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TRENDS IN TASTE Vol. 37 No. 2 Summer 2023

Japan’s Neo Wagashi

Traditional wagashi are being redefined

Ichigo daifuku

In recent years, conventional notions about wagashi Japanese confectionery have been upended, as quirky innovations are redefining the look and taste of these traditional sweets. The trend may have started with daifuku, a small, round wagashi made of mochi glutinous rice and filled with sweet azuki red bean paste, a classic and much-beloved accompaniment to tea. The idea of combining this mainstay with fresh fruit was once inconceivable—until the renowned ichigo daifuku was introduced in the 1980s. Revolutionary at the time, ichigo daifuku features a fresh strawberry (ichigo) nestled inside. Today this concoction of sweetness complspanented by tart fruit rspanains one of Japan’s most popular wagashi.

By paving the way for the so-called neo wagashi trend, the ichigo daifuku inspired more imaginative daifuku fillings, like sweet white bean paste, whipped cream, and fruit including Shine Muscat grapes, mikan satsuma and kiwi. Dorayaki small pancakes and taiyaki fish-shaped waffle cakes, both traditionally filled with sweet azuki paste, now also offer assorted fillings: some include butter, cream or fruit with azuki paste; other tspanptations are matcha cream, Western-style custard, cream cheese or chocolate.

Ohagi is a traditional wagashi of steamed glutinous rice pounded only lightly, so half the grains rspanain intact. This is typically oval-shaped and coated with azuki paste or dusted with sweetened kinako roasted soybean powder. As neo wagashi, however, ohagi are round and covered with bright, colorful sweet bean pastes and decorated with nuts or shredded coconut. Warabi mochi, made of bracken starch, is a jelly-like wagashi served with kinako. It now enjoys a new role added to milk tea or café latte, and, as with bubble tea, a wide straw delivers the jiggly, deliciously chewy warabi mochi to the mouth. Traditional wagashi will always endure, but the fresh takes on flavor and offbeat twists on presentation of neo wagashi continue to evolve and delight.

Traditional dorayaki and taiyaki (top left and right) alongside neo wagashi fruit daifuku, cream-azuki paste dorayaki and matcha cream taiyaki.
Vol. 37