The Story of Ais Kacang

Ais kacang is a type of ice shaved dessert. It is commonly known as Ais Batu Campur (ABC).

Almost every country has their own version of ais kacang, using different words according to their mother tongue.  

In the Philippine their ice shaved dessert is known as Halo-Halo. Meanwhile in Thailand, they are known as Nam Kang Sai.

The East Asia referring to Japan, China and Korea have their own version of ice shaved too!

In Korea, the ice shaved dessert is known as Pat Bing Soo. While in Japan and China, they have Kakigori and Baobing respectively.

What does Ais Kacang means?

Ais” is a Malay Word for ice. While “Kacang” means beans.

Does this carry the same meaning with Ais Batu Campur?

In Malaysia ais kacang is the same food as Ais Batu Campur (ABC).

However, the direct translation of ABC has slight differences between these two words.

Let us break the word of Ais Batu Campur bit by bit in understanding from Malay words to English.

Ais Batu is a noun means ice cube, campur is a verb meaning mixed. Thus, it carries the meaning of “ice cube mixed”.

Ais Kacang is referring to the ingredient of the ice shaved dessert in Malaysia, while ABC referring the mixed of ice with variety of ingredients including the beans.

Therefore, the idea behind ais kacang and ABC is the same.

Ingredients in ABC
Sweet corn, red bean and cendol are one of the many ingredients

It is ice cube is mixed with a variety of ingredients such as rose syrups, palm sugar syrup, red beans, sweet corns and cendol. To complete it they add evaporated milk.

I had interviewed my mother to begin searching regarding the history of Ais Kacang.

According to her, raised in Singapore in the early 1960s she will grab Ais Batu Kepal as her go-to dessert whenever it is hot.

Ais Batu Kepal or ice balls are a combination of ice that is grated and shaped round like a ball which is then placed in some flavours and pricked with a handle stick.

To make the Ais Batu Kepal it is using the same machine as Ais Kacang. However, the way the served to customers are different.

How the ais kacang is made

ABC and It's machine
ABC or Ais Kacang is the same dessert

The ais kacang is prepared by putting red beans, cendol and sweet corn inside a bowl. Placed the bowl under ice shaved machine.

Then, by placing a thawed block ice inside ice holder. Turn on the machine and ice is then grated into ice droplets.

Drizzled rose syrup and palm sugar on top of the ice. As a final touch, adding an evaporated milk to it. Some may add an ice cream as top of the ais kacang.

The ais kacang is then served to customers.

There are differences between the narration in the past

It was mention that is originated in the Middle East while other said from the China. This is the story about two version that I have read. Let us learn further! 😊   

In the Middle East

It is claimed that the origin of the Ais Kacang is from the Middle East back in the Middle Ages, between the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

At that time the Middle East was largely populated by the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish speaking people.

They invented a drink known as sherbets.

The drinks were made from combining fruit juices with other flavours such as rose-water, lemon juice or basil then chilled them with snow or ice.

They are usually used by the Turkish as a drink during summer. 

European who travelled to the Middle East were interested in sherbet and described them with full interest. 

For instance, Sir Thomas Herbert, when he travelled to Persia from 1627 to 1629 described the sherbets as “a drink that quenches thirst and tastes deliciously”.

At that time, the Persians served their sherbets in large porcelain or gold bowls. They used a wooden spoon to sip the drink.

In the late sixteenth century, the word sharbat appeared in Italian as the name of Turkish beverages. The drink later became a frozen dessert (sorbetto) in Italian.

Up until today, the Middle Eastern sherbet is still a drink, however in European and American sherbets are generally ice or ice milk.

That is quite an long history. But there is still more to it!

Meanwhile, looking at the other perspective, the origin of the ice shaved dessert was known to be eaten during Dynasty Tang back in the 7th century.

In China

There is another narration stated that the method of preserving food using ice had started in China during Dynasty Tang.

It has been practiced both by the emperor, the elite, and the citizen.

However, only the emperor and the wealthy do have ice pits in their compound.

As it mentioned the size of the ice pit is smaller among the elite compared to the Emperor.

Each year the emperor had labourers who carve 1000 blocks of ice from mountain valleys to be stored in his ice pit that located at the centre of town.

In a book that I read called History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat mentioned, in China, they poured a mixture of snow and syrup.

To make the iced last longer, they add salt over the exterior of containers.

The salt is used to lower the freezing point of the ice below zero.

Meaning that ice when melt will be colder than frozen freshwater when melt. Giving it as one way of preserving the food.

This action was watched and gained interest from the Italian merchant, Marco Polo in China.  According to the book, he observed the practice and brought it to Italy.

That is the history of ice shaved that I managed to trace. But to find how does the ais kacang managed to get to Malaysia remained unknown for me.

Maybe it was brought to the Tanah Melayu from the Chinese during the era of Dynasty Ming when Zheng He travel to Malacca?

There is much theory that we can guess, but to pinpoint the exact I could not figure it out.

Nevertheless, let us enjoy what has been delivered to us from our ancestors and appreciate it that the tradition remains in the culture to this date. 

What we have today

Back then, it seems complicated to have an ice ball with sweetie syrup colouring the white ice.

Now, whenever I like I can enjoy ais kacang with friends and family. As many stalls, food trucks and even restaurants sell it.

Different places serve different ingredients in the ais kacang. It really quenches your thirst in the tropical weather.

Sweet dessert garnish with lots of jelly inside with topping of red syrup to be enjoyed by everyone.

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