Japanese Rice Balls

Onigiri (Japanese rice balls) on a white plate

The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Total: 35 mins
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Yield: 8 rice balls
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
119 Calories
1g Fat
25g Carbs
2g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 119
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 164mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 1mg 0%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 20mg 0%
*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 lunch boxes (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 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 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.


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

"A fun-to-make snack. I had no trouble forming the balls, and the tip to have wet hands really helps. Even though I had several interesting Japanese ingredients on hand to spice these up, the plain versions were also a hit. These disappeared in minutes." —Danielle Centoni

Onigiri (Japanese rice balls) on a plate
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 to 2 sheets dried nori seaweed, optional

  • 4 cups steamed Japanese rice (sushi rice)

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • 1 ounce black sesame seeds, optional

For the Fillings:

  • 1 umeboshi, optional

  • 1 fillet salmon, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Onigiri (Japanese rice balls) ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

  2. Cut each nori sheet (if using) into 8 or 9 strips and put about a 1/2 cup of steamed rice in a rice bowl.

    Cut nori sheet into strips for onigiri

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

  3. Wet your hands with water so that rice won't stick.

    Wetting hands with water before working with the steamed rice for onigiri

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

  4. Rub some salt on your wet hands.

    Rubbing salt into wet hands before working with the steamed rice

    The Spruce Eats/ Madhumita Sathishkumar

  5. Place steamed rice in your hand and form into a triangle, making sure it is dense and thick.

    Forming the steamed rice into a triangle by hand

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

  6. Put your favorite filling, such as umeboshi or grilled salmon, on rice and push the filling into rice lightly.

    Adding grilled salmon onto the steamed rice triangle for onigiri

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

  7. Hold rice between palms. 

    Salmon being pressed into the steamed rice triangle in between palms for onigiri

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

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

    Rice triangle held with hands for onigiri

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar

  9. Wrap rice ball with a strip or two of nori (if using), or sprinkle some sesame seeds on them (if using).

    Onigiri (Japanese rice balls) being wrapped with nori

    The Spruce Eats / Madhumita Sathishkumar


  • 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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