Hanami Dango is enjoyed during cherry blossom viewing in Japan. These three-color rice balls (Sanshoku Dango) is a popular treat in spring!
As spring approaches, Japan turns into a shade of pink. Cherry blossom viewing (or Hanami in Japanese) has been a Japan’s tradition as early as the 8th century.
During Hanami viewing, the Japanese enjoy different types of wagashi (Japanese traditional confectionery) including Hanami Dango (花見団子).
What’s Hanami Dango?
Hanami (花見) means flower viewing (of cherry blossom), and during this season, many people go out for strolls through the magnificent columns of the flowering trees.
The Japanese have long been celebrated and admired the beauty of cherry blossom by enjoying picnics beneath the blooms. At the picnics, the Japanese enjoy some spring themed foods including Hanami Dango (花見団子) or sweet dumplings made with rice flour and skewered on a stick.
Hanami Dango is a stick with 3 dumplings in pink, white, and green (top to bottom in that order). The pink and white sweet dumplings consist of sweetened rice flour, and the green one tastes a bit more earthy because sweetened rice flour is mixed with yomogi (mugwort) grass.
You can purchase this sweet treat at the pop-up food stalls during cherry blossom season, or you can make them at home and bring to a picnic to enjoy them under the blooms.
Key Ingredients for Hanami Dango
1. Joshinko (Rice Flour) and Shiratamako (Glutinous Rice Flour/Sweet Rice Flour)
Dango is traditionally made with 100% (regular) rice (Uruchimai うるち米) or rice flour called Joshinko (上新粉). This is why dango is different from mochi, which is made with 100% glutinous rice/sweet rice (Mochigome もち米) or glutinous rice/sweet rice flour.
When I make dango at home, I find dango made with 100% Joshinko a bit too chewy and tough. This is why I always make my dango with half Joshinko and half glutinous rice flour/sweet rice flour called Shiratamako (白玉粉).
It’s very important to understand that both rice flour and glutinous rice flour are made from Japanese short grain rice. I had never used other Asian variety of rice flour or glutinous rice flour (not made from Japanese short grain). Therefore, to be honest, I am not sure how they would turn out to taste like authentic Japanese dango if you end up using non-Japanese type. As you know, Japanese short grain rice is very different from other types of rice in terms of flavors and textures.
I understand how difficult it is to find Joshinko and Shiratamako when you don’t have a well-stock Japanese grocery store in your area. The best substitute would be Mochiko (glutinous rice flour/sweet rice flour), which is widely available here in the U.S. (You can buy on Amazon).
Although shiratamako and mochiko are both glutinous rice flours, mochi made with these two flours is slightly different, especially in texture and flavor.
Mochi made with shiratamako has very smooth, more refined, and elastic bouncy texture while mochi made with mochiko is less elastic and more doughy. My personal preference is shiratamako because it’s much easier to make delicious mochi, with a much better texture and flavor.
2. Red Food Coloring or Substitute
In recent years, red food coloring is commonly used for the pink dango, but traditionally it was colored pink with purple shiso (we say red shiso 赤しそ in Japanese), salted pickled cherry blossoms, or fruit of cape jasmine (kuchinashi クチナシ).
These natural options are harder to get when you live outside of Japan. If you want natural food coloring instead of food coloring, I recommend using beet juice or crushed freeze dried strawberry/raspberry to make pink color.
3. Yomogi (Mugwort) or Substitute
Traditionally yomogi (mugwort) grass is used for green color mochi. However, it’s probably hard to get yomogi if you live outside of Japan. My local grocery store sells one brand (left product in above picture), but I used the right one that my friend sent me from Japan since it has a nice dark green color. You can substitute yomogi with matcha green tea powder instead.
Why Pink, White, and Green Dango in that Order?
The three colors of dango always consist of pink, white, and green from the top. There are many theories why Hanami Dango lines up in this order and why they have these three colors. Here are the main two theories.
Theory 1: cherry blossom’s life cycle – Pink buds, white flowers, and then green leaves.
Theory 2: scenery of the spring arrival – red sun or pink cherry blossoms, leftover snow, and yomogi (mugwort) grass or green sprouts beneath the snow.
Which theory do you think is correct? Both theories sound good to me as Hanami Dango brings the happiness of the spring season.
Hanami Dango & Hana yori Dango 花より団子
If you’re familiar with Japanese language, you might have heard of a saying, “Hana yori dango” (花より団子), which literally translates to “dango (dumplings) rather than flowers”.
It means to prefer substance over form, as in to prefer to be given functional, useful items (such as dango) instead of merely decorative items (such as flowers).
How about you? I’d be definitely looking forward to eating foods as much as admiring beautiful sakura!
If you enjoy dango, try this popular Mitarashi Dango with sweet soy sauce glaze over mochi!
- 120 g Joshinko (Japanese rice flour) (120 g = scant 1 cup)
- 120 g Shiratamako (glutinous rice flour/sweet rice flour) (120 g = scant 1 cup)
- 120 g sugar (120 g = 1/2 cup plus scant 2 Tbsp)
- 175 ml hot water (175 ml = ¾ cup)
- 5 g Yomogi (mugwort) (5 g = 1 Tbsp) (See Notes
- 2 Tbsp hot water
- Red food coloring (See Notes)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Put Yomogi in a bowl and add hot water. Use a fork to combine yomogi and water well.
- Set aside for 5 minutes. Then strain the yomogi using a fine mesh strainer. Discard the liquid.
- Combine joshinko, shiratamako, and sugar in a large bowl and mix all together.
Add hot water in small increment to combine (NEVER pour water at once) and mix well before you add more water. When the texture of the dough is similar to an earlobe texture, it’s good to go. It’s a funny comparison but that’s the traditional way to check on consistency. If you put too much water and your dough is too soft, add more joshinko.
- Divide the dough into thirds. Add the red food coloring to one third, the moisten yomogi to another third, and keep the last one as it is.
- Knead each dough until the color is even and well combined.
- Roll the dough into 8 even sized balls for each color. I used a #60 cookie scooper that holds 2 tsp. I have to say it’s a bit bigger than actual dango, so you can probably use 1 to 1.5 tsp. would be the ideal size. You might be able to get 12 dango total.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the white dango in boiling water until they start floating, about 8 minutes. Stir in the beginning so dango won't stick at the bottom. Once floating, cook for another 1 minute.
- Remove the white dango from the water and immediately let them cool in iced water for 1 minute. Then transfer to a plate.
- Next work on pink dango, and repeat the same process. Then finish with green dango. As you see, the boiling water change color, so I recommend starting from light color to dark color so white dango doesn’t get stain.
Put one of each color dango onto a skewer, in order of green, white, and pink. Serve at room temperature. Put dango in an airtight container and keep at room temperature up to 2 days. If you live in hot place, find a cool place to store, but not in the refrigerator as dango will become too tough. Enjoy in 2 days.
Yomogi: If you can’t find this ingredient in a Japanese grocery store, substitute with 1 to 1.5 tsp Matcha green tea powder.
Red food color: If you prefer to use natural ingredient, other options to make dango pink is to use crushed freeze dry strawberries/raspberries. Add a little bit at a time to check on the color.
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.