Japanese Rice Balls

Onigiri

The Spruce

  • Total: 35 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Yield: 8 rice balls (8 servings)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
386 Calories
1g Fat
87g Carbs
7g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 rice balls (8 servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 386
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 35mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 87g 32%
Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Protein 7g
Calcium 93mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Japanese rice balls, also known as onigiri or omusubi, are a staple of Japanese lunchboxes (bento). They are usually shaped into rounds or triangles by hand and they're fun to make and eat. 

Much like sandwiches in the West, onigiri is readily available in convenience stores across Japan and is great for a quick and easy savory snack. They're great for an on-the-go eat, with no need for utensils or to heat them up. Recently, they have enjoyed a surge of popularity among food trucks where they are made fresh and grilled lightly to order. However, making onigiri at home is irresistibly economical and easy.

The rice can also be mixed with a flavorful add-in like furikake. Furikake is like the salt and pepper of Japan and consists of toasted sesame seeds, sea salt, nori, bonito flakes, and an optional pinch of sugar. 

Usually wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) or rolled in sesame seeds, consider shichimi togarashi as a topping. This is a Japanese spice blend made up of ground sesame seeds, orange peel, and chili pepper. Or, If you want to be fancy, you can use your kitchen shears to cut little shapes out of the seaweed. Two semicircles, two ovals, a little triangle of a nose, and a pointy little sliver of a mouth gives you a panda.

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Click Play to See This Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Recipe Come Together

Ingredients

  • 4 cups steamed Japanese rice (sushi rice)
  • 1 dash salt (or to taste)
  • Optional: black sesame seeds
  • Optional: 1 to 2 sheets dried nori seaweed
  • For the Fillings:
  • Optional: ume (pickled plum)
  • Optional: grilled salted salmon (small chunks)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Cut each nori sheet (if using) into 8 to 9 strips and put about a half cup of steamed rice in a rice bowl.

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  3. Wet your hands with water so that the rice won't stick.

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  4. Rub some salt on your wet hands.

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  5. Place the steamed rice in your hand and form, making sure it is dense and thick.

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  6. Put your favorite filling, such as umeboshi or grilled salmon, on the rice and push the filling into the rice lightly.

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  7. Hold the rice between your palms. 

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  8. Form the rice into a round, a triangle, or a cylinder by pressing lightly with your both palms, securing the filling in the middle. Roll the rice ball in your hands a few times, pressing lightly.

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  9. Wrap the rice ball with a strip or two of nori (if using), or sprinkle some sesame seeds on them (if using).

    Japanese Rice Balls Recipe
     The Spruce
  10. Serve and enjoy!

Tips

  • The ingredients for this recipe, including ume and salted salmon, can be found in Asian grocery stores or ordered online.
  • Steamed sushi rice will be sticky enough that it will easily form into a shape when pressed.
  • Since onigiri is frequently a convenience store food, it is designed to be eaten with your hands—no chopsticks required.

Recipe Variations

  • Fillings can vary, so it's good to use your favorites. You can put almost anything in an onigiri; try grilled salmon, pickled plums, beef, pork, turkey, katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) seasoned with soy sauce, or tuna with mayonnaise. 
  • If you're in the mood for a warm meal, just toast your onigiri lightly for 2 to 3 minutes per side on a pan brushed with sesame oil. The outer layer of rice will get toasty and golden-brown and a little bit crackly.

Do you eat the seaweed on onigiri?

Nori, the seaweed used to make onigiri, is completely edible and delicious, too.

Do you eat onigiri hot or cold?

Onigiri is typically eaten cold or at room temperature, but it can be quickly grilled and served hot (known as yaki onigiri).

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