Most people who enjoy mochi outside of Japan have come to associate it with a particular type of dessert: a small, round but flat, stretchy rice cake that sometimes comes with a sweet filling.
What if we were to say that mochi with filling is considered to be a completely different dessert from mochi without filling, with a separate name and sub-types, at that?
In fact, there are over a dozen mochi varieties, each with distinct characteristics, flavors, and serving traditions. In the article below, we’ll break each of them down and discuss how they differ from one another.
If you already know this and are just looking for where to buy mochi online, especially the lesser-known varieties, then check out Yummy Bazaar’s freshly stocked assortment of these sweet and savory Japanese rice cakes. You’re likely to find an option or two you haven’t tried yet.
However, those interested in what exactly mochi has to offer will surely find the guide below helpful.
What is Mochi?
Mochi is one of the oldest Japanese desserts, with a history that traces back all the way to the 6th century.
These small sweet rice cakes are traditionally made from just a few ingredients: water, sugar, and mochigome. Mochigome is short-grained glutinous rice that’s steamed and pounded into a paste to make the base for mochi.
Mochi has a soft but sticky and chewy consistency and a very mellow flavor unless it's amplified with other ingredients, infusing the mochigome paste, or used as a filling in certain mochi varieties.
Types of Mochi:
Considering its centuries-old history, it shouldn’t be surprising that mochi has experienced multiple alternations. Some of the mochi varieties look entirely different than the small stretchy ball we’ve come to associate with the name. However, all Japanese rice cakes are considered relatives, and all made from pounded mochigome (or mochiko, sometimes) are deemed to be a variety of mochi. It’s become a ubiquitous name for this type of dessert, similar to salami for cured sausages.
We’ve grouped them into 18 distinct types, some with multiple sub-types:
Daifuku Mochi is likely the most popular type of mochi. Daifuku is a filled mochi with an outer layer of chewy rice cake wrapped around (most often) sweet filling. Classic daifuku is most commonly filled with Anko (a sweet paste made from red Azuki beans). Ichigo Daifuku is a daifuku variety that contains a whole strawberry amidst Anko filling. A type that contains whole red beans (or soybeans) alongside Anko is called Mame Daifuku. Nowadays, daifuku fillings come in multiple flavors (with many of them considered to be separate sub-types). Coffee daifuku and Purin daifuku (with custard filling) seem to be particularly beloved. A savory variety called Shio Daifuku Mochi contains salted Anko filling, creating an interesting foil for the sweet mochi outer shell.
Akafuku is a specialty of Ise City, located in Mie Prefecture. It has a firmer texture and is twisted; with broad ridges. The form is supposed to symbolize the Isuzu River. Akafuku is the opposite of Daifuku as it’s covered in Kashi-an (a sweet red bean paste softer and smoother than Anko) from the outside.
Warabi Mochi is a Kansai area darling, and it could be argued it’s not mochi at all. Instead of mochigome, Warabi mochi is made with bracken (edible wild plant) starch. It has a more jelly-like, soft, but chewy texture. Warabi mochi is often dusted with some kind of flavorful powder. Most often it’s kinako (roasted soybean flour), but there can be alterations depending on the flavor. For example, matcha Warabi mochi can be dusted with matcha powder.
Similar to Warabi Mochi, Kuzu Mochi isn’t made with mochigome but starchy powder sourced from another plant. Kuzuko, extracted from Kuzu (Pueraria) plant, is a popular thickening agent used in various Japanese dishes. Kuzu Mochi is closer to jelly in consistency than classic mochi. It has a very neutral flavor and is usually served with a sweet sauce to make up for it. Kuzu mochi is largely a seasonal dish, with chilled gelatinous cubes covered in sweet brown sugar syrup and toasted soybean flour considered an ideal summer dessert.
Unlike most mochi recipes, we can actually trace Sakura Mochi back to the author. According to the local legend, it was created in 1717 by Yamamoto Shinroku, a guard who lived in Edo. Sakura mochi is pink, with the color achieved either by flavoring the rice cakes themselves or by wrapping them around Anko. The obligatory feature of Sakura mochi is having the rice cake wrapped in a pickled cherry tree leaf. It can be eaten with mochi, creating an interesting sweet-and-salty flavor combo, but it’s not mandatory.
Sakura mochi isn’t the only mochi variety wrapped in a leaf. Another is Kashiwa Mochi, a standard red bean paste-filled white daifuku wrapped in large oak (Kashiwa) leaf. The leaf isn’t for consumption but to give the rice cakes a distinct earthy aroma. Kashiwa Mochi is traditionally served on Kodomo no Hi (Japanese Children’s Day), the final celebration of the Golden Week holidays.
Bota Mochi is arguably an inverted daifuku. Instead of the sweet Azuki bean paste being stuffed inside the rice cake, the mochi itself is encased in an outer shell made of sweet Anko. Bota mochi is also called Ohagi Mochi.
Kusa Mochi, also called Yomogi Mochi, is made with pounded mochigome mixed with Japanese mugwort (Yomogi) paste. It’s sweet, stretchy, and sticky, like regular mochi, but has a deep green color and a more delicate, grassy flavor. Kusa mochi is considered a seasonal dessert and is most often enjoyed in springtime.
Hanabira Mochi is a uniquely shaped mochi reminiscent of a flower petal (which is where the name comes from). It’s a layer of white mochi rolled very thinly and folded around sweet bean paste. Since the thinly rolled mochi layer is almost translucent, it takes a subtle pink hue where the bean paste is encased. The sides of Hanabira mochi are supposed to be slightly open and pierced through with Gabo (burdock root stalk).
Kinako mochi may refer to several mochi varieties. It refers to mochi that has been covered with toasted soybean flour. Traditionally, the mochi used for Kinako mochi is classic white mochi, unflavored with anything other than sugar. But over the years, playing with flavors has become more common.
Kiri Mochi is a dried mochi made to be pre-packaged. The drying process helps it maintain freshness for a longer period. Kiri mochi is usually cut in rectangles and stored at room temperature. Interestingly, they’re often used to make Kinako mochi. Dried rice cakes used for Kinako mochi are often boiled or toasted before being dipped in water and covered with soybean flour.
Habutae Mochi is another regional variety, this time from Fukui. It’s a thin layer of silky-smooth dough (fitting, Fukui Prefecture is known for its silk production) cut into small rectangular sheets. Habutae mochi is rarely flavored with anything aside from sugar and is most often consumed by itself with some tea. However, it’s not uncommon to find Habutae mochi wrapped around Anko or fruits.
Yatsuhashi Mochi is also a regional specialty, from Kyoto. It was reportedly created around 1689. The thin layer of mochi dough is cut into squares and folded around a sweet filling to form triangles. The shape is deliberate: Yatsuhashi was named after a famous Japanese musician Yatsuhashi Kengo, and the form is supposed to resemble his Koto. While it can be found in various flavors, especially at souvenir stalls, cinnamon and red bean are the most popular Yatsuhashi flavors.
Another mochi type associated with festivals is Hishi Mochi, a tri-colored diamond-shaped mochi served on Hinamatsuri, the Japanese Doll Festival. Hishi mochi consists of pink, white, and green layers, with the pink layer flavored with jasmine, the white layer flavored with water chestnuts, and the green layer flavored with Japanese mugwort.
Rounding out the list of ceremonial mochi varieties is Kagami Mochi, which is traditionally served at Kagami Biraki, a “mirror-breaking” ceremony held on January 11. Kagami Mochi consists of two mochi balls stacked on top of each other, with the bottom one slightly larger. A small mandarin is placed on top. Kagami mochi is made in advance and kept in homes until Kagami Biraki, when the mochi is broken apart (symbolizing the eponymous “mirror-breaking”).
Mochi Ice Cream
Arguably, Mochi Ice Cream is a sub-type of daifuku. It was created back in 1993 by Japanese-American businesswoman Frances Kazuko Hashimoto. It consists of a thin layer of sweet mochi wrapped around the ice cream. Unlike classic daifuku, the mochi layer itself is usually additionally flavored (ex., matcha mochi ice cream consists of matcha ice cream being wrapped around matcha-flavored mochi).
Mizu Shingen Mochi
Mizu Shingen Mochi doesn’t look like mochi at all. It’s a clear jelly and is more widely known as Japanese Raindrop Cake. So what does it have to do with mochi?
The original Shingen Mochi was an emergency food made from rice flour and sugar, created by Takeda Shingen, one of the Sengoku period Daimyos. Kinseiken Seika (a Hokuto-based company) originally swapped plain water in the recipe with mineral water, creating the first version of Mizu Shingen Mochi. The recipe continued to evolve and, somewhere around the early 2010s, became what it is today: the raindrop cake. Consisting of only mineral water and agar (vegan gelatin alternative), modern Mizu Shingen Mochi has nothing to do with classic mochi, but it’s still associated with the name in Japan.
Butter Mochi Cake
We thought long and hard about including this one since Butter Mochi Cake isn’t even Japanese! It’s Hawaiian. And if that weren’t enough, it’s made not from pounded mochigome but mochiko, flour made from glutinous rice. But since the latest rendition of the traditional Japanese dessert shares the name with the original, we decided to include it still. If only so people don’t get confused.
Butter mochi cake is a Hawaiian answer to the classic American blondie. It’s made with mochiko flour and coconut milk and has a chewy, stretchy texture similar to the original mochi.