3 Japanese rice balls recipes | How to make onigiri and ohagi

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  March 23, 2022

17 easy recipes anyone can make...

All the tips you'll need to get started in Japanese cooking with, FOR A LIMITED TIME, FREE as our first email: the complete Japanese with ease cookbook.

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Want a quick snack? Then you just might like Japanese rice balls!

Also known as omusubi or onigiri, they’re mostly shaped into triangles or rounds by hand. They’re the staple of Japanese lunchboxes (bento), and are fun to make!

Just like sandwiches in the west, Japanese rice balls can be found in almost any convenience store across Japan, and they’re ideal for munching while on the go.

Onigiri rice balls recipe

In the past few years, onigiri has become very popular in food trucks, where they’re freshly made, and grilled lightly to order.

However, did you know that making Japanese rice balls at home is easy and irresistibly economical?

You can opt to mix the rice with flavors like furikake, which is Japanese salt and pepper and consists of sea salt, sesame seeds, bonito flake, nori, and a pinch of sugar, which is mostly optional.

Typically, Japanese rice balls are wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) or rolled in sesame seeds. You can also consider topping your onigiri with shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice made out of orange peels, ground sesame seeds, and chili pepper.

Tips and techniques for making Japanese rice balls

Always make sure to use freshly cooked rice

This is the key step that’ll ensure you get the perfect onigiri results! Before making the rice balls, allow your rice to cool slightly.

However, the rice needs to be warm, but not cold when preparing.

Make your hands wet

Always make sure that you wet your hands with water. This prevents the rice from sticking to your hands.

You should always have a bowl of water on your countertop, as this makes things easier!

Rub some salt on your hands

You should salt both your hands and then rub them to spread the salt evenly. This assists in preserving the onigiri, as well as flavoring the rice balls.

Apply a considerable amount of pressure

Don’t apply too much pressure on your rice. This prevents the rice from falling apart as you shape your rice balls. You can opt to shape them into a typical ball, cylinder, or even triangle-shaped onigiri like these.

Avoid squeezing the rice too tight.

Use a kitchen towel to preserve them if you want to use them the following day

If you’re preparing the rice balls for lunch the next day, but you don’t want to prepare them the day of, you can use the following trick. Wrap the finished products in plastic wrap, and then wrap them using a kitchen towel.

This protects the rice ball from being excessively cold as you keep them in your fridge. It’s important to note that rice gets hard when refrigerated. But this easy trick will ensure that your rice balls stay cool and safe.

Here are a few recipes that’ll allow you to enjoy onigiri at home without much hassle!

Onigiri rice balls recipe

Onigiri Japanese rice balls recipe

Joost Nusselder
When following this recipe, it's important to note that the fillings can vary. You should use your favorite ones! You can put almost anything you want in Japanese rice balls. 
No ratings yet
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Snack
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups Japanese sushi rice steamed
  • 1 dash salt to taste
  • 1 tsp black sesame seeds optional
  • 2 sheets nori seaweed

FOR THE FILLINGS

  • ½ cup ume (pickled plum)
  • ½ cup grilled salted salmon

Instructions
 

  • Steam the rice in a rice cooker or cooking pot for 8 minutes. Drain and let it cool off
  • Meanwhile, cut the nori sheet into 8 – 9 strips, and then put around ½ cup of steamed rice in a rice bowl.
  • Make sure that you wet your hands with water to prevent the rice from sticking.
  • Rub your hands with some salt.
  • Now place the steamed rice on your hand, and make sure that it's thick and dense.
  • You can now put your fillings on the rice, like grilled salmon or umeboshi. Then, push the fillings into the rice a bit.
  • Next, hold the rice between your palms. Press it lightly using both palms to form a round, cylinder, or triangle shape, and then roll the rice ball with your hands, pressing it lightly.
  • Using a strip or 2 of nori, wrap the rice ball or even sprinkle some sesame seeds on them.
  • Serve.
  • And of course, if you like smiley faces for kids (or childlike dinner guests!), cut some of the nori into eyes and a smiling mouth for the triangle.
Keyword Rice, Sushi
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Recipe variations

When following this recipe, it’s important to note that the fillings can vary. You should use your favorite ones! You can put almost anything you want in Japanese rice balls.

Try putting pickled plums, grilled salmon, pork, beef, dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) with soy sauce seasoning, turkey, or tuna with mayonnaise.

Onigiri-rice-balls-recipe-7

Onigiri-rice-balls-recipe-6

Onigiri-rice-balls-recipe-4Onigiri-rice-balls-recipe-3

Onigiri-rice-balls-recipe-2

If you feel like you want a warm meal, just toast your rice balls lightly for 2 – 3 minutes on each side on a pan drizzled with sesame oil. The external layer of the rice will become toasty, golden brown, and a bit crackly.

Also read: these are the different types of Japanese ramen you might’ve eaten at some point

Recipe 2

a round-shaped onigiri

Ingredients

  • Steamed rice
  • 2 cups uncooked Japanese short-grain rice
  • 2 ½ cups water
  •  

For making onigiri

  • Salt (sea salt or kosher; use half if you choose to use table salt)
  • 4 sheets nori (seaweed)
  • 1 salted salmon fillet
  • 2 packages dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
  • 2 ½ tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 can of tuna
  • Japanese mayonnaise
  • 3 Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi)
  • Seasoned kombu
  • Roasted/toasted black and white sesame seeds (to garnish)

Directions

Gather all your ingredients together

Preparing the steamed rice

  1. Put your rice in a large rice bowl, gently wash it in a circular motion, and dispose of the water. Repeat this process around 3 – 4 times.
  2. Allow the rice to soak in water for around 30 minutes. Move the rice into a rice sieve and allow it to drain completely. This should take around 15 minutes.
  3. Now mix the rice and water in a pot with a heavy bottom, and cover it with a lid. Bring the rice to boil over medium heat.
  4. Once the water boils, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and then continue to cook while covered for around 12 – 13 minutes, or until the water is fully absorbed. After 12 minutes, open the pot to see if there’s any water present, close the lid, and then continue cooking for an additional minute.
  5. Remove the pot from the stove with the lid is on, and then allow the rice to sit for an additional 10 minutes. Next, move the rice to a large plate and fluff it with a rice scooper. Allow it to cool for some time, or until you can comfortably hold it in your hands without burning them. However, you shouldn’t allow the rice to cool down completely.

Preparing the onigiri fillings

  1. As your rice soaks and drains for 45 minutes, start preparing the onigiri fillings.
  2. For the salted salmon—sprinkle kosher salt on both sides of the salmon fillet, and then bake at 400 degrees F in an oven or toaster oven for 25 minutes.
  3. Next, break the baked salmon into flakes and then set them aside.
  4. For the umeboshi filling, place the Japanese pickled plums (umeboshi) on a sheet of plastic wrap (10” x 10”). Fold in half and then squeeze out the seeds from each plum. Discard the seeds and you’re left with the umeboshi flesh.
  5. For the okaka filling, put the dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) in a bowl, add 2 tbsp of soy sauce, and mix them together. The bonito flakes should be moist, and no soy sauce should be left on the bottom of the bowl.
  6. For the tuna mayo filling, put the drained canned tuna in a bowl, add 2 tbsp of Japanese mayonnaise and ½ tbsp of soy sauce, and then mix them together.
  7. For the seasoned kombu filling, put the seasoned kombu in a bow for easier access later.

Preparing the onigiri

  1. Cut the nori sheets into thirds.
  2. Wet your hands with water to prevent the rice from sticking to your hands.
  3. Put some salt in your hands and then rub to spread around your palms. If you’re using table salt, make sure that you use half since it’s much salter compared to kosher salt.
  4. Now scoop the warm rice (around 1/3rd of a cup) into one hand, and then create a small indentation in the middle of the rice. Put your fillings inside (about 1 to 2 tsp), and then use your hands to mold the rice around the indentation to cover the fillings.
  5. Press the rice around the area with the filling to create a triangle shape from the rice. You can use 3 fingers (thumb, index, and middle fingers) to create a triangle corner. Ensure that your hands are firm to prevent the onigiri from falling apart. Also, make sure that you don’t squeeze your rice very tightly.
  6. Use the nori to cover the onigiri.
  7. Place some of your fillings on top of the rice balls.

Alternative method

  • If you don’t want to touch the rice at all, you can place a piece of plastic wrap in a rice bowl (or any small bowl) and put the rice on top. Sprinkle on some kosher salt (remember, salt is used to preserve the rice for a long time here).
  • Pull the plastic wrap corners and twist a few times.
  • Form into a triangle shape in the same manner as I described above. 

Recipe notes

A heavy-bottom pot with a tight-fitting lid is recommended, as it’s thicker at the base. This means it absorbs and distributes heat better.

Also read: these are great sushi without rice recipes for low carb paleo diets

View the basics of making onigiri here in this video:

Japanese sweet rice balls recipe (ohagi)

Also known as botamochi, ohagi are sweet rice balls made with glutinous rice.

Mostly, they’re eaten during the higan period of spring and autumn, a Buddhist holiday celebrated by the Japanese during the 2 equinoxes.

The name “ohagi” comes the autumn flower hagi (bush clover). Traditionally, the sweet rice balls made in the spring period are known as botamochi, and they’re named after the spring flower botan.

In this recipe, there are 2 types of rice: Japanese and glutinous. Glutinous rice is a sticky and sweet rice strain grown in the southern Asian region.

The name “glutinous” doesn’t mean that the rice contains gluten, but rather, that it’s sticky. It’s not always easy to cook glutinus rice, so look out for rice cookers with a special “sticky rice” setting

There’s a Japanese cake made from glutinous rice: mochi. Japanese rice, on the other hand, is short-grain-polished white rice. In this recipe, you can choose to use a stovetop or rice cooker. You only need to adjust the time if you opt to use a stovetop to prepare your rice.

Ingredients

For the rice balls

  • 2 ½ cups glutinous rice (mocha gome)
  • ½ cup Japanese rice
  • 3 cups water

For the toppings

Make a bowl for 4 different toppings each:

  1. ¾ lb anko (sweet azuki bean paste)
  2. ½ cup crushed walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar (ground together)
  3. 3 tbsp black sesame seed and 1 ½ tbsp sugar (ground together)
  4. 1/3 cup kinako (soybean powder) and 2 tbsp sugar (mixed)

Directions

  1. Put the 2 types of rice in a bowl and then wash using cold water.
  2. Drain your rice using a colander and then set it aside for 30 minutes.
  3. Place your rice in a rice cooker, and then add 3 cups of water. Allow the rice to soak for around 30 minutes, and then start your cooker.
  4. As the rice cooks, put all your prepped toppings in different bowls.
  5. Once your rice is cooked, allow it to steam for an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Use a wooden pestle or spoon to mash your rice until it’s sticky.
  7. Wet your hands using water, and then mold your rice into oval balls.
  8. Use your different toppings to roll the balls through and cover them completely. Then serve.

Enjoy some tasty Japanese rice balls

There you go! These are some of the easiest recipes that’ll assist you in making Japanese rice balls at home.

So you don’t have to complain about spending much on onigiri when you buy them at convenience stores, as you can now make them at home!

As I’ve said earlier, this is much easier and more economical than buying ready-made Japanese rice balls. So not only can you save some money, but you can also get onigiri and ohagi to eat pronto!

Read more: these Takoyaki balls are also very delicious, if you like octopus

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.