Mochi (餅): Kawaii Japanese Rice Cakes

A History of Mochi

Mochi! Yes, the history of mochi (もち, 餅) the tiny Japanese cakes that are a beautiful and light dessert to behold.

A lot of Japanese food is aesthetically pleasing, with the likes of sushi exquisite in its simplicity. And mochi is no different.

Usually served as a chilled ball of icy sweetness, it’s a fine delicacy and one we wanted to celebrate in the name of kawaii culture.

What’s Mochi?

A collection of mochi on a plate

It’s a Japanese rick cake. Chefs make these things with mochigome (もち米), which is a japonica glutinous rice (it exhibits viscoelasticity, don’t you know?). Water, sugar, and cornstarch are often added into the mix.

Now, we’ll cover this below, but the creation of the dessert involved pounding the mix into a paste. And that gets hyper-aggressive.

But the result are super cute wee cakes!

It’s very common to get mochi ice cream (invented by Japanese-American businesswoman Frances Hashimoto) as the main filling, which is pictured above. And is probably the filling now most associated with the foodstuff.

But you can stick anything in the middle, such as red bean paste (anko), white bean paste (shiroan), custard, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and cookie dough.

Whatever you want to add to them, these SOBs are delicious.

Somewhat refreshing in their chilled nature, but also light. So you don’t feel like you’ve just gained 10 stone (unlike desserts such as cheesecake). Which is why we like them a great deal and think they should REPLACE heavier snacks.

How Chefs Make Mochi

Has there ever been a more violent foodstuff creation for something so diminutive and cute? We think not!

We’ll be honest, it was after watching that video we wanted to write this history of the stuff. Whilst hilarious to behold, it’s also a noble tradition and we appreciate it sometimes takes brutal violence to create something cute and loveable.

You don’t have to be quite so psychotic with the stuff if you want to make some (see further below), as this is a straightforward dessert.

But some professionals just want to take it to the next level, eh?

A Brief History of Mochi

Its exact origin isn’t clear. Mochi is believed to have hailed from China, but became popular during the Heian period of Japan (794-1185). The imperial court actually went out of its way to recommend the stuff.

Steaming glutinous rice became a thing in Japan from the Jōmon period (c. 14,000–300 BC), so it’s possible the dish was around even earlier.

Archaeological records indicate the homemade making of mochi increasing rapidly during the Kofun period (300-500 AD), whilst also going through a period of cooking evolution through the Nara and Kamakura periods.

As with Japan’s glorious miso soup obsession, mochi then went through a period of evolution over the centuries. That was during the periods:

  • Nara
  • Kofun
  • Kamakura

The eighth century Nara tome Bungo no kuni fudoki, or simply Fudoki (風土記), is an ancient report on contemporary provincial culture, geography, and traditions in Japan. This work was responsible for generating a legend regarding mochi, it goes like this…

A rich man created a flat mochi from leftover rice. He then shot an arrow at the hapless thing, which transformed the mochi into a white bird. This creature then flew away, leaving the rich man’s fields barren and desolate—his fortune destroyed.

This kind of hints at the spiritual nature of mochi in Japan, which to this day holds a unique cultural power across the country.

And that’s steeped in the nation’s long history. For example, at weddings during the Heian period it was customary for the happy couple to eat mochi in their home three days after their wedding.

Ornaments inspired by the dessert have also appeared, such as kagami mochi (鏡餅). That’s a “mirror rice cake”, which is a Japanese New Year decoration. It’s placed on family altars (kamidana—神棚, meaning a god or spirit-shelf) every year on 28th December.

And the dessert is still wildly popular.

Just see the gents up above mercilessly pounding the stuff in the name of providing a tasty snack. Looks like great exercise. We may well start our own store in Manchester.

Mochi as a Health Hazard

Despite its innocuous appearance, mochi can be deadly.

It poses a serious suffocation threat to young people and the elderly. Back in 2015, the Tokyo Fire Department reported it responded to some 100 choking incidents due to the dessert.

There were 18 deaths, too, between 2006 and 2009!

Now, of course, this is the case for any food really. You just need to chew thoroughly. We should imagine the UK’s Jaffa Cakes have been responsible for this just as much.

Although it is notable Japan’s fire service responds to choking incidents! We don’t get that here in England. Which reminds us, do remember to learn the Heimlich manouvre.

How to Make Mochi (without breaking a single bone in your body)

Mochi is a straightforward dish with about 30 mins prep time and five mins to cook it all up. A typical list of ingredients looks like this:

Cup of sweetened red bean paste
Cup of glutinous rice flour
1 tablespoon of green tea powder (such as matcha)
A cup of water
¼ cup white sugar
½ cup cornstarch

To note, if you do make some… keep it in the freezer! Not the fridge.

Otherwise it fries out and becomes rock solid like a stone. Instead, put it in an airtight container and it’ll be happy as Larry for two weeks in your freezer.

Dispense with some gibberish!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.