Interested in learning how to make Onigiri the authentic Japanese way? We will look at what you need to know so you can learn how to make Onigiri rice the right way.

The flavors of Japan are world famous. Everyone knows sushi and probably has eaten it at some time. Whether you live in Brazil or California, sushi bars are everywhere. The only problem with sushi is that it takes time to prepare and you need time and space to eat it, unless you want to get soy sauce all over your working suit. Not only is Japan known for its sumptuous tasty morsels, it is also known as being fast paced and hectic. 

This is where the multitude of Konbini or convenience stores, come into their own and top of the bestseller list is the much sought-after Onigiri. We are going to look at how to make Onigiri rice and what you need to create super tasty fillings for that authentic Japanese lunch or mess free snack when you are out and about.

Japan’s Favorite Comfort Food

Known as Japan’s favorite comfort food Onigiri are balls of rice with tasty fillings at the center. They are quick to put together and it’s super easy to learn how to make Onigiri rice. Onigiri can be eaten on-the-go, making them very popular as lunchtime snacks

Adored by both adults and children who remember their mothers putting their favorite fillings into their lunchtime snacks. Molded into big or small balls, triangles, rectangles, and squares with cute decorations of small bunnies on the outside of the shapes, every bite brings back loving memories of days gone by. 

Japanese learn to make Onigiri for loved ones as a gesture of care and though traditionally filled with simple ingredients are seen as a special present for someone you have sympathy for.

What’s In Those Balls?

When learning to make Onigiri you will find that traditionally Onigiri use simple ingredients, most notably pickled plum and kelp, however there is room for much creativity when it comes to Onigiri fillings. Onigiri is also very popular with vegetarians who make use of ingredients like nuts, beans, and vegetables, slightly seasoned with a mix of herbs and spices.

The great thing about Onigiri is there are no rules when it comes to the fillings you can use. Whatever sounds tasty to you, can be put inside an Onigiri roll. Eat them on their own or have them as part of a packed lunch nestled beautifully inside an authentic Japanese bento box

Special Occasions

When it comes to special festivals and holidays the Japanese will always bring to these occasions varieties of Onigiri. Generally, it’s a good idea to have an intensely flavored filling that can complement the relatively bland taste of rice.

Having sustained multitudes of travelers throughout time with their salty rice balls and delicious savory fillings Onigiri is a great travelling companion because the rice acts as an insulator to the fillings inside, therefore preserving the delicate foods on long Journeys.

However, not all Onigiri have fillings, for example, there is Osekihan, which is just rice that has been steamed with beans. Then there is the yaki Onigiri which are soya soaked rice balls grilled on a high flame.

Regional Influence

Every region of Japan has their own Onigiri speciality. Okinawa is known for their love of spam that came over with the American GI’s after the second world war. Korea and Japan are only a few countries left that still produce and enjoy spam and in Okinawa they use spam as their choice Onigiri filling.

The only Onigiri fillings you will not really see no matter what region you are in is sweet filled Onigiri. The universal favorites are the ones like salted salmon, tuna, and roe that can be purchased almost anywhere when out shopping, and made fresh to order.

Making Onigiri

So, you want to know how to make Onigiri? We have a great recipe to get you started on making these little savory snacks.

The Classic Onigiri

4 Averaged Size Rice Balls, You Need:

  • 4 cups of freshly cooked Japanese sushi rice (we recommend Lundberg California Sushi Rice)
  • 2 sheets of nori seaweed, cut into wide strips
  • Salt
  • Fillings. Some of the more traditional fillings used are flaked cooked salted salmon, pickled plum, bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce, cooked salty cod roe, bonito flakes mixed with pickled plum and chopped up pickles.

When you start to learn how to make Onigiri you will quickly see that having freshly cooked rice is essential if you want to make a good Onigiri. Start off by rinsing your hands with some cold water, and sprinkle them with some salt. Then take ¼  of the rice and place it in one of your hands. 

Using your other hand, make a dent in the middle of the rice and put in about 1 tablespoon or so worth of filling, inside the dent. Now wrap the rice around the filling, forming it into a ball. If your looking to make the traditional triangular shape, cup your hand sharply to form each corner and keep turning it until you are happy with the result.

Finish off by wrapping your rice ball with about 1 to 2 strips of nori seaweed. All you have to do now is simply repeat this process for the rest of your rice. Now you know how to make Onigiri you need to hit the parks on those sunny days.

If you are taking your Onigiri for a picnic, be sure to wrap them in plastic film or you can try the traditional way and use a bamboo leaf. If you want to better preserve the crisp texture of the seaweed, it is recommended that you carry the nori strips separately and then later wrap it around the Onigiri when eating it.

If you are having difficulties locating some traditional fillings, here are a few non-traditional alternatives that work pretty well. However keep in mind that these types of fillings are susceptible to perishing quickly in hot weather, so be careful if you are taking them for a picnic. By the way, any strongly flavored salty filling should work great as well.

Try These Fillings With Your Onigiri;

  • Ground meat cooked with chopped or grated ginger, then flavored with some red pepper flakes, sugar, mirin or sake, and soy sauce. Keep in mind that your meat needs to be dry. You can also use curry flavored ground meat mixture as a viable alternative.
  • Canned tuna, must be well drained and flaked, flavored with a bit of salt and soy sauce. You could make a tuna mayonnaise by finely chopping onions and mixing them in with the tuna and mayonnaise.
  • Flaked corned beef
  • Chopped up western style pickles, must be well squeezed in order to get rid of any excessive moisture

Another Great Recipe

This simple recipe will guide you on making Onigiri the Japanese way. The first ingredient you will need is sushi rice. This variety of rice is short grain and possesses a much meatier texture. It can also stick together incredibly well. Along with the rice you will also need toasted seaweed, most commonly known as nori. 

When nori is heated up or exposed to water, it ends up becoming soft and chewy, losing its crisp texture. If you want to make sure that your nori maintains its crisp texture, be sure to add it to the rice balls right before eating.  There is a reason why, in Japan, when you buy Onigiri, the nori is wrapped separately from the rice. Nobody is going to enjoy gnawing on rubbery seaweed. 

When it comes to choosing your toppings, we recommend that you use black and white sesame seeds as not only will they give your Onigiri a bit more of a crunchy texture but they will also give it that yummy sesame flavour. You can also use a little bit of kelp flakes or dulse. While nori itself has a mild flavour, dulse and kelp possess a much stronger seaweed flavour so only a bit is needed. If your also looking to give your Onigiri a spicy, yet zesty flavour, then try adding some Japanese chili powder mix.

If you want a little extra, try adding some Umeboshi paste, these are pickled Japanese plums that are both sour and salty. They can also come in a number of different forms, such as whole, liquid, paste, and even wine.  They’re used in many Japanese recipes and are considered having many medicinal health benefits. Put about ½ a tablespoon of paste into the middle of your rice ball.

When it comes to making a traditional Onigiri, there are a variety of different ingredients that can be used for your filling. Listed below are just some more commonly used ingredients:

  • salmon 
  • pickled vegetables
  • salted cod roe
  • flaked tuna with Japanese mayo

Besides the traditional ingredients, you can stuff your Origini with whatever you like, from grilled vegetables all the way to last night’s leftovers. 

When starting off learning how to make Onigiri, it’s essential that your hands are wet with a light layer of salt on them when molding your rice balls.  This will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands when handling it. The temperature of the rice is also crucial and should still be quite warm yet cool enough to handle with your hands. When shaping your rice, you will want to mold it slowly and gently into either balls or triangles, however the size itself is completely up to you.  

When it comes to eating your Onigiri, soy sauce and pickled ginger make for excellent choices to go with your rice balls.

If you are looking to prepare a fairly well rounded picnic lunch that doesn’t require the use of any utensils whatsoever, add hard-boiled eggs, an orange or apple, vegetable sticks and either skewered chicken or cold barbeque chicken.

Our Review

Lundberg Sushi Rice

Lundberg California Sushi Rice

If you want to know how to make Onigiri rice, then you need a producer of the finest quality of rice which is not an easy task and can sometimes be quite a challenge. However, Lundberg Family Farms have been producing some of the finest sushi rice since 1937 as anyone in the process of learning how to make Onigiri will tell you. 

Their commitment to producing a delectable and flavoursome rich rice reflects in each grain of their sushi rice. Not only is this the perfect brand to choose from when making Onigiri, but also for other Japanese meals.

In order to maintain its high quality when it comes to the rices taste and texture, it is inspected twice a year by the quality assurance team. The crops are also grown under non-GMO practicing conditions, making it a much healthier alternative compared to other brands. This gluten-free rice has incredibly strict health values compared to other paddy rices and has been approved by USDA and certified as Kosher.

The focus of this family-owned and operated business is to manufacture a gluten-free, vegan, classic Japanese short grain white rice, grown especially for making, not only sushi, but any sort of Japanese dish like onigiri.

Lundberg California Sushi Rice

Contains 1 - 32 Ounce Bag of Lundberg Family Farms California Sushi Rice

Myungga Seaweed Wrappers

Onigiri Rice Ball

Individually wrapped to keep them fresh and crisp, Myungga seaweed wrappers are the perfect accompaniment for perfect authentic Onigiri. Just what you need for the kids lunch box or that sunny day out.

These seaweed wrappers are packed full of super healthy vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, D, E, B1, B2, vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, iron, iodine, fiber, and sodium, as well as vegetable protein and Omega 3. Use them to wrap your Onigiri or just eat them as they are for a flavor packed snack. There are two packs with seaweed wraps inside. You can use the containers as Onigiri molds as well.

This product is the complete Onigiri rice ball and triangle sushi making kit. There are 50 triangle shaped sheets that children just love. Super healthy and super tasty, what more could you ask for.

Onigiri Rice Ball

Complete Onigiri Rice Ball and Triangle Sushi making kit!

DAISO Onigiri Maker

DAISO Simple Triangular

DAISO triangular molds are incredibly simple to use and very easy to clean. These molds are made using a durable plastic that should end up lasting you a lifetime. The size of the mold is also perfect for making Onigiri and should have you pumping out delicious rice triangles in no time at all.

This product includes both a rice ball mold and a triangular shaped mold, catering all of your shape demands. The mold also uses a non stick plastic, however there is a temperature limit:-20C (-4F) to 100C (212F). The size of the molds themselves are 6cm x 4cm.

DAISO Simple Triangular

A rice ball and a triangular shaped mold, perfect to creato Onigiri with various shapes.

Mikasa Jones
Mikasa grew up in the dynamic Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Mikasa defines herself as an adaptive young woman who has been immersed into various cultures not just in the United States, but also her mother's hometown in Yokohama, Japan. She is a chef by profession and is an active member of the American Culinary Federation. She swears by a cup of hot matcha after a long day, saying that it helps her relax and focus on her tasks on a day-to-day basis.

Japan Daily Press is one of her outlets for sharing information with readers about the accessibility of commercially available Japanese products. She thinks that the misconception of sub-standard quality and taste of commercial food should be erased because there are a lot of manufacturers that are really stepping up their game in terms of developing products that are as close to authentic as possible.