No matter what part of the world you come from, we can all agree that there is nothing better than indulging in a sweet dessert treat now and then.
Every country around the world has its own take on the after-dinner meal that is dessert, each of which has its own unique flavors and style.
With this in mind, we are going to be looking at traditional Japanese desserts in particular, as well as listing some recipes for each dessert so that you can try making them for yourself!
Let’s get started.
Matcha refers to a finely ground powder that is created from processed and specially grown green tea leaves, originating in East Asia (see also our favorite Korean desserts).
Matcha has become a popular ingredient across the world that is associated with East Asian culture, including Japan.
Because of this global popularity, matcha- or green tea powder- has become used in a wide range of different recipes to create all sorts of foods, including cookies.
Cookies that have been infused with matcha have the benefit of having that buttery and crisp texture that cookies are known for, along with the somewhat bitter yet irresistible matcha flavor.
Additions such as chocolate chips provide a delicious balance between sweetness and the bitter matcha, whilst the green nature of the matcha powder makes for a vibrant cookie (see also our favorite sugar-free cookies) that would be perfect to be baked at Christmas time.
Whilst we are on the subject of matcha, matcha flavored mochi is also a popular dessert from East Asia, originating in ancient China and being introduced into Japan at the end of the Jomon period after rice cultivation was introduced to the country.
Mochi is a rice cake that is made from a short grain glutinous japonica rice, though there are sometimes other ingredients that go into it such as sugar, water or cornstarch.
The rice cakes are made by being pounded into a paste and then molded into a specific shape.
Mochi is a traditional food that is eaten throughout the year, though it becomes more popular around the time of the Japanese New Year.
Mochi comes in a wide range of flavors and is a key ingredient in tons of different kinds of dishes in Japan, both sweet and savory.
Matcha mochi has the sticky consistency that mochi is known for with the green color and distinguished taste of matcha, making for a delicious and unique dessert.
Last but definitely not least, matcha fans can also give this matcha ice cream a try for another twist on the classic matcha flavor!
With the sweetness of ice cream and the subtle smokiness and bitterness that is associated with matcha, this treat is perfect for those who might not be too fond of overly sweet desserts.
Not only that, but this dessert is also incredibly easy to make.
You will only need four ingredients to make this ice cream-matcha powder, condensed milk, whipping cream, and vanilla extract- as well as only five minutes to make it thanks to not needing to churn the mixture.
Made from gelatin and black coffee, this dessert became popular in Japan in the 1960s due to a branch of a chain of Japanese coffee shops creating the concoction.
Also known as kohii zerii in Japanese, coffee jelly is an incredibly popular dessert that can be found in most convenience stores and restaurants in Japan.
This easy-to-make dessert is a light option that is another great choice if you aren’t a big fan of the ridiculously sweet kinds of desserts.
Known as a refreshing treat in the summer, coffee jelly is the perfect choice for caffeine and jello fans alike!
5. Mizu Yokan
A cold treat that tends to be served in the summertime, mizu yokan is a smooth and rectangular block of chilled Japanese red azuki bean jelly.
The mixture is sweetened with sugar and red bean paste.
There are all different kinds of yokan with various flavors, but the red bean flavor is one of the most simple and popular thanks to its celebration of the natural tastes that can be found in red beans.
Another simple yet delicious Japanese dessert, Manju refers to a small and round steamed cake that is filled with a sweet red bean paste (also known as Anko).
Manju has a similar look to mochi, but they are made with all-purpose flour to create a thick cake-like consistency rather than the chewy and squidgy rice cake consistency that mochi has.
This particular dessert is a Japanese take on the classical French choux pastry dessert, though it has some key differences that separate it from its international counterpart.
The main difference is that, whilst the Japanese shu cream can be filled with cream, it is usually filled with a sweet, custard kind of filling.
The popularity of the shu cream has made it a staple of Japanese desserts, being readily available across the country in restaurants as well as in vending machines.
This form of wagashi- or Japanese sweet- is said to have originated from the Kamo Mitarashi Tea House in Kyoto and features skewered rice dumpling balls that are first grilled and browned.
A gooey brown sauce then covers them.
The sauce is the main event when it comes to this dessert, made from a soy sauce base that creates a salty yet sweet taste.
Mitarashi Dango is known as a snack served at events and festivals, and it is characterized by its burnt fragrance and sleek, glass-like glaze.
This rice cake snack can be both a sweet and savory dessert, and is another that tends to become more popular around the time of the Japanese New Year.
This rice cake is thoroughly cooked- be it via toasting, pan-frying, or grilling- until the exterior becomes a golden brown color.
The cake is then brushed with a soy sauce glaze and wrapped with seaweed to create the ultimate combination of both sweet and salty.
Amanatto is as traditional as they come when it comes to Japanese sweets, originating way back in the 1860s when sugar became readily available in Japan for the first time.
This dry dessert consists of boiled beans- normally black soybeans or red azuki beans- as well as sugar syrup and sugar.
The beans are first simmered with sugar syrup and are then covered with refined sugar before they are dried. This boiled bean dessert is a popular confectionary for all ages in Japan.
Light and deliciously decadent, this Japanese custard pudding is much like the French crème brûlée, but with a firm texture rather than a gooey one.
The silky richness of the Purin comes from being cooked within a warm water bath- known as a bain-marie- within the oven.
The addition of caramel sauce only accentuates the indulgent nature of the dessert.
Namagashi translates to raw sweets in Japanese and also refers to a type of confectionery that is made from natural ingredients, such as sweetened bean paste or fruit jellies.
Namagashi tends to have artistic and beautiful designs, leading to them being considered a form of edible art.
Particularly popular during Japanese tea ceremonies thanks to their delicate and artistic nature, Namagashi can be found in confectionery stores across Japan in a wide range of designs, styles, and flavors.
A somewhat more unique and unusual take on the traditional Japanese dessert, Zenzai is a red bean soup that is sweet and served hot.
The soup is also usually accompanied by mochi or shiratam Dango- glutinous rice flour dumplings- that are placed within the soup itself.
Made by either diluting sweetened red bean paste or boiling dried red beans in water, the soup has a sweetness to it as well as a unique texture.
This simple dessert is a cold fruit salad that dates back to the Meiji era in Japan.
It is somewhat unique as it is made with small cubes of agar jelly- a translucent, white jelly made from red algae-, which is dissolved within water or fruit juice to create a jelly.
This is then served with sweetened red bean paste, boiled peas, or other fruits.
The dessert also tends to come with a pot of sweet black syrup- known as Mitsu- which can be poured over the jelly before it is eaten.
Japanese Christmas cake is not like the traditional dense and thick Christmas cake that originated in Britain. Instead, it has a spongy texture that is much like that of an American strawberry shortcake.
The cake features whipped cream, freshly cut strawberries, and sponge cake. The cake came to be in the Meiji period in Japan and was inspired by Western cakes and desserts.
Japanese Christmas cake is a delicious and lighter way to enjoy desserts during the holiday season (see also ‘35 Fun And Easy Christmas-Themed Desserts‘).
Much like their take on Christmas cake, Japanese cheesecake is also very different from Western cheesecake.
These cheesecakes have a much fluffier consistency, with a sponge-like texture.
This is thanks to the Japanese baking techniques that are used whilst making it, which involves whisking egg whites separately before they are incorporated by hand for aeration.
This creates a rich and creamy taste with a soft and fluffy texture.
Another big difference with Japanese cheesecake is that it can be eaten either hot or cold, which makes for a more versatile dessert that can be enjoyed in various ways.
Another fluffy and soft style of Japanese dessert, a Japanese cake roll, is usually made with an airy chiffon cake base.
This base is only made with a minimal amount of sugar, though, making it another dessert that will suit your tastes if you don’t want something that is too sweet.
Japanese cake rolls tend to have lighter and more subtle flavors in comparison to Western Swiss roll, with light whipped cream and fresh strawberries (see also ‘27 Sweet Treat Strawberry Desserts For You To Try‘) also being major ingredients.
Made from Castella- a Japanese type of sponge cake-, dorayaki is a dessert that features two pancake-styled patties that are wrapped around a filling made up of sweet azuki bean paste.
Dorayaki also has a reputation within Japanese popular culture thanks to the anime and manga character Doraemon enjoying it as his favorite food!
Simple but delicious, Japanese Honey Toast is a popular dessert that consists of a thick, oversized piece of either toast or caramelized bread that has various sweet toppings.
These toppings can include ice cream, butter, honey, fruit, or any other kind of dessert-style topping that might take your fancy!
The bread that is used in this dessert is often oversized to the point of being almost an entire loaf of bread, making it a heavier and more filling choice when it comes to Japanese desserts.
Often eaten as a snack, this sweet dessert cake is well known for its fish-like shape. The fish-shaped exterior of the cake is made from a crisp, flour-based shell that is baked until it is golden brown.
It is then filled with azuki sweet bean paste and served warm, being a particularly popular treat during the winter in Japan.
There is a wide range of varieties and flavors when it comes to Taiyaki, being an incredibly popular snack treat as well as a dessert.
This popular Japanese confectionery is made up of a chewy exterior with a sweet, creamy filling.
The shell of the Daifuku is made with that glutinous ingredient that we have mentioned a few times here: mochi!
Daifuku can come in all sorts of different colors, with the most common being pale green or pink.
The filling is most commonly made with that traditional Japanese semi-sweet red bean paste that we have mentioned a few times here, sometimes known as Tsubuan or Anko.
This Japanese take on rice crispy treats is made from expanded rice grains, which are thoroughly roasted until they eventually pop.
When it comes to holding the rice grains together, a combination of butter or corn syrup with sugar is used.
Peanuts were once the main ingredient that was used to liven up Okoshi, but nowadays, all sorts of ingredients are used such as sesame seeds, dried fruit, matcha green tea, chocolate, and more.
Japanese desserts have a penchant for being lighter and fluffier than their Western counterparts, and the Japanese souffle pancakes are no different.
What is great about these pancakes is that you probably have everything that you need to make them in your refrigerator or pantry right now including dairy milk, powdered sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and butter.
Perfect for afternoon tea (see also ‘33 Light And Tasty Afternoon Tea Party Recipes!‘), these beautifully buttery cookies only need seven ingredients and feature some deliciously savory miso, which contrasts deliciously with the nutty sesame seeds.
The combination of both sweet and savory makes this a particularly versatile Japanese dessert choice.
A snack that is often enjoyed as a dessert in Japan, these sweet potatoes (see also ‘The Top 13 Canned Sweet Potato Recipes‘) feature a crispy skin that is glazed with caramelized syrup to provide just the right mixture of both sweet and savory.
Also known as Daigaku Imo in Japanese, these treats are covered in a coating made of hard sugar candy which blends well with the savory potato elements.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Wagashi?
When we discuss traditional Japanese desserts, it is hard not to mention wagashi! As briefly touched upon above, wagashi is the name given to traditional Japanese confectionaries.
These sweets are often served alongside green tea, especially those that are made with fruit, mochi, or Anko.
As well as some of the wagashi that we talked about in this article, some other kinds include Kompeito, a kind of crystal sugar candy, Botamochi, a sweet rice ball that is wrapped with azuki bean paste, Sakuramochi an anko-filled rice cake that is wrapped with a pickled cherry leaf, and Yatsuhashi, thin sheets of sweetened mochi in a range of flavors.
Wagashi also has significant cultural importance in Japan, with many of the sweets being named after the country’s natural scenery, poetry, or events from Japanese history. The treats also have a delicateness to their designs, which reflects the culture surrounding delicacy within Japan.
What Are The Most Popular Japanese Desserts?
Some of the staples in Japanese dessert dishes include mochi – which has hundreds upon hundreds of different recipes surrounding it – as well as some of the specific desserts that we have talked about in this article, including Dango, Dorayaki, Honey Toast, and Taiyaki.
How Long Has Japan Been Creating Sweets And Desserts?
Interestingly enough, sweets and desserts were being created for many centuries before sugar was even made widely available in the country of Japan.
Some of the most well-known desserts in Japan are able to be traced back hundreds of years, with some of these dating back to the Edo Period- which lasted from 1603 to 1867-, and the Meiji Period-, which lasted from 1868 to 1911.