10 Types of Traditional Wagashi Sweets to Try in Japan

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Wagashi are a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. While many of these traditional sweets are meant to be enjoyed with a cup of bitter green tea, others can be enjoyed at any time of day. These ten quintessential Japanese wagashi should be high on your list of things to try during a visit to Japan.

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10 Types of Traditional Wagashi Sweets to Try in Japan:table of contents

Daifuku

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Daifuku are balls of adzuki paste wrapped with powdered mochi, a dough made by pounding glutinous rice until it's smooth. One popular modern and particularly delicious variety is ichigo-daifuku. It's made by wrapping a whole strawberry, either fresh or dried, with sweetened red bean paste and a thin layer of mochi.

Castella (Kasutera)

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A type of sponge cake which was introduced to Japan by Portuguese merchants around 400 years ago, kasutera is a simple cake made from wheat flour, egg, sugar and various sweeteners. Every baker has a different recipe and as there is no artificial leavening used, the taste and quality of the cake relies on the baker's skill, some of which have been perfecting their craft for most of their life.

Dango

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Dango are made from the simplest of ingredients: rice flour and water. Yet there's something so comforting about them. The mixture is steamed and then pounded to create a dough similar to mochi, although mochi is made by pounding rice and not flour. Occasionally other ingredients are added for color and flavor. Dango can be either sweet or savory and sometimes even a mix of both.

Dorayaki

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One of the quintessential Japanese wagashi. These sweet snacks are made by pressing sweetened bean paste between two pancakes. Dorayaki's pancakes taste similar to castella cakes, but are more dense and spongy rather than light and airy, nowadays you'll also find a variety of delicious fillings such as sweet potato paste and cream.

Monaka

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The crispy shell of monaka is traditionally made from a thin layer of mochi (glutinous rice paste) that has been spread onto a mold and baked. The most common fillings are sweetened red or white bean paste, but ice cream, custard and a type of dango called shirotama are also popular too and well worth a try.

Nerikiri

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Nerikiri's beautiful shapes and colors make this wagashi one of the easiest to photograph. To make nerikiri, a paste of Chinese yam, rice flour, and sweetened white bean paste is pressed into a mold. The center of nerikiri is often filled with sweetened adzuki paste and their designs almost always reflect the current season.

Ohagi

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These autumn wagashi are made from steamed glutinous rice, also known as mochi rice, and sweetened adzuki paste. The rice is rolled into a ball before being coated with either sugar, ground sesame seeds, roasted soybean flour (kinako) or a similarly versatile coating.

Warabi Mochi

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The dough of warabi mochi is made from sugar, water and the starch of 'warabi' roots (a type of bracken or fern). It's then steamed, cooled, and cut into bite-sized pieces before being sprinkled with kinako. This delicious chewy jelly-like snack is sold during the summertime.

Wasanbonto no Uchigashi

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The name of this wagashi comes from 'wasanbonto', a fine sugar made only in Japan. A mixture of water and wasanbonto are put into wooden molds and pressed until firm and dry. These wagashi come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, from fish and flowers to landmarks and everyday objects.

Yokan

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Yokan is a thick, jelly-like dessert made by dissolving agar-agar (obtained from red algae) and sweetened adzuki bean paste in hot water. The mixture is cooled in a mold. Yokan can be made by adding other ingredients such as matcha, whole red beans, chestnuts or preserved fruits to create different flavors.

In Conclusion

Traditional Japanese wagashi are the perfect compliment to a cup of bitter green tea, due to them often being quite sweet. But there's no need to limit your enjoyment to teatime - feel free to enjoy wagashi at any time, they also make for great accompaniments to your morning cup of coffee.

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