What Techniques Can You Use to Make Authentic Japanese Onigiri?


Have you ever wondered how to make authentic Japanese Onigiri? This traditional Japanese food has become a global sensation, and it’s not hard to see why. Onigiri is a popular rice dish that features cooked rice shaped into balls or triangles and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). This treat is quick to make, portable, and versatile, making it a perfect snack or meal on the go. In this article, you’ll learn about the necessary ingredients and techniques to create your own authentic Onigiri at home.

The Basics of Making Onigiri

To make Onigiri, you’ll need few ingredients: rice, salt, nori, and your chosen filling. The simplicity of the ingredients allows the natural flavors to shine through, so it’s essential to use high-quality items.

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Rice: Japanese short-grain rice is the ideal choice for making Onigiri. Its stickiness makes it possible to shape the rice into balls that will hold together. Rinse the rice thoroughly before cooking to remove excess starch. After the rice is cooked and while it’s still warm, it’s ready to be shaped.

Salt: A little bit of salt enhances the flavor of the rice. Plus, it acts as a natural preservative, keeping the Onigiri fresh longer. You’ll just need to wet your hands with water and sprinkle a little salt on them before shaping the rice.

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Nori: This dried seaweed wrap adds a crisp texture and a sea-salty flavor to the Onigiri. Full-sized sheets can be cut into strips and wrapped around the rice balls before eating.

Filling: Traditional fillings include pickled umeboshi plums, cooked salmon, or tuna mixed with mayo. However, you can be creative and use any kind of filling you prefer.

Techniques for Shaping Onigiri

Shaping the Onigiri is the trickiest part of the process, but don’t worry, with a little practice, you will get the hang of it. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Preparation: Begin by wetting your hands to prevent the rice from sticking. Then sprinkle a bit of salt onto your palms.

  • Shaping: Place about a half cup of warm rice in one hand and make an indentation in the center for the filling. Add your chosen filling, then cover it with a little more rice. Lightly press the rice together to encase the filling.

  • Forming the Ball: Cup your hands together and start shaping the rice into a triangle, round, or cylinder shape. Be gentle while doing this to avoid crushing the grains of rice.

  • Adding the Nori: Lastly, wrap the bottom of the rice ball with a strip of nori. It not only adds flavor but also makes it easier to hold the Onigiri without getting sticky fingers.

A Step-by-Step Recipe for Making Onigiri

Now that you know the basics, let’s walk through a simple recipe for making Onigiri.


  • 2 cups of uncooked Japanese short-grain rice
  • 2-3 sheets of nori (dried seaweed)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup of your chosen filling


  1. Rinely rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear.

  2. Cook the rice according to package instructions. Once cooked, let it cool slightly so you can handle it without burning your hands.

  3. Cut the nori sheets into strips and set aside.

  4. Wet your hands with water and sprinkle them with salt.

  5. Take about a handful of warm rice and place it in one hand. Make a small well in the center of the rice for the filling.

  6. Add your chosen filling into the well, then cover it with a bit more rice.

  7. Shape the rice into a ball, then gently mold it into a triangle, round, or cylinder shape.

  8. Wrap a strip of nori around the bottom of the rice ball.

  9. Repeat with the remaining rice and filling.

Onigiri Variations and Serving Suggestions

As with many traditional recipes, there are endless variations of Onigiri. Here are a few to try:

  • Grilled Onigiri: Brush your rice balls with soy sauce or miso paste, then grill them until crispy. This adds a delicious smoky flavor.

  • Furikake Onigiri: Mix furikake (a Japanese seasoning mix) into the rice before shaping. It provides an extra burst of flavor.

  • Sushi Onigiri: Add sushi vinegar to the rice and use sushi-style fillings like raw tuna or cucumber.

When it comes to serving Onigiri, it’s most commonly enjoyed on its own as a quick snack or lunch. However, you can also pair it with a bowl of miso soup, pickles, or a salad for a complete meal.

Remember, making Onigiri is as much about the feeling and the tradition as it is about the specific ingredients or techniques. So have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to add your own unique twist to your creations. With the right approach, you’ll be making authentic Japanese Onigiri in no time.

How to Properly Cook the Rice for Onigiri

The first step in making authentic Japanese Onigiri is to cook the rice properly. For this, you’ll need Japanese short-grain rice, known for its sticky texture that’s perfect for forming rice balls.

Start by rinsing the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. This is important as it removes the excess starch from the rice, which can affect the final texture. After rinsing, you can cook the rice using a rice cooker or a pot on the stove. The latter method involves bringing the rice and water to a boil, then reducing the heat and letting it simmer until all the water has been absorbed.

Keep in mind that the rice for Onigiri needs to be slightly harder than the standard steamed rice, as it helps the balls hold their shape better. So, ensure not to overcook the rice; it should be soft but still has a bit of bite to it. After the rice is cooked, let it sit for about 10 to 15 minutes to allow the excess moisture to evaporate.

Remember, the rice should be still warm when you start shaping the Onigiri. Warm rice is easier to mold and helps the salt to dissolve and spread evenly, enhancing the overall taste of the Onigiri.

Flavoring Techniques and Popular Onigiri Variations

Onigiri is traditionally a simple dish, but various flavoring techniques can enhance the taste of your rice balls.

Salt is the most basic seasoning used in Onigiri. Simply wet your hands with water, sprinkle a bit of salt on them, and then shape the rice. The salt not only adds flavor but also acts as a natural preservative.

For an extra flavor kick, you can also brush the rice balls with soy sauce or miso paste and then grill them. This version is known as Yaki Onigiri and has a savory, smoky flavor that’s truly irresistible.

Another popular variation is to mix furikake or bonito flakes into the rice before shaping. Furikake is a dry Japanese seasoning typically made from dried fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate. Meanwhile, bonito flakes are thin shavings of dried, smoked bonito fish. Both of these add an umami richness to the Onigiri that is very delightful.

Tuna mayo, a simple mixture of canned tuna and mayonnaise, is also a favorite filling among many. You can also experiment with other fillings such as pickled plums (umeboshi), cooked salmon, or even chicken teriyaki.

Concluding Thoughts

Making Onigiri might seem a little daunting at first, especially if you’re not familiar with Japanese cooking. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it’s a rather straightforward process. And the best part is, you can make Onigiri in your own kitchen using simple ingredients and tools.

The key to making great Onigiri lies in choosing the right rice and cooking it correctly. Also, don’t forget to season your rice generously and to choose a filling that complements the sticky, mildly salty rice.

Experiment with different shapes, flavors, and fillings to find your favorite version. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to whip up a batch of these delicious rice balls in no time.

So go ahead, gather your ingredients, and start making your own Onigiri. Enjoy the process, and of course, the final result – your very own, homemade, authentic Japanese Onigiri. Happy cooking!