Japanese desserts can be traditional affairs using local fruits, plants and nuts, foreign imports or a unique combination of the two. There are many regional variations of Japanese desserts known as meibutsu and also souvenir (omiyage) versions for tourists. Traditional Japanese desserts use ingredients such as sweet azuki beans, fruits, nuts and mochi.
Mochi is a glutinous, sticky rice cake that forms a central element of Japanese sweets. It is often served wrapped around sweets such as azuki paste (daifuku), anko, and strawberry paste. Some desserts flavor the mochi with tastes such as cherry blossom (sakura), peach, and green tea. Mochi are most popular on New Year’s Day.
Wagashi is a mochi-based type of dessert. There is no one type of wagashi, but instead there are dozens of variations. They are made using fruits, nuts, azuki and mochi. Green tea is often served as a complement to the sweet desserts.
Mochi is also used to make Japanese desserts called dango. Dango are mochi balls that are put on a skewer and dipped in a flavoring. Traditional festival dango are dipped into a soy sauce syrup called shouyu and are called mitarashi dango. Another type of dango is the bocchan dango that has one normal dango ball, one green tea-flavored ball and one azuki-flavored ball.
The mochi can be manufactured in a different way to produce a series of jellies. There are other jellies too called agar jellies that are used in desserts such as anmitsu and mitsumame. These jelly cubes are combined with ingredients such as azuki or anko, fruit slices and mitsu syrup.
Many Japanese desserts are a twist on foreign imports. For example, castella is a cake that takes its name from the Castile region of Spain, but is actually the Japanese version of the Portuguese cake known as Pao-de-lo. Castella is a sponge cake often eaten by itself or topped off with brown sugar, green tea powder or flavored icing sugar/frosting.
Ice cream is a popular dessert in Japan too. One dollop of vanilla and another of green tea ice cream is often served alongside azuki beans and mochi. There are also a range of mochi-wrapped ice creams available with either a plain mochi wrap around vanilla, chocolate or green tea ice cream, or a flavored mochi around a plain ice cream.
Many Japanese foreign desserts have gone through the green tea process. This means replacing one ingredient with green tea. For example, there are many ranges of green tea-flavored chocolate bars. There are also green tea castella cakes and other sponges, green tea ice cream, cheesecakes and tiramisu. Similar versions have also been made with a cherry blossom flavor.
Japan also has a number of sweet breads that can be served as a dessert. Melonpan looks like melon, but is made from normal bread dough wrapped in cookie dough before baking. These can be served plain, with chocolate chips inside, a custard filling or flavored with ingredients like green tea powder and caramel. Anpan is a sweet bread filled with azuki beans.