6 Mochi Sweets to Try in Japan

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6 Mochi Sweets to Try in Japan
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Tags: gourmetjapaneseculture

Mochi is Japanese rice cake made from steamed and pounded glutinous rice. It is a staple food item in Japanese cuisine, as well as an important ingredient in the making of Japanese sweets. While Japanese people enjoy mochi in many ways: sweet, savoury, boiled, grilled, or deep fried, many non-Japanese think of mochi exclusively as a confection. Undeniably, mochi in the form of sweet often steals the limelight because of the various shapes, colours, and flavours available.

As a sequel to my article about mochi as a Japanese New Year’s food, this article will be focusing on mochi as a Japanese sweet. You can easily get mochi sweets at any department store food section (depachika), traditional mochi or sweet shops, supermarkets and convenience stores across the country.

Here are the six recommendations for mochi sweets to try during your visit to Japan.

Daifuku 大福

An everyday mochi sweet that is literally translated as “great luck” (“dai” means great, “fuku” means luck). Daifuku is a round mochi with sweet centre. The most common filling for daifuku is sweet red bean paste, though it can be filled with basically all sorts of delicious ingredients, such as chestnut, fruits, custard, whipped cream, chocolate, and peanut butter. Daifuku is usually covered with a thin layer of potato starch to keep them from sticking to each other.

Ichigo daifuku with shiro-an (white bean paste).

Ichigo Daifuku いちご大福 is the most well-known type of daifuku consisting of a whole strawberry encased in a mochi with filling. Ichigo daifuku is available in winter and spring during the season of strawberry. Mame Daifuku 豆大福 is another popular daifuku made of mochi and whole red beans or black beans.

Kusa Mochi 草餅

Also known as yomogi mochi ヨモギ餅, kusa mochi is rice cake coloured and flavoured with yomogi or Japanese mugwort. It is commonly available during the spring season, and has a grassy scent which I personally find refreshing. It can also be made into a daifuku, known as kusa daifuku 草大福 or yomogi daifuku 蓬大福, which has red bean paste as filling.

Kusa mochi and Kanto-style sakura mochi.

Sakura Mochi 桜餅

A symbol of the spring, sakura mochi is a pastel pink coloured mochi filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf. There are two variations for sakura mochi: Kanto-style and Kansai-style. Kanto-style sakura mochi is made from shiratamako 白玉粉 (glutinous rice flour) and the finished product resembles a folded pancake with filling. Kansai-style sakura mochi on the other hand is made from domyojiko 道明寺粉 (coarsely broken glutinous rice), so it looks like a mini rice ball with the grains of rice can still be clearly seen.

Kansai-style sakura mochi.

Notably, the leaf is edible, but you can choose to eat it together with the mochi or remove it. I doubted about eating the leaf when I was eating sakura mochi for the first time (I had Kansai-style sakura mochi), turned out it was good – the scent and saltiness of the leaf gave the mochi and the sweet red bean paste a nice balance.

Botamochi ぼたもち or Ohagi おはぎ

Botamochi or Ohagi is a Japanese confection made by packing a thick red bean paste around a mochi or a ball of cooked glutinous rice. Unlike daifuku which is a mochi stuffed with filling, botamochi or ohagi is the other way around: filling on the outside, mochi on the inside. It can also be coated with sesame seeds, roasted soybean powder (kinako), or nori seaweed flakes.

They are eaten during the spring and autumnal equinoxes when the Buddhist holiday of Ohigan お彼岸 is celebrated. Many people in Japan visit ancestral graves and offer botamochi or ohagi to their ancestors during these periods. Interestingly, the sweet is called botamochi in spring and ohagi in autumn.

Zunda Mochi ずんだ餅

Zunda mochi is a traditional sweet from the Tohoku region, notably Sendai in the Miyagi prefecture. It is made of mochi and zunda (sweetened edamame paste), a simple yet satisfying combination. Being a comfort food of Sendai, many households in the area make their own zunda mochi. It is also widely available at tea houses, pastry shops, supermarkets, and department stores around the prefecture.

Mochi Ice Cream

This Japanese-Western fusion treat is as delectable as it sounds: soft and chewy mochi on the outside, velvety ice cream on the inside, offering an interesting contrast of textures and flavours. In Japan, mochi ice cream is also called ice cream daifuku アイスクリーム大福 or ice daifuku アイス大福. Yukimi Daifuku 雪見だいふく is a popular mochi ice cream brand that you can find at convenience stores across the country.

Not all mochi are the same

One thing to note though, not all sweets with the word “mochi” in their names are the real mochi. For example, Warabi Mochi 蕨餅 is made from the starch of bracken plant (a type of fern), whereas Kuzu Mochi 葛餅 is made from the starch of kudzu plant (Japanese arrowroot). While these are also Japanese sweets, technically they are not mochi (rice cake).

Kuzu mochi

Mochi also has a close relative called Dango 団子, which is made from glutinous rice flour instead of pounded glutinous rice. It is shaped into tiny round balls and often served on a skewer. Dango is chewier but less stretchy than mochi.

Of the six recommended mochi sweets listed in this article, how many of them have you tried or heard before? When you are visiting Japan, don’t forget to sample one of these classic treats!

Kyla HS
Kyla HS
A student, part-time translator and writer. I like anime, Jpop and Jrock in general but ultimately, I love to travel and often spend most of my expenses on food.

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