Hanami dango are sweet rice dumplings skewered on a stick. It's a light, sweet dessert the Japanese like to eat in the Spring when the cherry sakura blossoms come to life.
We found out how to make hanami dango by experimenting in the kitchen until we got the version we thought was closest to what we had in Japan. You can make hanami dango without tofu, or check out our easy hanami dango recipe with tofu.
Through our research and experimentation, we have found the best recipe for you to try making at home.
What is hanami dango?
Hanami Dango is a pink, white and green mochi dessert. It's sold on a stick and is a fun little treat served all year round.
Hanami Dango history dates back to as early as the 8th century. Invented to celebrate the coming of Spring when the sakura trees are in full bloom, the word 'hanami' translates to 'flower' in Japanese. As the Japanese like to create seasonally themed food, the dessert was made with iconic Spring colours to indicate the arrival of the season.
Of course, in modern times, people no longer only eat it during the Spring. You can have it all year round! This exquisite wagashi, which means traditional Japanese confection, is so popular that it is even an emoji (🍡)!
Another favourite Japanese dessert that's also popular to eat during Spring is sakura mochi. The warm, pink colours of both wagashi are a lovely reminder of the freshness Spring brings.
What does hanami dango taste like?
Hanami dango tastes sweet with a slightly sticky texture. When you bite into the plain version, you'll notice that it tastes just like rice flour paste. But the tri-coloured wagashi has different flavours. While the green one has an earthy taste thanks to the use of mugwort or matcha, most people like to coat the pink one with strawberry powder, so it's sweeter than the others.
You can choose to eat it with a sesame paste or sweet soy sauce. If so, the dessert will be sweeter than the plain version.
Hanami dango flavours
There are different hanami dango flavours, which you can identify from the colour of the three chewy rice balls.
You'll find that the green one has a mild, earthy taste because of the mugwort or matcha used to coat it. But the pink one has a subtle cherry blossom or strawberry flavour. So there is a tinge of sweetness, although it can sometimes taste as plain as the white version.
Because of its neutral flavour, this tri-coloured dessert is often served with the following hanami dango sauces:
- Red bean
- Black sesame paste
- Sweet soy sauce
Hanami dango calories
This delicious Japanese dessert has 100-150 calories per stick, depending on the size of each mochi ball. We prefer to eat them plain. However, you may prefer dipping the dessert in a sauce. This will then increase the number of calories of this delicious snack, depending on which dip you choose.
Hanami dango ingredients
To make hanami dango, you can adapt any traditional dango recipe. Therefore, you'll need these ingredients:
- Bamboo skewers
- Glutinous rice flour
You'll need "Shiratamako" glutinous rice flour (or mochiko) and "Joshinko" rice flour. Remember that the flour you use matters because it will affect the texture of the rice dumpling. It might be challenging to get shiratamako, so you can also use mochiko. But the texture will turn out much firmer without the toothsome bite.
If you're wondering about the difference, our glutinous rice flour article explains it in more detail.
You will need silken tofu to make our easy hanami dango recipe with tofu. If you don't use it, you'll find that the texture of the wagashi will turn out a bit rougher and less chewy. You'll have to add fresh, silken tofu if you want a soft, chewy bite.
And finally, for the final touches:
- Matcha powder
- Red or pink food colouring
- Strawberry/cherry blossom extract (optional)
How to make hanami dango without tofu
You can also make a traditional hanami dango without tofu, only using rice flour. In this case, you need to replace the tofu with water to still get the soft texture.
To know how much water you need, you must weigh your flour mixture. You will need the ratio to be at least 90% flour in weight and 10% of water. Then, when you mix the ingredients for shaping, you should feel that it has a dense consistency, much like the thickness of your earlobe.
Additionally, make sure you add the water slowly and do not pour it in one go. This step enhances the firmness and tenderness of the mochi dumplings.
When you're ready to make your version of these Japanese sweet dumplings, be sure to look through our cooking tips below before you start so you can get the right firm and chewy texture.
Can I store it in the fridge?
You can store hanami dango in the fridge or keep it at room temperature. However, you just need to ensure it's in an airtight container. The texture will stay soft for about two days.
However, please don't put it in the freezer, even in a warm climate. The wagashi will become unpleasantly rough tasting.
If it's really necessary to store it in the freezer, you can separate the mochi balls and wrap them in baking paper. Then put it in an airtight container before placing it in the freezer. And take note that you can store it for up to a month before it goes bad. Then, when you're ready, let them thaw for about an hour at room temperate before you eat them.
How to skewer dango without them sticking
Since the glutinous rice balls are sticky, you'll need to brush some oil or butter on both the skewer and the rice balls. That way, it helps them not to stick to each other.
Another way is to rinse the hanami dango balls in cold water once they are cooked and let them dry on a moist towel or tissue paper. Then, soak your skewer under cold water before sliding the rice balls atop each other. Again, the water will prevent them from sticking to each other.
Easy Hanami Dango Recipe (with or without tofu)
- Add the flour and sugar together to mix it dry. Gradually add tofu to the mixture, ⅓ at a time. Continue mixing until the texture resembles scrambled eggs.
- Knead into a smooth dough. Boil water in a pot at low heat.
- Cut the dough into thirds. Divide each third evenly into an estimated 90 grams of dough.
- Take the first third. Add matcha powder to the dough and knead to get the colour. Then portion the dough into six balls.
- Next, add pink food colouring to the second third. Then, repeat kneading before forming the pink dough into six balls.
- Separate the last third into six balls. Those are the white hanami dango balls. Then boil the green, pink and white balls at medium heat separately for 5-7 minutes, stopping two minutes in between colours.
- Finally, rinse all the rice balls in cold water before skewering them to serve. Arrange the pink at the top, the green second, and the white one as the last.
- For those who prefer natural food colouring, try using crushed dry strawberries or beetroot juice. But, the best option is sakura flower extracts because they give the dessert a pleasant fragrance. This also matches the season the dessert symbolises.
- One tip for checking whether or not the rice balls are cooked yet is to watch the pot. Then, if the hanami dango balls float to the top, you'll know they're cooked.
- Another tip is to soak the bamboo skewers in water to prevent the hanami dango balls from sticking to each other. You can also grease the sticks with oil or butter. That way, the rice balls will stay smooth and separated.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
You can also try this mochi recipe if you enjoy quick and simple Asian desserts. Finally, you can serve these exquisite wagashi to delight your friends and family at tea time or at a dinner party.
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