to keep the texture and color better. Click the “Rice” mode. It should be 12 minutes and low pressure. Allow natural pressure release for 10 minutes. See note 4.
Electric rice cooker
- Place the rice in the rice cooker, pour the seasoned water over the rice, and gently shake the pot to evenly spread the rice. Add the chestnuts and jujubes on top. Do not stir. Select the white rice cooking mode.
- Open the lid, add the optional pine nuts and pumpkin seeds and gently fluff up the rice with a rice paddle, evenly distributing the pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.
- Transfer the rice into a shallow container and gently press down with a plastic wrap to shape. When it’s cooled, cut into desired serving sizes. You can also shape it into serving size rice balls with your hands or using an ice cream scoop.
How to store leftovers
- Wrap serving size yaksik in a plastic wrap and freeze. Leave them out for an hour or two to defrost and briefly microwave if needed before serving. See Note 5.
- If using sweetened canned chestnuts, drain the syrup well. You can also reduce the sugar a little bit as canned chestnuts are very sweet.
- I use Korean soy sauce, Jin Ganjang. See my Ingredients tab at the top of the blog. The color of the final dish can vary depending on your soy sauce. If your soy sauce is light, you can use a half to one tablespoon more.
- Take the time to drain the rice well for the accurate ratio of rice to water.
- After 10 minutes of NPR, there's not much pressure left, but the moisture inside the pressure cooker may make the rice a bit wet.
- Freeze any leftovers as soon as you can. This will stop the rice from turning stale at room temperature or in the fridge.