Made with glutinous rice and red bean paste, these Japanese Sweet Rice Balls are offered to one’s ancestors and eaten during the spring and autumn equinoxes in Japan. They are called Botamochi in spring and Ohagi in autumn.
Growing up in Japan, I remember we had a lot of cultural, seasonal, and sometimes religious celebrations that often come with specific foods.
Ohagi or Botamochi is one of those special foods we enjoyed during spring and autumn equinoxes every year. They are sweet rice balls filled or coated with red bean paste. Today, I’ll share little cultural tidbits of this traditional sweet along with the recipe!
What is Ohagi (Botamochi)?
These sweet rice balls are usually made with glutinous rice, sometimes rice, and red bean paste.
The rice balls are formed into the shape of a small cylinder and covered with red bean paste on the outside. There are also variations where the rice balls are coated with sweetened soybean flour or sweetened ground black sesame and stuffed with red bean paste on the inside.
They are commonly eaten during Ohigan (お彼岸), a Buddhist holiday during both spring and autumn equinoxes.
Is there a difference between Ohagi or Botamochi?
You’ve probably noticed that I keep calling these sweet rice balls with two names – Ohagi and Botamochi. That’s because we call these rice balls differently in spring and autumn.
In autumn, they are called Ohagi (おはぎ), named after the autumn flower, hagi (萩 bush clover).
In spring, they are called Botamochi (ぼたもち), named after the spring flower, botan (牡丹 peony).
Regionally, people may grow up calling it just by one name, but they are essentially the name.
How to Make Ohagi (Botamochi)
Unlike some mochi recipes on my blog that require hard-to-find rice flours, this Ohagi (Botamochi) recipe is rather simple. All you need is Japanese glutinous rice (please, use a short-grain variety), Japanese short-grain rice, and red bean paste. Here are the 3 steps to make these rice balls:
- Cook glutinous rice and rice – Cook glutinous rice and rice together in the rice cooker (or whatever you use to cook rice).
- Pound the rice – Partially pound the cooked rice.
- Shape and fill the rice balls – Shape the pounded rice into balls and coat them with red bean paste. For the other two variations, fill the rice balls with sweet red bean paste and coat them with either sweeten soybean flour (kinako) or sweetened ground black sesame seeds.
5 Tips to Make Ohagi (Botamochi)
1. Combine Glutinous Rice and Rice
Ohagi (Botacmochi) are often made with only glutinous rice (sweet rice). However, I do not recommend using just glutinous rice as these sweet rice balls get cold or less “fresh”, the texture will become hard and not so chewy.
Mixing it with regular rice helps to keep the texture softer and chewier.
2. Pre-measure Anko (Red Bean Paste)
Once the cooked rice is pounded, it’s best to shape it while the rice is still warm. If you pre-measure the paste and roll it into balls ahead of time, you can just grab the paste and stuff in the rice balls quickly.
3. Partially Pound the Rice
One of the unique features of Ohagi (Botamochi) is the noticeable rice texture when you bite into it. Unlike other similar mochi sweets where fine rice flours are used, the rice is pounded partially, not mashed or knead all the way. This half-pounding technique is called “Hangoroshi“, literary a half kill (半殺し). 😱
4. Use Plastic Wrap to Thinly Spread the Red Bean Paste
Plastic wrap helps tremendously when you need to spread a thin layer of red bean paste around the rice balls. I’ve tried using my bare hand instead of plastic wrap, but I think you need a lot of practices to make it look presentable.
5. Save and Reapply Black Sesame and Soybean Flour
Within 10-15 minutes after you coat the rice balls with black sesame seeds and soybean flour, you will notice the color of those Ohagi (Botamochi) get darker and spotty.
This happens because the moisture in the rice is released to the coating. Therefore, it’s best to keep some coating and reapply it right before serving.
How to Store & Enjoy Ohagi
As they are made of both glutinous rice and rice, Ohagi is not suitable to store in the refrigerator. The temperature will only turn the rice balls hard and lose the soft, chewy texture. Therefore, it’s best to keep them in a cool place and enjoy them as soon as possible (half-day to 12 hours).
March might be cool, but September can still be warm and the food may go bad faster. In that case, I recommend storing them in the refrigerator, but cover the container with a thick towel to protect from cold air. They should be kept cool, ideally.
You can also freeze Ohagi for up to 1 month. When you’re ready to eat, defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
To bring back the ideal texture, Ohagi should be reheated gently in the microwave to warm or room temperature for you to enjoy.
Ohagi (Botamochi) are not so sweet and they go really well with green tea. Even though I don’t observe the religious ceremony, I still make these for my family twice a year around spring and autumn equinox. In my house, food culture is pretty important and I hope my children will remember my sweet Japanese rice balls twice a year.
For Making Ohagi (Botamochi)
For Black Sesame Coating
- 6 Tbsp toasted black sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp sugar
For Soybean Flour Coating
- 6 Tbsp kinako (roasted soybean flour)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
For Red Bean Paste Filling and Coating
- 1.3 lb red bean paste (anko) (I use my homemade anko recipe)
- Gather all the ingredients. For an easy transfer, I use aluminum cup liners to hold Ohagi (Botamochi). You can get it in the bento section at a Japanese grocery store.
To Prepare the Rice
- Combine the glutinous rice and rice together in a large bowl and rinse the rice a few times.
- Use your fingers to gently wash the rice in a circular motion for 10-15 seconds. Repeat this process 1-2 times. Add water and discard the water. Repeat this process 1-2 times. When the water is almost clear, drain well.
- Transfer the drained rice to the rice cooker. Add water (600 ml for my 3 rice cooker cups).
- Let soak for 20 minutes and press “start” to cook on regular rice cooking mode.
To Prepare the Toppings/Filling
- While the rice is being cooked, prepare the toppings/fillings. Grind sesame seeds with a pestle in a Japanese mortar.
- Transfer to a medium bowl and add sugar. Mix well together.
- In another medium bowl, combine soybean flour and sugar and mix well together.
- Using a small cookie scoop, make red bean paste balls. Each scoop/ball should be 2 teaspoons (0.7 oz or 20 g) of red bean paste.
To Pound Cooked Rice
- When the rice is almost finished cooking, make saltwater by combining 1 cup water and 1 tsp salt. Mix well together. This is for soaking the wooden rolling pin or pestle before pounding the glutinous rice.
- Once the rice is cooked, remove the rice cooker bowl from the cooker. While it’s hot, start pounding with the wooden pestle or rolling pin.
- The wooden rolling pin gets sticky from the glutinous rice. Soak it every few poundings. Stop pounding when the glutinous rice is half mashed/pounded (This is up to your liking. The rice should be mostly mashed but you can still see some rice grains).
To make the soybean flour/sesame-coated Ohagi (Botamochi)
- Moisten your hands with the saltwater and grab a small amount of pounded glutinous rice (1.4 oz or 40 g). Fatten it to make a round shape.
- Once it’s about 2 ½ inch diameter, put one Anko ball in the middle.
- Carefully gather up the pounded glutinous rice around the Anko to enclose the filling.
- Pinch the seam and form the rice ball into a small oval-shaped ball.
- Moisten the plate or tray with saltwater and transfer the oval-shaped rice balls.
- To make the soybean flour-coated Ohagi (Botamochi), put the rice ball (with Anko filling) in the soybean flour mix. Rotate a few times to coat well with the mixture and transfer to an aluminum foil liner.
- To make the sesame-coated Ohagi (Botamochi), put the rice ball (with Anko filling) in the black sesame mix. Rotate a few times to coat well with the mixture and transfer to an aluminum liner.
To make the Anko-coated Ohagi (Botamochi),
- Make a small oval-shaped ball with the pounded glutinous rice (1.4 oz or 40 g).
- Using a small cookie scoop, spread 2 scoops of Anko (total of 4 teaspoons, 1.4 oz or 40 g) into a round, flat shape on a piece of plastic wrap.
- Put the rice ball on top and evenly coat the Anko around the rice ball.
- Pull the plastic wrap and spread the Anko evenly and transfer it to an aluminum liner.
- When you’re ready to serve Ohagi (Botamochi), reapply the black sesame and soybean flour mixture. Serve them with green tea.
- It’s best to keep them in a cool place and enjoy them as soon as possible (half-day to 12 hours). If it’s too warm to keep at room temperature, I recommend storing them in the refrigerator, but cover the container with a thick towel to protect from cold air. Ideally, they should be kept cool. You can also freeze Ohagi for up to 1 month. When you’re ready to eat, defrost overnight in the refrigerator. To bring back the ideal texture, Ohagi should be reheated gently in the microwave to warm or room temperature for you to enjoy.
Other Seasonal Japanese Sweets
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 16, 2020 and republished in March 2021.