Japanese Desserts

Sakura mochi: a VERY enticing Japanese dessert
Photo by: hiromama, Creative Commons

Is your sweet tooth craving for something different? Are you tired of the same old chocolaty, buttery, or milky treats that you get in the market? If you are looking for a completely different and unique way to satisfy your need for a sugar rush, a sampler of Japanese desserts may just be the thing for you.

Traditional Japanese sweets, also called wa-gashi, greatly contrast from Western-produced sweets called yo-gashi in that they are basically made from plant based ingredients as opposed to the West’s heavy reliance on dairy products. The early production of wagashi was heavily influenced by the Chinese who brought the practice of growing rice to Japan. That is why early Japanese desserts and most of those produced today are rice based. Other plant products traditionally used as ingredients are soy, rice beans, and yams.

One of the oldest wagashi is yokan, or sweet beans jelly, a block of sweet bean paste that is held together by a gelatinous material called agar. This particular dessert has evolved into several varieties, each distinguished by the ingredients used.
But perhaps the most popular of all Japanese desserts and the one that will immediately pop into your mind when talking about wagashi is the delectable rice ball known as mochi. This soft and sticky treat can be eaten by itself or with a filling of sweet beans called anko. A smaller variation of the mochi called dango, is made from rice powder and is skewered on a stick after which it will be dusted off with a soybean flour that leaves it with a nutty flavor.

Other Japanese desserts worth mentioning are Manju, a small cake with red bean paste that is commonly given as gifts, and Kahison, a treat of shaved ice topped with fruit-flavored syrup that is commonly sold in the streets during festivals and is very popular during the hot summer days.

Japanese desserts are known to be very sweet and thus to provide balance to a meal, as is customarily done in Japan. Desserts are usually served along with a hot glass of the bitter-tasting green tea.

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