Japanese Confectionery Wagashi and Wa-sweet

November 24, 2019

by Rio Yamada & Hazuki Yamagata

Japan has the particular confectioneries called wagashi (wa= means Japanese, gashi=菓子 means snack) that is a good old and traditional confectioneries, and trendy confectioneries called wa-sweets that has gained popularity in recent years, especially among young people. This article shows the history and features of wagashi that has been loved for many years, and the history and features of wa-sweets that are similar not only to Japanese people but also tourists and foreigners who are interested in Japanese food. This article also shows that the differences and the common point between this two topics.

The history of wagashi

Wagashi is Japanese traditional sweets. The origin of wagashi is that ancient Japanese started to eat fruits, and Chinese sweets came from China during the Heian Period (794-1185). Since then, the prototype of wagashi was established. However wagashi that was eaten at that time, has not kept its shape today. Many kinds of wagahsi that are still eaten, were developed in Edo Period (1603-1867). The Word “wagashi” is a term that began to be used as the antonym of “western confectionery”. Western sweets entered Japan from Europe since the Meiji Period ( 1868-1912).

The features of wagashi

Generally, wagashi is made to eat with green tea. It has strong link with four seasons in Japan. A high quality of moist confectionery called jo-namagashi expresses the sense of the seasons, not only the taste but also the visual beauty. As a one of main features of wagashi, these confectioneries do not use any dairy products such as butter, eggs, cheese, and milk, and they are also without any animal food products. It uses flour made from rice, such as rice-cake flour and glutenous rice flour. Another feature of this snack is the use of agar as a coagulant. Wagashi is made by using lots of sugar such as caster sugar, and wasanbon, which is Japanese refined sugar. There are typical wagashi sweets, such as manju (sweet bun), yokan (sweet vean jelly), mame-daifuku (mochi cake with beans), and senbei (rice cracker).


The differences between kyogashi and wagashi

There are some differences between kyogashi made in Kyoto and wagashi. Wagashi is a snack called cha-uke (tea ceremony) which is served with green tea, but on the other hand, kyogashi is used for events and ceremonies that are held in the Imperial Court and among the Court Nobles as offering sweets.


What are wa-sweets?

In recent year, wa-sweets have grown in popularity. Wa-sweets refers to sweets using Japanese and Western ingredients such as chiffon cake that is kneaded with kinako (roasted soybean poder) and matcha (powdered green tea), and bramanje that is made by using tofu. In this way, in wa-sweets, Japanese food ingredients are blended with a western confecionery. Most traditional Japanese food has a low calories and it is good for health. That is why wa-sweets have started to gathering a lot of attention.

There is no clear standard, but sweets that use lots of Japanese ingredients are called wa-sweets. Wa-sweets are often made by using butter and fresh cream similar to sweets that are made for Western confectionery. It can be said that wa-sweets are similar to Western-style sweets.

matcha cake

The history of wa-sweets

There are some theories that matcha sweets which are made of matcha has become popular such as Haagen-Dazs matcha flavor that was released in 1996. Matcha flavor ice cream became the second most popular product, after vanilla flavor, of the total sales of Haagen-Dazs. Matcha flavored ice cream started to added to the standard ice cream flavors because Haagen-Dazs matcha flavored ice cream became popular. In 2001, Starbucks also began to sell “Matcha Cream Frappuccino“. Because matcha started to be recognized widely as a standard flavor, wa-sweets have become world-famous as well .

The features of wa-sweets

Wa-sweets have many features. The first one is that they use animal food products often. The second one is that they have a lot of calories, a high fat content, and a high sugar content because wa-sweets are made by using high calories foods such as flour, sugar, and fresh cream. The third one in that these sweets use dairy products such as butter, eggs, cheese, and milk. The last one is that wa-sweets are made with gelatin as coagulant.

The differences between wagashi and wa-sweets

There are some differences between wagashi and wa-sweets. Wagashi are not be made by using dairy products like wa-sweets because Japan did not run dairy farming. Mostly, wa-sweets are made of azuki (red beans), ingen-mame (green beans), mochi-gome (glutinous rice), mizuame (starch syrup), sugar, and kudzu. However, the base of wa-sweets is close to Western confectioneries, therefore it is made by using not only dairy products but also another various ingredients.

The similarities between wagashi and wa-sweets

There are some similarities between wagashi and wa-sweets. Both of them are made by using Japanese flavors such as azuki, matcha, and kinako. Wa-sweets is a snack that is combined western-style confections with wagashi, but also it is made by using Japanese ingredients, its look is mostly simple and rustic like wagashi.

matcha tiramisu

On the whole

Recently, the popularity of wa-sweets and wagashi have been increasing. Wagashi is Japanese traditional confectionary that has been around for long time, while wa-sweets are new Japanese sweets that are gradually getting popular in Japan. Different snacks have different attractions, but both of them are made with Japanese ingredients. Because wa-sweets were born, the attention of wagashi has been increasing as well. These snacks will continue to get popular not only inside the nation, but also overseas.