Matcha, or green tea powder, is used to flavor many sweets. If it looks bright green, it probably tastes of matcha. There’s matcha ice cream, softo cream (soft serve ice cream), matcha gelatin, but also more Western takes on matcha like matcha cake and cookies. There’s even KitKat with matcha taste.
Adzuki bean paste is the ubiquitous filling of the Japanese sweet. It’s a very dark red-brown paste that goes into almost any type of sweet. The light natural sweetness of the Adzuki bean used to be all there was, but nowadays the taste is often helped along by a good portion of sugar.
Mochi, a rubbery delicacy made from sticky rice also has a very string foothold in the world of Japanese sweets. It comes in many forms: as just a small round ball, as Daifuku mochi (big luck mochi) filled with adzuki beans (what else), the popular seasonal variation ichigo daifuku mochi containing also a strawberry. There are Sakura mochi wrapped in a cherry leaf or Kashiwa mochi wrapped in an oak leaf. The variations are endless. If it is neutral tasting and rubbery/chewy, it’s mochi.
Many desserts are a happy wedding of all the above ingredients, often also showing Western influences. Take the Uji-style ice shavings pictured on top. It’s shaved ice topped with matcha from Uji, a ball of ice cream, milk syrup (condensed milk), with a side of adzuki paste and two small mochi balls.
Also the Japanese style parfait pictured left follows a similar pattern: there’s the (matcha!) ice cream, some mochi and whipped cream topping matcha flavored gelatin cubes. Even though I have to admit that the first time I bit a mochi I thought I was eating part of the packaging, I am a total convert to Japanese sweets. Daifuku mochi and matcha ice cream are my favorites, can’t wait for my next helping. But many Westerners look upon mochi and adzuki bean paste with slight suspicion. The only thing I don’t enjoy is the Japanese take on Western cakes, which is too soft and fluffy for my taste.