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What Are the Different Types of Japanese Desserts?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Nov 27, 2014

@serenesurface-- I guess you wouldn't like the Japanese green tea cheesecake I'm making tomorrow. I think we as Westerners are not used to so many green tea products. I used to feel the same way when I first tried Japanese desserts. But I have to say, the sweet green tea flavor grew on me. I started out with green tea ice cream and now I like it so much that I'm even making a green tea cheesecake.

Don't let this put you off of Japanese desserts however. Japanese desserts are a wide range and there are so many things to try. Try red bean pancakes, strawberry and cream cake, stuffed wafer cookies, black sesame pudding or jelly cubes with edible flowers.

Large cities often have several excellent Japanese restaurants featuring some of these. Sometimes there are festivals too. Or if you're up to it, you could get the ingredients and make them yourself.

By serenesurface — On Nov 26, 2014

I've tried a few Japanese desserts, mostly at the international food events held on my college campus every year. I've noticed that green tea is a recurring theme in Japanese desserts. They have green tea ice cream, green tea chocolate, green tea cookies, green tea mochi, and the list goes on. I like a cup of green tea but this is just too much green tea for me.

By discographer — On Nov 25, 2014

What I love about Japanese cakes is that unlike the kind of cakes we have here, they are very light. They are similar to sponge cake, soft, airy and fluffy. They are very easy on the stomach though and not extremely sweet. As I'm not fond of very heavy, rich and sweet cakes, Japanese cakes are just what I'm looking for.

I'm also fond of mochi an daifuku, especially strawberry daifuku. These desserts have a whole fresh strawberry inside them. I think that's just perfect.

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