Beat the heat with a healthier recipe for mango pomelo sago, a beloved Hong Kong dessert inspired by Chinese myth

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  • Read into the origins and nutritional benefits of this sweet soup that is a staple in many Cantonese dessert shops, and learn how to make a version using soy milk
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Doris Wai |
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Mango pomelo sago’s Chinese name was inspired by a myth from Journey to the West. Photo: Shutterstock

Craving a refreshing dessert to beat the summer heat? Look no further than a staple in many Hong Kong dessert and dim sum shops – mango pomelo sago. More commonly known as 楊枝甘露, this refreshing treat is a delightful break from the stifling temperatures of summer.

This dessert has unique links to Hong Kong and Singapore. It is said to have been invented by Wong Wing-chee, a former head chef of Lei Garden, a famous restaurant chain that began in Hong Kong.

In the 1980s, when the chain decided to set up its first overseas branch in Singapore, the city state’s local ingredients inspired Wong to create a dessert featuring mango, pomelo and sago. The result was a thirst-quenching sweet soup, which reminded the chef of a myth from the Chinese novel Journey to the West.

According to the story, the goddess of compassion, Guan Yin, uses dew collected from a willow branch to perform miracles such as reviving a ginseng tree and providing rain in times of drought. Thus, the dessert’s name translates to “willow branch dew”.

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Served chilled, this delightful concoction was a hit in hot and humid Singapore, and its popularity carried over to Hong Kong, too. Soon, other local dessert shops and restaurants were coming up with their versions of mango pomelo sago.

The dessert is prepared using fresh puréed mangoes, sago pearls, coconut milk, evaporated milk and pomelo pulp – creating a balance between the citrus fruit’s bitter tanginess and the mango’s sweetness. With all of its fruity goodness, surely this treat must have health benefits.

Kathy Ng Yiu-fan, a senior nutritionist at the Kat-Spirit Nutrition Centre in Hong Kong, weighed in on this dessert. According to Ng, mango and pomelo are the sweet soup’s nutritional superstars.

Kathy Ng is a senior nutritionist at Kat-Spirit Nutrition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

Mango is rich in vitamin A, and it is a good source of nutrients for boosting the immune system. It also supports eye health and may help prevent dry eyes and nighttime blindness. An excellent addition to one’s diet, pomelo is rich in potassium and powerful antioxidants such as vitamin C.

While the amount of fruit used in mango pomelo sago does have health benefits, the dessert is also high in saturated fat. According to Ng, 100 grams of this sweet treat contains 83 calories, 2.1 grams of fat, 11 grams of sugar, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.4 grams of protein. Its high saturated fat content is attributed to one ingredient – coconut milk.

“There are 24 grams of fat in every 100 grams of coconut milk, and of this, 21 grams ... is saturated fat,” the nutritionist said, adding that saturated fats could raise the level of cholesterol in our blood and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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In addition, the sweet evaporated milk commonly used in mango pomelo sago has a higher fat content compared to normal milk.

“You might be tempted to finish off every meal with a bowl of mango pomelo sago, especially during summer, but it’s probably a good idea to limit this to only once or twice a week,” Ng advised.

She recommended creating a healthier version using unsweetened soy milk instead of coconut milk.

“The benefits in this tweaked recipe are twofold: soy milk is a good source of protein, and it is low in fat and sugar. Protein is also important for teens in terms of building and recovering muscles and tissues.”

Fun with home-made cheong fun

Low-fat mango pomelo sago

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1/2 cup of sago pearls

  • 2 large ripe mangoes, cubed

  • 580ml of unsweetened soy milk

  • 2 tbsp of monk fruit sweetener, whisked into 20ml of hot water to dissolve

  • 60 grams of shredded pomelo flesh

Directions:

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add sago pearls, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, but keep the lid on. Let the sago continue to cook for another 10 minutes until the pearls are translucent.

  2. Pour the cooked sago pearls in a fine sieve, and place them under running tap water to remove excess starch. Chill the drained pearls in the fridge.

  3. In a blender, add the soy milk and three-quarters of the mango cubes, and blend until smooth.

  4. Add the cooled sago pearls to the blended mixture. Stir in the dissolved monk fruit sweetener to taste. Place the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes.

  5. To serve, divide the dessert into four bowls. Sprinkle the shredded pomelo flesh and remaining mango cubes into each serving.

Click here to download a printable worksheet with questions and exercises about this story. Answers are on the second page of the document.

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