Deeply tied to Japan's cultural heritage, mochi is a type of rice cake and signature Japanese food that has been around for centuries. With its sticky and stretchy texture, mochi is a real curiosity for those who have never tried it. But don’t be wary of mochi; find out all about it here in this Beginner’s Guide to Mochi!
Want to learn how to make daifuku mochi and other types of Japanese wagashi? Enroll in byFood's Intensive Wagashi & Mochi Making Course, which teaches how to make 2 types of mochi and 4 nerikiri wagashi designs!
What is Mochi?
The umbrella term “mochi” covers all different styles and flavors of Japanese rice cakes, which is a kind of dough made from pounded steamed rice.
Eating and making mochi is rooted in many traditions of Japanese culture which are tied to the significance of rice (a staple food in Japan), and are used in Shinto practices to give thanks to the gods for providing the harvest.
In ancient Japan, it was believed that mochi held a divine presence, so it was regarded as a sacred food that was eaten for health and good fortune. Now eaten all year round, mochi still has associations with various festivals and seasonal events throughout the year, such as Japanese New Year celebrations.
Learn more about other iconic New Year's dishes in Osechi Ryori: Symbolic Japanese New Year Foods and Their Meanings.
On its own, mochi tastes like rice but has a sticky, stretchy, soft, and chewy texture. However, mochi is very versatile with endless flavor possibilities and is used in a number of different Japanese dishes. Different regions of Japan have different mochi specialties and mochi is also widely used in home cooking. A typical piece of mochi is a sticky and stretchy dough made of rice that has been pounded until smooth and can take on a variety of sweet and savory forms.
How is Mochi Made?
Mochi is made from glutinous, short-grain rice called mochigome (mochi rice), which is known for having a chewier texture than regular rice. Firstly, the mochigome is soaked in water overnight, then it is steamed, and finally mashed and pounded into its soft, sticky state. Making mochi the traditional way involves a mortar and a heavy mallet with at least two people. This pounding of the rice into mochi is called mochitsuki.
One person is needed to pound the mochi, and the other person to turn it over and add water to get the right consistency and texture.
Mochitsuki is hard work, but now of course there are machines to do this process. However, making mochi together with family and friends is still commonly practiced throughout Japan as a part of celebrating the Japanese New Year. A group activity, the collaborative nature of making mochi brings people together.
Once smooth and stretchy, you can eat the mochi immediately. Mochi can be made into small bite-sized pieces and eaten in many ways. Freshly-made mochi will become hard over time, so to preserve it, the mochi is pre-portioned and dried or frozen to keep for up to a year. If you grill or boil it, it will return to its original stretchy and chewy consistency.
To see how mochi is made, check out our video below where byFood host Shizuka makes traditional New Year's mochi.
Types of Japanese Mochi
So, what types of mochi are there, and in what kinds of dishes will you find it? Mochi is largely used in many types of wagashi, Japanese sweets (lovely when paired with matcha green tea), as well as in many savory Japanese dishes.
- Bota Mochi (Ohagi)
- Kinako Mochi
- Kiri Mochi
- Isobe Maki
- Kusa Mochi
- Hanabira Mochi
- Sakura Mochi
- Warabi Mochi
- Yaki Mochi
- Mochi Ice Cream
- Hishi Mochi
- Kagami Mochi
- Mizu Shingen Mochi (Raindrop Cake)
- Mochi Cake
This list includes popular and lesser-known mochi treats.
Daifuku mochi is a type of mochi that is big, soft, and round, with anko (sweet red bean paste) inside. You can also find other filling variations such as ichigo (strawberry).
2. Bota Mochi (Ohagi)
Bota mochi or ohagi is like a daifuku turned inside out, where the mochi ball is on the inside and the filling, such as red bean paste, is coated on the outside. They are eaten during the Buddhist holiday Ohigan, which takes place twice a year during the spring and autumn equinoxes. This type of mochi is usually called "botamochi" in spring and "ohagi" in autumn.
3. Kinako Mochi (Abekawa Mochi)
This type of mochi (also known as abekawa mochi in Shizuoka) is sprinkled with sweetened kinako (soybean powder) and is best when the mochi is freshly made and warm.
4. Kiri Mochi
Kiri mochi describes basic blocks of mochi that are cut into rectangles in their preserved state. These can be grilled or added to various dishes.
You can try kiri mochi in the comfort of your own home, buying mochi through byFood's Japanese gourmet market.
5. Isobe Maki (Isobe Yaki)
Isobe maki or isobe yaki is made of individual pieces of mochi that are grilled, wrapped in a sheet of nori seaweed, and coated or dipped in soy sauce. A simple yet delicious snack, isobe maki is also best when served with warm, fresh mochi.
6. Kusa Mochi
Made from yomogi (mugwort), this mochi is naturally colored green, and translates to “grass mochi.” Kusa mochi tends to have a grassy fragrance, often with anko (red bean paste) inside, and is usually sold in the springtime.
Yatsuhashi is a triangle-shaped mochi that originated in Kyoto, and is a common food souvenir, or omiyage, from the prefecture. They come with many possible fillings between thin layers of mochi. However, they are typically made with cinnamon. In addition to the soft yatsuhashi, there are also the more traditional hard-baked yatsuhashi that are shaped like arches.
Learn more about the most popular omiyage from each prefecture in this guide to Japan's regional food souvenirs.
8. Hanabira Mochi
With hanabira translating to “flower petal,” this mochi is in the shape of a semicircle. Usually, a thin layer of translucent white mochi surrounds a filling that includes a long slice of burdock root and red bean paste, whose pinkish color you can see peeking through the mochi.
9. Sakura Mochi
An extra-sweet pink mochi, sakura mochi is sold in spring for hanami, cherry blossom viewing season. Usually containing red bean paste, this type of mochi is wrapped in a salty sakura blossom leaf which is also edible, contrasting with the sweetness.
Well, technically dango is not mochi but can fall under the mochi category, as instead of being made from glutinous rice, they are made from rice flour.
There are many types of dango, but typically you’ll see them served as three to five rice balls on a stick. In the springtime, you will see dango sticks with white, pink, and green balls in celebration of hanami season. Dango that are coated in sweet soy sauce are called mitarashi dango.
11. Warabi Mochi
This one is again a little different from traditional Japanese mochi but due to its gooey texture, it is also considered a type of mochi. It is made from bracken starch rather than rice powder, giving it a jelly-like consistency. It is typically rolled in kinako (soybean powder), and sometimes served drizzled with kuromitsu (black sugar syrup).
12. Yaki Mochi
This type of mochi is toasted over a fire or hot coals, and usually eaten during wintertime. The hard mochi puffs up and becomes soft again as it is heated. Dango is also often eaten this way, called yaki dango. Yaki mochi is also a play on words that can mean "jealousy" in Japanese.
13. Mochi Ice Cream
Like daifuku, the ball of mochi contains a filling, but instead of bean paste, it has ice cream inside!
Check out our mochi ice cream recipe and learn how to make this tasty summer (or anytime) treat!
14. Hishi Mochi
Hishi means "diamond," and you’ll find these three-layered mochi pieces in the shape of a rhombus. Used as a decorative symbol for fertility, these hishi mochi are sold around the time of Hina Matsuri, or the Girl’s Day festival. Held in Japan on March 3rd, the festival celebrates the success and health of girls.
15. Kagami Mochi
Kagami mochi consists of a stack of two pieces of mochi, topped with a citrus fruit. Kagami, meaning "mirror," refers to the shape of this mochi, which resembles the shape of copper mirrors used in ancient Japan. An iconic symbol of the Japanese New Year, you can see kagami mochi in December decorating shrines, homes, and offices, as Japanese people pray for long life and a year of good fortune.
Read more about the fascinating history behind this new years treat in our blog about Kagami Mochi.
16. Mizu Shingen Mochi (Raindrop Cake)
Mizu shingen mochi (also known as the "raindrop cake") is a modern style of Japanese dessert, wholly different from the rest of the mochi types on this list. It is made with agar-agar powder and usually flavored with a drizzle of kuromitsu (black sugar syrup) and sprinkling of nutty kinako powder.
Read our article about this viral raindrop cake to find out where to try it for yourself!
17. Mochi Cake
Mochi cake is another modern invention, using glutinous rice flour for a chewy and bouncy texture. You may have heard of Hawaiian butter mochi, which is like the lovechild between mochi and cake with a dense, squidgy center. However, our mochi cake recipe leans more in the direction of cake, but with an additional chewiness imparted from the rice flour. Inspired by chiffon cake, this tea-infused baked delight is much less sticky than the dessert that hails from the Aloha State, with a delicate crumb and aroma.
Other Dishes Using Mochi
You can find endless variations of mochi all over Japan throughout convenience stores, supermarkets, department stores, or specialty stores. In cooking, mochi is incorporated into other dishes in a number of different ways.
For example, you will typically find balls of mochi as a component of a dessert called anmitsu, which is made of agar jelly, red bean paste, fruits, mochi balls, and sometimes ice cream, with sweet syrup poured over it.
Oshiruko, another popular Japanese-style dessert, is a soup made from anko red beans with stretchy pieces of mochi dropped inside. Check out our simple oshiruko recipe to prepare this dish at home.
As for savory dishes, the gooey texture of mochi goes well in okonomiyaki, and also becomes chewy and delicious when cooked in nabe (hot pot).
Chikara udon, or “power udon,” features slices of toasted mochi together with udon noodles, a starchy meal to really fill you up.
And, during the New Year festivities in Japan, a traditional soup called ozoni is eaten. Despite regional differences, generally, it is made from vegetables, meat or fish, and includes pieces of mochi in the broth.
Taking on all kinds of sweet and savory forms, mochi is as diverse as it is curious. With a legacy of hundreds of years in Japan, there are so many styles of mochi to try, even beyond those covered in this guide. This quintessential Japanese food can also be very divisive, with some who love it and some who hate it! But with the over seventeen types covered in this guide to mochi, you are sure to find one type of mochi that pleases your palate.