Mochi became global when there were retailers selling mochi ice cream, and small shops are now popping up selling this Japanese snack all over the world. What exactly is mochi?
The basic definition of “mochi” is a glutinous rice cake made with glutinous rice called mochigome. Generally mochi is made by pounding steamed rice with usu and kine (lesung and pestle).
It takes two people to do it, so it’s usually only done for celebratory occasions. A type of Japanese mochi made in the traditional way is usually served around Japanese New Year celebrations. Now some mochi are made mostly by machine. Mochi has several types. The following are popular types of Japanese mochi.
- Daifuku Mochi
Often referred to as daifukumochi, daifuku is one of the most popular types of Japanese mochi. Usually this mochi has the shape of a small round ball with a chewy outer layer and a soft and sweet filling.
The skin of daifuku is made of mochi, which is a sticky material made through the long process of crushing boiled or steamed rice. This mochi is often given a different color. The most common colors are light pink and light green.
Each mochi daifuku has a creamy and sweet filling, and the most common is the traditional less sweet red bean paste, popularly called anko or tsubuan. Other popular fillings include cream and pasta flavored with chestnut, apricot, mocha, or caramel, or sometimes ice cream.
Ichigo daifuku is the most popular seasonal mochi daifuku variant filled with whole strawberries thinly coated with red bean paste. Daifuku is eaten as a dessert or a quick snack and is usually served with a cup of green tea.
Various variants of mochi daifuku can be found throughout Japan and are easily available in convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and cake shops selling desserts. Mochi daifuku is also usually served during the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Botamochi and ohagi are two names to describe a type of Japanese mochi which consists of a smooth or thick red bean paste wrapped in a ball made of sticky mochi rice.
This mochi is served during the Buddhist festival of Ohigan, which is held in the fall and spring, when people pay homage to their ancestors by making offerings at Buddhist altars.
Botamochi, named after the peony flower (botan), is eaten during the spring, while ohagi, named after the Japanese bush clover, is eaten during the fall.
Botamochi and ohagi can be eaten as is or coated with powdered kinako, matcha powder, aonori seaweed, or mashed sesame.
- Kagami Mochi
Kagami which means “mirror”, refers to the shape of this mochi. Kagami mochi is in the form of a pile of two pieces of mochi, topped with an orange. This variant of mochi is mostly kept in Japanese homes until kagami biraki, the celebration of opening mirrors on January 11.
The Japanese believe that ghosts that bring good luck for the following year are hidden in the kagami, while the accumulation of mochi is believed to multiply luck.
This is the reason why mochi is usually enjoyed on New Year’s Day. According to tradition, mochi must be broken, usually by hand or with a wooden hammer, and never cut. The pieces are then used traditionally in Japanese dishes such as zenzai or zōni.
- Hanabira Mochi
Hanabira mochi or “flower petal mochi”, is a rare confection from the Kyoto area that is traditionally eaten by Japanese royalty during New Year’s celebrations. There are several elements to hanabira mochi.
Among the elements are candied gobo burdock roots, white bean paste sweetened with miso, and a very soft piece of white mochi that is flattened into a flat circle and folded to cover the rest of the ingredients.
Hanabira mochi has a distinctive appearance due to the unique flat shape of the mochi, which is folded in half covering the filling inside with the edges left open. This mochi also has a rosy red color due to the colorful filling that is seen through the white color of the mochi.
- Kiriochi & Marumochi
Sendochi and marumochi are two types of mochi that do not use sweeteners that are packaged in a dry and hard form for cooking. The kiriochi are cut into cubes and vacuum sealed, while the marumochi are round.
Both can be easily warmed in the microwave until soft and gooey, baked in the oven until fluffy and browned, or they can be baked in a waffle maker for unique shapes. kiriochi and marumochi are used in various preparations, such as for the savory ozoni soup eaten at New Year’s celebrations, or as desserts topped with sweet spices.
- Sakura Mochi
This type of Japanese mochi is generally enjoyed in spring for hanami season, which is flower viewing season. There are two main regional variants of this mochi.
In the Kanto region (Eastern Japan) shiratamako is a type of sweet glutinous rice flour formed into pink pancakes and rolled over a red bean paste filling.
In the Kansai region, domyojiko are rice grains colored with red bean filling. Both were given pickled cherry leaves which the taste permeated the rice.
- Kinako Mochi
This classic mochi variant combines chewy rice cakes made from glutinous rice and kinako, which is roasted soybean powder. These mochi cakes can be made from scratch, but because preparation is time-consuming, most people use ready-made mochi in packaged form.
Before being sprinkled with a combination of sugar and soy powder, the cake can be boiled or baked, and must be dipped in water to allow the powder to stick to the mochi. Roasted soybean powder gives the cake a subtle nutty flavor, which pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the mochi.
Another option for this dessert can be sprinkled with kuromitsu, which is a black sugar syrup similar to molasses. Kinako mochi is best eaten when it’s finished cooking.
Hishimochi is a type of Japanese mochi in the shape of a diamond with three layers of pink, white, and green colors served during Hinamatsuri. Hishi means “diamond shape”, so this three-layer mochi is rhombic.
Used as a decorative symbol for fertility, this hishi mochi is sold during the Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day festival. In Japan, the festival is held on March 3 to celebrate the success and health of girls.
The pink lining symbolizes plum blossoms and good health while white signifies winter, longevity and fertility. The green color signifies spring and new life.
- Warabi Mochi
Warabi mochi is a clear dessert with a creamy, jelly-like texture that is popular throughout Japan, especially in the Kansai region of Western Japan. Generally consumed in summer because of its fresh, chewy, and soft taste.
Unlike other types of mochi, warabi mochi is made using the starch of the warabi plant instead of mochi rice. This type of mochi is traditionally topped with a sweet roasted soybean flour known as kinako.
This mochi has a bit of flavor all by itself. Warabi mochi is a popular and refreshing treat to eat during the summer with grilled kinako (soy flour) or kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup).
Warabi mochi has been around since Japan since before the Heian era, and it was also one of Emperor Daigo’s favorite treats. Now warabi mochi can be purchased from the many street food vendors selling trucks, which are similar to ice cream trucks in the west.
- Ichigo Daifuku
Ichigo daifuku is one of the most interesting versions of the traditional Japanese sweet daifuku. All daifuku variants consist of a chewy mochi skin, made of ground glutinous rice and various fillings hidden inside the wrapper.
This ichigo mochi stands out and is unique because it uses whole strawberries as its filling. In the most traditional type of mochi, first the strawberries are wrapped in a thin layer of sweet red bean paste, which in Japanese is called anko, then a layer of soft white mochi.
Modern variations sometimes replace the anko with white bean paste, and the mochi skin is sometimes colored a pale red to indicate the strawberry color. Ichigo daifuku is a seasonal sweet that is usually eaten in spring when it is in season.
When cut, this sweet treat features a beautiful and visually appealing combination of red strawberries, dark anko paste, and off-white mochi layers. Although a staple dessert in Japan, ichigo daifuku first appeared in the 1980s.
Many famous confectionary shops claim that they created the first ichigo, but the true history of this mochi is unknown. Just like other daifuku varieties, ichigo is always enjoyed fresh.
Well, that’s the mochi that is now becoming famous thanks to the mochi ice cream variant. If in the past mochi was made from glutinous rice which was ground and made by hand, there is a modern version that uses glutinous rice flour and uses a machine.
In addition, mochi also has a type that is only available during certain celebrations or seasons. Have you ever tasted mochi?