Healthy Wagashi「和菓子」or traditional Japanese candy are a must-eat if you’re in Japan. These sweets are completely different to western style desserts and sweets. Western style desserts are built around ingredients such as wheat flour, dairy and eggs. Whereas healthy wagashi are very low in fat, mostly gluten and dairy free, making them a great option for vegetarians, vegans or those on a gluten free diet. Healthy wagashi has a subtle sweetness and draws on the natural flavors of its ingredients.
1. The flavors of traditional Japanese candy
Some prominently featured flavors of healthy wagashi include:
- matcha 「抹茶」
- red bean jam (azuki)/(anko)「小豆色」「あんこ」
- white bean jam (shiro-an)「白あん」
- glutinous rice flour (mochi)「もち」
- Japanese sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo)「さつま芋」
- roasted soybean flour (kinako)「きな子」
- Japanese Mugwort (yomogi)「よもぎ」
2. Are the ingredients healthy?
Traditional Japanese candy is a healthy way to indulge your sweet tooth as they tend to be less processed. A lot of healthy wagashi contains a variety of superfoods. Matcha is a known superfood as it contains a plethora of health benefits from antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, the red and white bean jam based sweets are high in protein. Azuki beans are nutritionally rich as they not only contain protein but complex carbohydrates, fiber and a whole host of minerals. Azuki beans are high in B vitamins which provide many health benefits. Vitamin B1 assists in the break down of carbohydrates, which works well with the rice flour contained in a lot of traditional Japanese sweets like daifuku and mochi. Vitamin B2, niacin, calcium, phosphorus and iron also lower blood pressure and provide relief from fatigue and muscle pain. Aside from the bean filled treats, many other components of healthy wagashi are plant based. Japanese sweet potatoes or satsuma-imo「さつま芋」are highly satiating, very low in fat, a good source of fiber, and vitamin C. The skin of Japanese sweet potatoes also contain anthocyanin – which give it the characteristic bright purple hue. Hyaluronic acid in Japanese sweet potatoes have also been said to have anti-aging properties.
3. How to enjoy wagashi
Many, if not all of these sweets are designed to accompany matcha or other forms of Japanese tea. They often feature in Japanese tea ceremonies, and change to match the seasons. In traditional tea ceremonies, healthy wagashi is usually bite sized and served on a special piece of paper called kaishi「懐紙」that guests usually bring with them, tucked away within their kimono. The traditional Japanese candy is eaten at the beginning of the tea ceremony before drinking freshly prepared matcha. Rather than unceremoniously putting the entire thing in your mouth, wagashi is eaten delicately and in small bites, so to savor the unique flavor.
There are many different kinds of healthy wagashi, the most popular being:
4. How to make traditional Japanese candy
Although wagashi preparation doesn’t usually involve baking like traditional western desserts, they can be quite finicky and time consuming to make and prepare.
Making mochi, daifuku or other traditional Japanese candy from scratch involves many steps:
- Slow cook the beans with sugar and water
- Mix sweet rice flour with sugar and water to form a dough
- Cook the dough
- Roll out the dough
- Let the dough cool in the refrigerator
- Cut out mochi wrappers
- Cover the bean jam in a mochi wrapper
- Dust with potato starch.
As you can see, there are many stages involved in making your own daifuku at home. Moreover, most wagashi needs to be consumed very quickly after it has been made due to the fresh nature of the ingredients. To combat the short shelf life, many store bought brands of wagashi may be loaded with additives, 449 of which are currently allowed in food produced in Japan. Some of these additives enhance flavor or color, act as a preservative or aid the texture. However, these artificial additives are not necessary in the production of delicious and healthy food.
It is possible to find traditional Japanese sweets at your local convenience store, grocery store or specialty Japanese sweet shop but you can’t be sure that these products are completely natural and additive-free. They may contain preservatives and a whole host of additives. HealthyTOKYO’s shop is full of natural and additive-free products, one range being traditional Japanese sweets that taste just like my obachan used to make. Treat yourself to this guilt-free indulgence the next time you have a hankering for dessert! You can also find organic matcha on HealthyTOKYO, plus accessories like a 「茶筅」Chasen and tea bowl so why not have a healthy, traditional Japanese tea ceremony at home!