Ohagi, like many other traditional Japanese sweets, has been well loved in Japan for years. This traditional rice cake treat is not only delicious but also holds a special place in Japanese culture and history. From its origins as an offering to ancestors during festivals to being a staple snack during tea ceremonies, Ohagi has been an integral part of Japan’s culinary heritage. It’s squishy mochi-like texture and perfectly paired flavour combinations make the ultimate delicious wagashi treat.
What is Ohagi?
Ohagi, or botamochi, is a traditional Japanese sweet (wagashi) made of glutinous rice and covered in various toppings. Traditionally ohagi was made only with red beans (azuki) but over time, people began to experiment with different fillings and toppings. Black sesame seeds or kinako powder(soybean flour) are commonly used nowadays to make the flavours and textures diverse. The glutinous rice is cooked then shaped into a little cylindrical ball that has a similar squishy texture to mochi but with the individual rice grains still intact.
The origins of ohagi, also known as botamochi, date back to ancient Japan when it was served as an offering to the gods and spirits during religious ceremonies. The reason this wagashi has two different names is due to the time when they are served. Traditionally, ohagi and botamochi were eaten to celebrate the Buddhist holiday known as ‘Ohigan’ (お彼岸) or just ‘higan’ which falls during spring and autumn equinox every year. This time is believed to be when the world of the living and the dead are closest and is used to honour one’s ancestors. During the autumn equinox, this traditional wagashi is called ohagi as it is said to resemble the bush clover autumn flower called ‘hagi’ in Japanese. In the spring equinox, the confection is called botamochi named after the ‘botan’ peony spring flower.
Ohagi is also an important part of cultural traditions surrounding another Buddhist holiday called Obon. Obon is also a time when Japanese families gather to honour their ancestors and pray for the souls of those who have passed away. It’s believed that during this time, the spirits of the deceased return to earth to visit their loved ones. One of the central practices during Obon is o-haka-mairi, which involves visiting gravesites and offering food and incense to departed relatives. The azuki beans used to make ohagi were believed to ward off evil spirits and thereby aid the ancestoral spirits in their journey.
Ohagi, or botamochi, are not only eaten during these ceremonious times but are nowadays eaten all year round and can be found at supermarkets and specialty stores in Japan.
Mochi rice (mochigome in Japanese) – also known as glutinous rice or sticky rice, is the key ingredient in ohagi. It’s a short-grain rice that becomes incredibly sticky when cooked. Mochi rice has a unique texture that’s chewy and slightly elastic, giving ohagi its signature bite.
Anko – Anko is a sweet paste made from sweet red beans or adzuki beans. These small red beans are boiled until soft and then mashed with sugar to create the smooth paste. You can buy ready made anko from Japanese/Asian grocery stores or make your own. This is a recipe if you need to make it from scratch.
Black sesame seeds – These tiny, oval-shaped seeds are a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. They are also packed with antioxidants that help fight free radicals in the body and reduce inflammation. From savory dishes to sweet treats, these versatile seeds add a nutty flavor and extra crunch.
Kinako (soybean powder) – a popular Japanese ingredient made from roasted soybeans, has gained attention in recent years for its unique flavor and health benefits. This versatile powder can be used in a variety of dishes as a natural sweetener or nutty topping. With its high protein content and low glycemic index, kinako has become an increasingly popular choice among health-conscious consumers looking for alternative ingredients to traditional sugars and flours.
Step-by-step guide on how to make ohagi at home
This easy-to-follow recipe makes it easy to whip up these traditional Japanese sweet rice balls right in your own kitchen.
Step 1: Making the anko sweet bean paste a day or night before is best. Alternatively, you can make the anko while you wait for the rice to cook. Follow my recipe if you are making anko from scratch.
Step 2: Rinse the mochigome (glutinous rice) in cold water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in cold water for about an hour.
Step 2: Drain off any excess water and add fresh clean water to cook the rice. Use a rice cooker or pot to cook the soaked glutinous rice until it is soft and sticky.
Step 3: Once cooked, transfer the glutinous rice to a bowl and shape it into a ball shape using damp hands or plastic wrap.
Step 4: Wrap the rice balls with anko azuki bean paste using plastic wrap. Or roll the rice balls in black sesame seeds or kinako roasted soybean flour for a variety of flavour and texture.
Step 7: Repeat steps four through six until all your ingredients are used up.
Different Varieties of Ohagi
While the classic version consists of a ball of rice coated in red bean paste, there are many variations to this beloved dessert. From creative toppings to unique fillings such as kurumi walnuts and kuri chestnuts, different varieties of ohagi offer a wide range of flavours and textures that cater to diverse palates. For those who prefer something less sweet, kinako (toasted soybean flour) coating may be more suitable. It offers a nutty taste that pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the rice cake underneath.
Ohagi also comes in different varieties across Japan’s regions. In Kyoto, another popular variation is called yomogi ohagi which uses mugwort leaves to add a fragrant herbal flavour to the sweet red bean paste inside. Other regional variations feature fillings made from sesame seeds, chestnuts, green tea powder, and even mashed pumpkin.
In some parts of Japan like Okinawa Prefecture and Hiroshima City, brown sugar syrup is used instead of red bean paste as a filling. This type boasts a unique caramel-like flavour that makes it stand out from other kinds.
Every type of ohagi is delicious and packs its own unique flavors & textures. So take your time exploring all these delicious variations until you find your favorite!
How to Eat Ohagi
he best way to enjoy this traditional treat is with a hot cup of Japanese tea or coffee. Here are some options that will enhance your tasting experience:
1) Green Tea – The earthy flavor of green tea perfectly balances out the sweetness in Ohagi.
2) Black Coffee – Rich and bold black coffee complements the different flavours of Ohagi, especially the nuttiness of kinako ohagi.
3) Matcha Latte – The creamy texture of matcha latte pairs beautifully with the softness of Ohagi.
4) Sencha Tea – Light-bodied sencha tea is refreshing and enhances the subtle flavors in Ohagi.
5) Hojicha – Hojicha is a unique and flavorful Japanese green tea that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Unlike other green teas, hojicha is roasted over charcoal, giving it a distinct nutty and smoky flavor profile.
So there you have it – our guide on how to eat ohagi along with perfect pairing suggestions for tea or coffee lovers. Now go ahead and indulge in this delectable Japanese sweet while sipping on your favorite hot beverage for ultimate satisfaction!
A : It is best to eat on the day it’s made, but it can be stored in the freezer for a month. I put them separately in ziplock bags and freeze them. Thaw them at room temperature and coat with anko, kinako or black sesame seeds before you eat.
- 1 cup Mochigome sweet rice *1
- 1 cup Water
- 1 cup Anko sweet azuki bean paste *2
- 2 tbsp Kinako soybean powder
- 1½ tbsp Sugar *3
- pinch Salt
- 2 tbsp Roasted black sesame seeds *4
- 1½ tbsp Sugar *3
- pinch Salt
- Soak the glutinous rice in water(not listed in the ingredients list) for one hour. This will help soften the rice and make it easier to cook in a rice cooker.
- Drain the water from the rice and transfer it to a rice cooker with 200ml water. Follow your rice cooker directions, but in general press "start" to cook.
- While waiting for the rice to cook, prepare your sweetened bean paste filling (if you haven't already made it in advance). You can use store-bought red bean paste (anko) or make your own by following my recipe.
- Divide the anko into 4 little balls of equal amount and set aside.
- Once the rice has cooked, let the rice cool down slightly so that you can handle it without burning yourself.
- Scoop 50g of rice onto a small bowl lined with plastic wrap. Shape it into a barrel shape. 50g will be for Kinako and Black sesame ohagi but use 30g for anko wrapped ohagi to make it similar in size. It should make 6 x 50g rice balls and 4 x 30g rice balls.
- Flatten out one anko that you made in step 3 on to plastic wrap in your palm, then place a rice ball on top of the anko.
- Wrap the rice ball with the anko carefully, making sure that all side are covered completely.
- For Kinako (roasted soybean flour), mix soybean powder with sugar and pinch of salt. Spread it onto a flat tray. Roll rice balls on the kinako powder.
- For Black Sesame seeds, roast the black sesame seed in a frying pan till it produces an aroma. Grind the roasted black sesame seeds in a mortar. Combine with sugar and salt and spread it on to a flat tray. Roll rice balls on the ground black sesame seeds.