Wagashi – Traditional Japanese Sweets

Highlights

  • Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets.
  • Wagashi became popular in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868), when tea and confectionary began to be imported from China.
  • Common wagashi ingredients include sweet azuki bean paste, rice cakes (mochi), rice flour, Japanese agar (kanten), sesame paste and chestnuts.
  • There are countless different types of wagashi and most of them are typically enjoyed with a cup of bitter matcha tea.

History of Wagashi

In Japan, the word for sweets, kashi (菓子), originally referred only to fruit and nuts. Things changed drastically after Japan started importing sugar from China. The trade quickly increased and soon sugar became a common household ingredient in Japan.

Ingredients of Wagashi

Processes and Skills Required for Making Wagashi

Making wagashi is not hard, but it can be time-consuming, with the entire process requiring a bit of practice to master techniques. Special ingredients and equipment are needed, such as multi-colored food dye, glutinous rice flour, kitchen scales, and a fine-mesh sieve.

Popular Types of Wagashi

Much of Japanese art, culture, and cuisine draw on the principles of aesthetic beauty and the passing of the season. Wagashi are made with the same principles in mind.

There are many different types of wagashi, and we've outlined some of our favorites below:

Namagashi

Dorayaki

Mochi

Daifuku

Dango

Manju

Yokan

Monaka

Monaka (最中) is made of a wafer shell filled with sweet bean paste. The wafer shells come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from simple, round shells to intricately designed ones.

Popular consumption of this wagashi involves eating it with ice cream. In addition to these variations, the filling may be a paste made from seasonal fruits or sweetened chestnuts.

The wafer shells tend to go stale if exposed to air for prolonged periods of time and as such, should be consumed as soon as possible.

Yatsuhashi

Arare

Arare (あられ) consists of bite-sized crackers that are often mixed together with ingredients such as peanuts and wasabi-flavored peas.

Arare is made from rice toasted over a flame. Freshly roasted, the crackers have a wonderful aroma and crisp texture. Unlike many other types of wagashi, arare are made from non-glutinous rice rather than the sticky rice used for mochi.

Enjoying Wagashi with a Cup of Matcha

During Japanese tea ceremonies, wagashi is often served with a bowl of bitter matcha . There are two types of wagashi served during tea ceremonies, depending on the type of matcha:

  • Wagashi served with usucha (薄茶, thin matcha) is called higashi (干菓子), a dry sweet often made of rice, flour or the finest quality Japanese grained sugar.
  • Wagashi served with koicha (濃茶, thick matcha) is called omogashi (主菓子) often made of bean paste, sesame, rice, sweet potato, and sugar.

Taste Wagashi with Asia Highlights

There's simply too much wagashi in Japan for you to sample it all. At Asia Highlights, we pride ourselves in knowing the best wagashi shops and locations, so we can help our guests enjoy the finest traditional sweets Japan has to offer!

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