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Jul16

Sương sâm (vine jelly)

We’ve been waiting a year to make some sương sâm (vine jelly). Yes, it took a year to nurture and grow this tropical vine in Michigan and harvest enough leaves for a few experiments. Sương sâm is a refreshing snack for a hot afternoon consisting of wobbling, jiggling blocks of fragrant leafy jelly served with ice and simple syrup. Sương sâm is available in the States in cans but if we wanted to explore its applications we needed the leaves. We were very excited to finally try our hands at making sương sâm from scratch. We also created watermelon flavored sương sâm, combining two refreshing summer snacks for unprecedented cooling power :P

Watermelon sương sâm cubes

Sương sâm can be made from the leaves of Tiliacora triandra or Cissampelos pareira (aka sương sâm rừng). I think we have the latter. We weren’t sure if our vine would survive the lack of sunlight during the winter months, but it did, and it’s now flourishing and climbing all over my two-level hanging garden.

Sương Sâm vine flourishing in window sill garden

The vines look delicate but they are tough almost like fishing lines. To make sương sâm, we harvested the leaves only by gripping the vine and running our fingers along from bottom to top, stripping the leaves off along the way.

Heart-shaped sương sâm leaves

We washed 7 grams of leaves, let them drip dry, then crushed or blended them in 50 ml of liquid. Traditionally, sương sâm is made by rubbing and crushing the leaves by hand while submerged in water (the leaves and hand, not the person). We’ve read that sương sâm will not gel if the leaves are processed by a blender because the spinning blades of modern technology would destroy the gelling agent. Thus, we set up our first experiment to reproduce that observation.

Blender vs Hand-processed sương sâm

For the experiment above, we added more water than stated and found that sương sâm formed a gel but lost water over time (synaeresis). For the purpose of the experiment, the results were clear – blending did not prevent formation of a gel. However, blending had to be thorough, and whatever is left after straining the juice can be squeezed to improve yield of leaf extract. We think failures associated with blending were due to incomplete disruption of leaf structure, not destruction of gelling agent, whatever that is.

With the processing question addressed, we moved on to playing with flavors. We wanted to use fruit juices instead of water but we also read that sugar should not be mixed with leaf extract. Thus, the second experiment replaced water with sugar water or watermelon juice. Watermelon was blended and strained.

Watermelon juice

We used less water this time and checked on the sương sâm an hour after processing. No signs of syneresis. The extract/gel was so richly green that addition of red watermelon juice did not yield the feared red-green color combination.

Watermelon sương sâm (left), sugared sương sâm (right)

This time, conventional wisdom was right. The sugared yielded a gel that was too soft and sticky to be cut into separate cubes. We ended up with a green blob. The watermelon juice sương sâm did form a very nice gel that could be cut into separate trapezoidal prisms just like traditional sương sâm. The blob had a very strong, almost bitterly leafy taste that couldn’t be balanced out by the sugar we originally added. More sugar would have been necessary but that would make this drink too sweet to be refreshing. Watermelon juice sương sâm had a nice subtle hint of watermelon that counterbalanced the leafy taste. It was a pleasant experience to be able to eat chilled sương sâm trapezoidal prisms straight without added sugar.

 We were so glad to be able to make sương sâm from scratch. I loved getting a glass of sương sâm made by my cousins from vines gathered at the edge of the jungle abutting my grandparents’ farm. Being able to recreate that experience with homegrown vine was immensely satisfying.

It will be a few more months before we can make more but our minds are already preparing the possibilities. There are so many fruits and other flavors we want to try, like lychee or lilac honey. We also can’t wait to play with sương sâm the way we played with other hydrocolloids.

Comments

  1. “… while submerged in water (the leaves and hand, not the person)” —> hahaha :D
    I’m surprised that the watermelon juice is strong enough to counterbalance the leafy bitterness. Absolutely love your idea of combining fruit juice with suong sam! Can’t find that at the stores for sure.

  2. Thanks, Mai! We try to stay true to our motto “Vietnamese cooking like you’ve always/never had” :) . The watermelon we got was so sweet that it made sương sâm ready to eat right out of the fridge without requiring additional sugar and ice. I guess we lucked out with that watermelon.

  3. Beautiful green color and vine. Learning cool stuff from your blog…I didn’t know sương sâm is a plant!

  4. I definitely learned more about suong sam from this post. Thanks Oanh and Dang. I am tempted to plant it in my living room after reading this.

  5. hello
    I’m looking for the tiliacora triandra seeds, but I didnt know where to get them
    do you have any seeds, Im more than happy to purchase them from you
    or , please tell me where did you get the seeds?
    thank you

  6. Hi there. I am from Dallas Texas trying to grow the jelly vine leaves. It is getting really cold over here. Any tips for planting? What type of fertilizer do you use? And how often do you water the plants? Thanks so much.

    • Hi Trung, here in northern CA my vine is looking sad as well. I think the nights are getting too cold and I will have to trim then bring the vines in soon. It didn’t survive the winter outside in Houston, either.
      I generally water twice a week, and fertilize once a week with some hydrolyzed fish meal. It smells like mắm.
      Good luck!

  7. Thank you! I just got some suong sam at the asian market. I didn’t know what it was but am adventurous. Mine has almost no flavor or scent. Yours sounds much more interesting! I wonder if the vine will grow in the Arizona desert. (zone 9)
    Also, I am wondering about the health benefits. I’ll be looking it up on Google, but if you have anything to offer, that would be great. :)

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