Ohagi (Botamochi) is one of the traditional Japanese sweets that locals eat during autumn and spring. It is made by half-pounding cooked glutinous rice then coating it in sweet red bean paste.
Ohagi is the first thing I ever made with my grandmother and what we made together every year we visited Japan when I was growing up. This sweet rice ball truly holds a special place in my heart and to this day, make it at least twice a year. I’m incredibly excited to finally share this Ohagi recipe with you!
I also started a new series on Youtube, A Taste of Nostalgia. I’ve always wanted to do a series like this to share more of my culture (Japanese, Chinese and Canadian) through food. Ohagi is the first episode, so you can watch how to make it over there if you’re more of a visual learner 🙂
Table of Contents
- What is ohagi?
- What is the difference between ohagi and botamochi?
- Cultural significance
- Ohagi (Botamochi) Ingredients
- How to make ohagi (botamochi)
- Ohagi variations
- Where to find Ohagi in Japan
- Tips on making ohagi
What is Ohagi (Botamochi)?
Ohagi, also known as Botamochi, is a traditional Japanese sweet made from glutinous rice and red bean paste. Steamed or cooked glutinous rice is pounded, shaped into ovals and traditionally, covered with sweet red bean paste. Although anko was the standard, during the Edo period other flavours such as white bean paste (shiro an), kinako (soy bean flour), black sesame and aonori (green laver) were made in Kyoto, each adding its unique texture and depth. Nowadays, there are many different seasonal ingredients, flavours and variations.
Ohagi is not only enjoyed for its deliciousness but also cherished for its cultural significance and ties Ohigan (お彼岸, Buddhist holiday), during the spring and autumn equinox.
What is the difference between Ohagi and Botamochi?
These sweet rice balls are called differently depending on whether it is autumn or spring. During autumn, they are called Ohagi (おはぎ) because it resembles the flower called ‘hagi’ (萩, bush clover) that blooms in the fall. In the spring, they are called Botamochi (ぼたもち), named after the peony (牡丹 peony) flower that appears during the spring.
Another difference is the type of red bean paste used. During Ohigan of autumn (Shūbun), the red beans are freshly harvested. This means the red beans are very soft so the sweet bean paste is made with the skin (tsubushi an or tsubu an). Then during Ohigan of Spring, the peel is harder so smooth bean paste (koshi an). However, with modern methods and equipment, both can be enjoyed year around.
Ohagi holds significant cultural and seasonal importance in Japan, particularly during the autumn equinox, known as ‘ohigan’, or ‘higan’. During this time, Japanese families honor their ancestors and visit their graves, and Ohagi is often prepared and enjoyed as a traditional offering.
The significance of Ohagi during Ohigan is tied to Buddhist traditions and beliefs. It’s believed that the sticky rice used in Ohagi can help provide nourishment to the spirits of ancestors. The round shape of Ohagi symbolizes the cycle of life and death, and its association with the changing seasons reflects the transient nature of life.
Beyond its ritualistic significance during Higan, Ohagi represents a sense of familial connection and tradition. Families often come together to make Ohagi, passing down recipes and techniques through generations. It’s a way of preserving cultural heritage and celebrating the ties between past and present.
To make ohagi, all you need is:
- Japanese glutinous rice (mochigome): please use Japanese glutinous rice for this recipe as it has a different flavour than Thai glutinous rice. You may also substitute 20-25% of the rice with Japanese short grain rice to keep it softer and chewier for an extended period of time.
- Anko (sweet bean paste): I personally love tsubushian for ohagi, but you can also choose between tsubuan (chunky) and koshian (smooth).
Here’s my recipe for tsubushian that I have adapted from my grandmother. It’s a bit more timely compared to other recipes, but I promise it’s worth the extra time put in. I’ll be posting tsubuan and koshian recipe soon!
Sugar and salt is optional, but recommended as is lends to flavour and keeps the rice softer and chewier for longer.
How to Make Ohagi (Botamochi)
Ohagi is the very first thing I learned how to make with my grandmother, and we would make it together every year we visited Japan when I was growing up. While it can take some time to make delicious anko, the process is incredibly easy in comparison to other wagashi (Japanese sweets).
- Cook glutinous rice: wash, soak and cook glutinous rice.
- Pound the rice: pound the cooked rice to your liking.
- Shape and wrap the rice: shape the rice into ovals and then coat them with red bean paste.
Sweet Rice Ball Variations
The pound rice balls are also coated (or filled) with other ingredients other than red bean paste. Flavours vary by region, reflecting local ingredients and taste preferences. The Kanto region preferred strong flavours such as sesame and soy bean flour. While the Kansai region preferred lighter flavours such as aonori (seaweed) with red bean paste inside. In Kyoto, ohagi with matcha white bean paste is popular. In the southern part of Tohoku region, Zunada paste (mashed edamame or fava beans) are preferred.
Modern times now include a larger range of variations. Recently, colourful ohagi with many different flavours and styles have become very popular amongst the younger generation.
Where to find Ohagi in Japan
Here are some of my top recommendations for Ohagi in Japan!
Traditional: made with anko
- Saichi (Japanese bean cake “Ohagi” Shop) (主婦の店 さいち) – Sendai
- Kanmi-Okame (甘味おかめ 有楽町店) – Tokyo
- Kasho Akane 菓匠 あかね – Tokyo
- Sentaro Head Shop (仙太郎 本店) – Kyoto
- Imanishiken (今西軒) – Kyoto
- Gyokuseiya (おはぎ 玉製家) – Osaka
- Miyoshino (みよしの) – Ehime
Modern: made with a variety of seasonal ingredients and incredibly aesthetic
- Takeno To Ohagi (タケノとおはぎ) – Tokyo
- OHAGI3 – nagoya / tokyo / hiroshima / miyagi
- Mori no Ohagi (森のおはぎ) – Osaka
- Masuda Ohagi (増田おはぎ) – Sapporo
- Glutinous rice vs. Short grain rice: When making ohagi and consuming it fresh, I prefer and recommend to use 100% glutinous rice. However, if storing for an extended period of time, mixing short grain rice will help keep the rice softer and chewier. Additionally, adding sugar and salt helps with maintaining texture.
- Make sweet bean paste in advance: Making the sweet bean paste a day in advance cuts down prep work the day of and will make it easier to mold since will be completely chilled and thickened.
- Pounding the rice: When using only glutinous rice, I only pound 1/4 – 1/3 as it is already distinctly chewy. When adding in short grain rice I recommend pounding half the amount for a chewier texture but still being able to enjoy the natural texture of rice. However, how much you pound is completely up to you!
- Shaping the rice: Dampen your hands before molding each ball so that the rice doesn’t stick to your hands. It’s easiest to shape when the anko is completely chilled and rice is still a little warm.
- Use plastic wrap to coat the rice: Using plastic wrap to coat the rice makes it less messy and much easier to coat the rice ball evenly.
How to Store Ohagi
Ohagi is best enjoyed after they’re made. They can be stored in a cool environment for up to 24 hours. I do not recommend refrigerating them as the rice will lose it’s soft and chewy texture, and turn hard. If you have leftovers, wrap tightly in cling wrap and freeze. They can be kept frozen for up to 1 month. When ready to eat, thaw in the refrigerator overnight or microwave on low setting until soft.
I personally like eat ohagi on the warmer side during the cooler months ☺️.
Enjoy!! If you make this Ohagi (Botamochi) recipe, let me know! Leave a comment, rating and if you decide to share it on socials, tag me on instagram @Okonomikitchen. I’d love to hear from you 😁!Print