Furikake: Turning Plain Japanese Sticky Rice into Something Special

Since rice is the basis for a well-balanced Japanese diet, there are many creative ways that they’ve developed over the years to eat it. One way they make rice a more interesting and special dish to eat is to sprinkle furikake over it. It adds a kick of flavor and spice that transforms rice into a sensation for the palette.

Furikake can come in a wide range of flavors and is appropriate for a host of other dishes, not just rice. It’s been a long-time staple alongside rice as it provides additional nutrients and minerals that are lacking in a typical Japanese diet, such as calcium.

It’s a Condiment

Furikake is a condiment. It’s a light, dry blended spice that often incorporates things like sesame seeds, seaweed, dried fish, salt, sugar, bonito flakes, powdered miso, and others.

This is usually bright in color and very flaky. It’s has a base flavor of fish or seafood. But it can also be spicy or herbal. The name literally translates to “sprinkle over.”

Dried Furikake Spices

How the Japanese Eat Furikake

The Japanese use a plethora of furikake spices to pickle foods. It’s a common ingredient in bento lunch boxes, where it comes already on the rice or you can add it yourself. It’s also a wonderful noodle garnish, popcorn flavoring, a sprinkling for eggs or it can act as a base for soup broths.  

But, it’s most commonly added to rice, particularly onigiri. Onigiri is essentially rice balls, a very traditional Japanese dish.

However, a tablespoon or two over a bowl of plain white sticky rice is the most popular way the Japanese consume furikake. There is a particular way to eat furikake that newcomers should observe.

Japanese Onigiri

You don’t toss it on just any rice and there is a specific amount to use. The rice must be Japanese sticky rice that’s light, fluffy, and a bit sticky after cooking.

The stickiness of the rice is what helps the furikake attach to it once sprinkled on. Plus, the seasoning won’t fall off while you eat it, so you can enjoy each bite.

Where to Get Furikake

Aside from restaurants and food stalls, almost any grocery or convenience store in Japan will offer a wide selection of furikake seasonings. The most famous chain is the Keio Store.

In the US, they are at many international food markets but some regular supermarkets will feature a few in their Asian aisle. However, your best bet in finding one is at an actual Japanese market. They will have the best and largest choices.

Japanese Grocery And Spice Shop

Furikake’s History

Furikake’s predecessor, Gohan no Tomo, which literally translates to “a friend for rice,” comes from a pharmacist named Suekichi Yoshimaru.

Developed during the Taishō period in the Kumamoto prefecture, Yoshimaru produced this as a means to cure the calcium deficit within the Japanese population between 1912 to 1926.

This original recipe included ground fish bones, poppy seeds, seaweed, and roasted sesame seeds ground into a powder. After a time, a Kumamoto food company acquired the recipe and sold it commercially.

Here it came in a narrow-necked flask-type vessel. This was to prevent moisture from contaminating it.

Furikake Over Rice With Fish

Then, in Fukushima, a grocer named Seiichirō Kai created a similar blend that comprised powdered kombu and white croaker along with other ingredients. These went into a soy sauce broth called Kore Wa Umai, or “this is tasty.”

World Wars I And II

Furikake has a long history of military applications. For instance, it was the saving grace for Japanese troops during World War I. However, the development of furikake as we know it today gained popularity on the heels of World War II.

In September of 1948, Nissan Foods manufactured it on a huge scale to help combat increasing problems of malnourishment. This provided additional calcium and protein to the starving Japanese population.

Modern Popularity

The term furikake wasn’t the official name of the spice until 1959, upon the creation of the National Furikake Association. Since then, there have been various flavors and arrangements of ingredients to suit various purposes and tastes. It’s been gaining a resurgence in worldwide popularity since 2003.

International Furikake Association Official Website

The Many Flavors of Furikake

Today, there are a host of flavors that are interesting on the palette and provide an exciting way to eat plain rice. Some are specifically for children to eat while others are for more adult tastes.

Furikake can comprise a host of ingredients that can include things like white and/or black sesame seeds, omelet egg pieces, bonito flakes, and green tea. More modern versions of the seasoning come marketed for things like cartoons, such as Minions from Despicable Me or Pokémon.

Pokémon And Despicable Me Furikake

For instance, there’s a Pokémon Furikake mini pack that both children and adults enjoy. The packaging features classic characters from the game, such as Pikachu.

Each pack is perfect for lunchtime and has the right amount of seasoning in the package. The whole set has 20 different flavors.

They’ll include things like salmon, bonito flakes, soy sauce, powdered eggs, and veggies. Children adore them but they’re convenient for adults on the go. These are particularly nutritious because they add calcium to each pack.

The Minion types of furikake are specifically for children. There are four simple ingredients: bonito flakes, soy sauce, salmon, and egg.

It’s simple, gentle on the digestive system, and not very salty. The ones listed below feature some of the most popular types of furikake consumed in Japan today.

Wasabi Furikake

Many people know what Wasabi is. It’s the same condiment served alongside sushi but it also comes as a type of furikake. It has dried wasabi root, some nori seaweed, bonito flakes, roasted sesame seeds, and other spices.

This is ideal for fish or in a soup with rice called chazuke. However, this is a furikake geared toward an adult palette rather than one for children because of its pungent taste.

Nori Tama Furikake

Nori Tama Furikake is a savory furikake that incorporates nori seaweed, sesame seeds, bonito flakes, powdered yellow egg (tamago), and many other ingredients. This is an excellent all-around seasoning for anything, from meats and fish to rice, noodles, salads, and soups.

Shiso Furikake

Comprising dried, crushed, and seasoned red perilla leaves (also called red beefsteak plant), Shiso Furikake also has the name Yukari. Sometimes it can have ginger or a type of Japanese plum called ume.

It’s immediately identifiable by its purplish-red color. It’s best on onigiri rice balls and sushi rolls. The Japanese consider this one particularly auspicious because they find purple to be a sacred color.

Salmon Furikake

As the name suggests, dried salmon is the main ingredient mixed with seaweed or spring greens. It has a pleasant yet heavy saltiness that goes well in soup, tea, or on meat. Some people may find it too salty to add directly to rice, but others seem to enjoy it that way.

There are actually 24 varieties of this kind of furikake that range from sweet to savory and spicy. They will sometimes add dried eel or bamboo shoots into the blend.

Tarako Ochazuke

This type of furikake is best as a savory broth with rice. It comprises green tea and bonito flakes along with scallops and soy sauce. It has a rich flavor that should only be part of a soup. People do eat it on plain rice, but it is intense that way.

Mazekomi Wakame Shirasu

Although a more modern production, this features sweetfish, herring or white sardines as the main ingredient. It’s described as being a perfect seasoning blend of everything that’s good on land and sea. It’s ideal for tofu, fish, rice, and Japanese noodles.

Mutenka Furikake

Introduced in 1975 by a long-standing company from Hiroshima, this furikake boasts being one of the healthiest. This is because there’s no artificial coloring, preservatives, or ingredients like salt or sugar.

It comprises bonito flakes, fish, nori seaweed, ume, and egg. It’s an excellent type of furikake to start toddlers on how furikake tastes. It’s very gentle on the palette and isn’t as strong or rich as others.

Buy FuriKake Online At Japancentre.com

Homemade Furikake Recipe

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.