Japanese Rice Balls

Onigiri with black sesame seeds

The Spruce

  • Total: 35 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Servings: 6 to 8 servings
  • Yields: 8 rice balls
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
386 Calories
1g Fat
87g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
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 it's great for a quick and easy savory snack. They're perfect for an on-the-go eat, too, 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 furikakeFurikake 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 chile 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

  • Optional: 1 to 2 sheets dried nori seaweed
  • 4 cups steamed Japanese rice (sushi rice)
  • 1 dash salt (or to taste)
  • Optional: black sesame seeds
  • For the Fillings:
  • Optional: umeboshi (pickled plum or ume)
  • 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 1/2 cup of steamed rice in a rice bowl.

    Nori sheets on a plate with bowl of steamed rice and a bowl of black sesame seeds
    The Spruce
  3. Wet your hands with water so that the rice won't stick.

    Wetting a hand before working with the steam rice
    The Spruce
  4. Rub some salt on your wet hands.

    Rubbing salt into wet hands before working with the steamed rice
     The Spruce
  5. Place the steamed rice in your hand and form into a triangle, making sure it is dense and thick.

    Forming the steamed rice into a triangle
    The Spruce
  6. Put your favorite filling, such as umeboshi or grilled salmon, on the rice and push the filling into the rice lightly.

    Adding grilled salmon onto the steamed rice triangle
    The Spruce
  7. Hold the rice between your palms. 

    Pressing the salmon into the steamed rice triangle
     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.

    Placing the triangle of rice next to the sheets of nori
    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).

    Triangles of onigiri wrapped in nori and sprinkled with black sesame seeds
    The Spruce

Tips

  • The ingredients for this recipe, including umeboshi (or ume plum) 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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