Among Japanese sweets, you may often hear of mochi, dorayaki, etc. However, today we would like to introduce a sweet that has a strong impression as an offering. The interesting fact is that many people have seen it but do not know its taste and features. Therefore, let’s find out in this article surprising facts about rakugan and how to make it.
What is Rakugan?
Definition of Rakugan
Rakugan is a type of Japanese confectionery made from glutinous rice flour called mijinko, cereal flour, sugar and mizuame. It also has the name “Uchimono” or “Uchigashi” because of it producing method. With all the ingredients pressed into a mold, they will be hardened and then dried to make a beautiful rakugan.
This dish is a traditional Japanese confectionery that often appears as sweets and offerings in tea ceremony. However, rakugan is believed to not originate in Japan. In the next section, let’s find out more about its history and etymology.
Mizuame (水飴, literally “water candy”) is a sweetener from Japan. Mizuame is a main ingredient in Japanese sweets (wagashi).
Difference between rakugan and other sweets
Rakugan vs Hakusetsuko
Hakusetstuko (白雪糕) is a type of rakugan made by adding white sugar and lotus seed powder to non-glutinous rice and glutinous rice powder, putting it in a mold and drying it. When you put it in your mouth, it is moist and melts like light snow, so it came to be called that. In some areas, there is no distinction between Hakusetsuko and rakugan, and they are all called rakugan.
Rakugan vs Higashi/ Wasanbon
Higashi (干菓子) are traditional dry Japanese sweets consisting of sugar and rice flour. They have a very long shelf life as the moisture content is just about 20% or less. There are three types of wagashi: fresh, semi-fresh and dry. Higashi (or dry sweets) includes rakugan, wasanbon and yatsuhashi.
Wasanbon (和三盆), which is known as a sweet similar to rakugan, is also made with the same technique. However, Wasanbon does not use flour or mizuame.
History & Etymology
There are several origins of the name “rakugan”. One theory is based on a sweet called “Nanrakukan” (軟落甘), a Chinese confectionery which was brought to Japan during the Ming Dynasty (14-17th century). Narachikan is a sweet made by adding sugar and mizuame to finely ground glutinous rice and putting it in a mold. It is considered to be the root of rakugan because the manufacturing method is similar. A lot of people believe that from the name “Nanrakukan” (軟落甘), it gradually changes to “Rakukan” (落甘) and then “Rakugan” (落雁) as we all know it today.
Another theory is that it was named “Rakugan” after the scene of “Katata no Rakugan” (堅田落雁) in Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi). At that time, the shape of Higashi was believed to resemble the view of wild geese flying down from the sky so it was named “Rakugan” (落雁).
The Eight Views of Ōmi (近江八景 or Ōmi hakkei) are traditional scenic views of Ōmi Province, which is now Shiga Prefecture in Japan. They were inspired by the Eight Views of Xiaoxiang in China which were first painted in the 11th century and then brought to Japan as a popular theme in the 14–15th centuries.
History of Rakugan
There are various theories about why rakugan, which was originally popular in tea ceremony culture, became an offering. The sugar used in rakugan, especially white sugar, was known as a luxury product. White is also the color used for burial clothes in Buddhist funerals.
There is a theory that people chose the white color rakugan because they wanted to offer luxury goods to the deceased as well as the color white reminded them of white clothing (白装束, Shiroshozoku) that woul never be stained.
In addition, there is also a theory that it originated from “Hyakumi no Onjiki,” (百味飲食) a Buddhist monk named Mokuren (目連). In the past, the monk Mokuren performed a ritual called “Hyakumi shoku” (百味飲食) in order to save his mother who had fallen into the Realm of the Hungry Ghost (Gakidou, 餓鬼道). Because of its delicious taste, especially sweet taste, rakugan was offered for the Hyakumi shoku.
- Is Rakugan a type of Higashi?
Yes! Rakugan is a type of dry sweets, which contain less than 10% of moisture. Other than rakugan, Higashi also consists of Goshikiitō, Hakusansekkei, Suiko, etc
- What are the main ingredients of Rakugan?
Two main ingredients are sugar and rice flour.
Detailed producing method is below here. Do not forget to check it out!
How to make delicious Rakugan?
|Ingredients (for 10 pieces)||Measurement|
How to make Rakugan?
Put the wasanon sugar and nekimizu in a bowl and mix.
Remember that the amount of neki (starch syrup) and water is equal.
When the mixture beomes hard enough, add the kanbai powder and continue to mix.
After mixing, sieve it and put it into a mold and wait until the mixture dries. You can choose the mold of flowever or anything as you like.
After hardening, take it out of the mold. The sweet is ready to serve!
How to arrange Rakugan?
As an offering, rakugan is really beautiful but some people may not know how to arrange rakugan. Therefore, in this section, we would like to introduce some ways of eating this traditional confectionery.
Add rakugan into drinks
There is a popular way of putting rakugan into drinks instead of eating straight. You can put it into drinks like coffee, tea, etc too add more sweet taste. Sometimes, you can also see crushed rakugan added into yogurt as a dish for children.
You can also put rakugan into soup too. Therefore, how about trying this way of arrangement for your New Year’s dish with family and friends?
Use as toast toppings
If you are getting bored of eating bread with jam, how about trying this new Japanese-style toast?
First, spread margarine or butter on the toast. Then sprinkle powdered rakugan on top. That’s it! With just two simple steps, you can enjoy the new mouth-watering toast with rakugan.
Use as toppings for Japanese food
If you make Japanese simmered dishes at home, you can try add some rakugan on top as toppings. It is simple but really delicious way of eating it.
Find some drinks that go well with rakugan
This time, let not put it into the drink but instead, eat rakugan and drink to balance the sweet taste. As stated previously, rakugan is often used in tea ceremony so tea definitely goes really well with this sweet. You can choose your favourite type of tea, but if you want it to be authentic, you can drink Japanese tea like sencha, hojicha. Other than tea, another suitable drink is coffee. Next time, let’s find yourself a favourite drink to enjoy with rakugan!
Rakugan Moroeya (落雁諸江屋本店)
This is a Japanese sweets shop founded in 1849 in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. They have a variety of sweets, mainly traditional sweets and rakugan. If you are finding a place to buy offerings for obon, do not forget to visit this place. Other from offline stores, you can also visit their website to order online. Check below for detailed information.
Kamakura Toshimaya (鎌倉豊島屋)
This is the famous brand that is famous for its “Pigeon Sable” (鳩サブレ). Toshimaya (豊島屋) based in Kanagawa prefecture has long been famous for Hato Sable, the pigeon shaped cookie. The main branch of Toshimaya is located in Kamakura. Other than hato sable, Kamakura Toshimaya also offers a lot of beautiful and delicious Japanese sweets, including rakugan. Therefore, if you are a fan of wagashi, remember to give this store a try!
Baikodo is a long-established Japanese sweets store that has been love since its open. The rakugan here in baikodo has adorable designs in the shape of seasons. Moreover, the traditional handmade method of wasanbon sugar is also the reason for its popularity. When you taste the wasanbon sugar, you will immediately feel the “snow-like melt-in-your-mouth” feeling. This is not only a place to buy beautiful gifts but also a trustworthy place for you to buy cooking ingredients.
Rakugan is not the most famous Japanese confectionery all over the world. However, it has an important meaning as a wagashi. Even after being used as offering, it still can be eaten deliciously depending on the arrangement. As a dry sweet, it is a great idea to enjoy it with some drinks such as tea. In recent years, there are more and more fashionable and easy-to-eat rakugan. You can buy it as a gift for family and friends or just buy it for yourself to enjoy. Let’t find your favourite rakugan!
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