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Onigiri Japanese Rice Balls Recipe

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This onigiri recipe or Japanese rice balls are the perfect finger food snack packed with umami. With various filling options you can be sure to find something for everyone.

onigiri japanese rice balls

Mahalo to Foodland Hawai’i for sponsoring this post. As always, thoughts and opinions are my own.

I don’t know about you, but rice has to be my ultimate favorite side dish. I mean it’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even on it’s own. And best of all it goes with just about everything.

You can also doctor up the flavors like with this onigiri recipe also called Japanese rice balls.

Rice has become the ultimate staple food here in Hawai’i and the demand began with the immigration of the Chinese to the Hawaiian islands. So much so that Hawai’i began cultivating it’s own long grain rice.

When the Japanese arrived in Hawai’i, they preferred short grain rice. Like that of California. Hawai’i could not keep up with the manual labor of cultivating rice compared to machine production and thus rice cultivation in Hawai’i ended.

Luckily when the Japanese came to Hawai’i to work on the plantations, they brought over their delicious recipes including onigiri, andagi, chicken karaage, mochi, and more.

onigiri japanese rice balls

What is onigiri?

Onigiri or Japanese rice balls are made with sticky white rice and often stuffed with various fillings. The onigiri was created in an attempt to keep rice fresh longer since there was no refrigeration. The rice balls were filled with salty ingredients to act as a natural preservative.

Japanese rice balls are an easy snack that’s quick to make and can be customized to please even your pickiest eaters.

Is onigiri a type of sushi?

No. Onigiri is made with unseasoned rice, while sushi is made with seasoned rice.

Ingredients to make this onigiri recipe

(Full recipe instructions and ingredient amounts are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post)

  • Short or medium grain white rice. Here in Hawai’i medium grain rice is very popular and easy to find, but short grain is more traditional.
  • Water
  • Maika’i Organic Nori Furikake. This is a Japanese dried seaweed condiment that can be found in the Asian aisle at your local Foodland store.
  • Nori. Dried sheets of seaweed that can also be found in the Asian aisle at most grocery stores.
 furikake for onigiri japanese rice balls

Type of onigiri fillings

The possibilities are endless, but these are some of the most common fillings.

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum)
  • Seasoned kombu
  • Bonito flakes

How to make this onigiri recipe?

  1. For the rice: Place rice in a large bowl. Rinse rice under cool running water until the water runs clear, about 3-5 times.
  2. Fill the rice bowl with water and allow it to soak for 30 minutes.
  3. Once the time is up, drain the excess water and add 2 cups of water. Place in a rice cooker, Instant Pot (or other pressure cookers), or on the stove top to cook and cook according to package directions.
  4. Once the rice has finished cooking, fluff the rice with a rice paddle. Allow the rice to cool until warm enough to handle with your hands.
  5. You can shape your onigiri with plain rice or add Maika’i Organic Nori Furikake to the rice. Gently stir to combine.
  6. For the filling: You can use a rice mold to shape the onigiri or shape my hand. If using a rice mold be sure to dip the mold in water before shaping to prevent sticking. Fill half of the mold with rice.
  7. Then add 1-2 tablespoons of the filling of your choice and cover with rice to fill the mold. Gently press down to shape. Remove from the mold and wrap with nori.
  8. Continue with the remainder of the rice and fillings. ENJOY!
onigiri japanese rice balls

Tips for the best Japanese rice balls

  • Using a rice mold will help make uniform shapes and make the shaping process much easier. You can get the one like I have here.
  • Use freshly made rice to make onigiri. This helps with flavor and holds its shape better.
  • Be sure to wet your hands and the mold when shaping the rice as it can be very sticky.
  • Adding a little bit of salt to you hands also helps prevent sticking and adds flavor to the rice.

Frequently asked questions

  • Is onigiri served hot or cold?
  • Onigiri is often served at room temperature. This makes it a great pack and go snack as it doesn’t need refrigeration for the day. It can however, be served hot or cold as well.
  • How to store Japanese rice balls?
  • Rice balls are best eaten fresh. If you have leftovers, wrap in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container or zip top bag and place in the refrigerator. This will keep for 2-3 days. Rice often gets hard in the refrigerator. Be sure to keep keep the air out.
  • Can you freeze rice balls?
  • Rice can be frozen, but will likely need some moisture returned to it when reheating.
  • How to reheat onigiri?
  • As mentioned earlier, rice can dry out in the refrigerator. When reheating, sprinkle a little bit of water over the top of the onigiri and cover with a wet paper towel. Place in the microwave and heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Other great rice dishes to try

    onigiri japanese rice balls on a plate

    Onigiri Japanese Rice Balls Recipe

    Yield: 12 small onigiri
    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Cook Time: 20 minutes
    Additional Time: 30 minutes
    Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

    These onigiri or Japanese rice balls are the perfect finger food snack packed with umami. With various filling options you can be sure to find something for everyone.

    Ingredients

    For the rice

    • 2 cups uncooked short or medium grain white rice
    • 2 cups water
    • 2 tablespoons Maika’i Organic Nori Furikake

    For the filling

    • 1 can (4 ounces) tuna
    • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
    • 1 sheet of nori

    Instructions

    1. For the rice: Place rice in a large bowl. Rinse rice under cool running water until the water runs clear, about 3-5 times.
    2. Fill the rice bowl with water and allow it to soak for 30 minutes.
    3. Once the time is up, drain the excess water and add 2 cups of water. Place in a rice cooker, Instant Pot (or other pressure cookers), or on the stove top to cook and cook according to package directions.
    4. Once the rice has finished cooking, fluff the rice with a rice paddle. Allow the rice to cool until warm enough to handle with your hands.
    5. You can shape your onigiri with plain rice or add Maika'i Organic Nori Furikake to the rice. Gently stir to combine.
    6. For the filling: 
    7. You can use a rice mold to shape the onigiri or shape my hand. If using a rice mold be sure to dip the mold in water before shaping to prevent sticking. Fill half of the mold with rice.
    8. Then add 1-2 tablespoons of the filling of your choice and cover with rice to fill the mold. Gently press down to shape. Remove from the mold and wrap with nori.
    9. Continue with the remainder of the rice and fillings. ENJOY!

    Notes

  • Using a rice mold will help make uniform shapes and make the shaping process much easier. You can get the one like I have here https://amzn.to/3AJSlgm
  • Use freshly made rice to make onigiri. This helps with flavor and holds its shape better.
  • Be sure to wet your hands and the mold when shaping the rice as it can be very sticky.
  • Adding a little bit of salt to you hands also helps prevent sticking and adds flavor to the rice.
  • Recommended Products

    As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 35Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 33mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

    Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.

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    By on January 31st, 2022

    About Relle

    Aloha, my name is Relle and welcome to my little home on the internet where I like to share all my favorite Hawaiian recipes (and local ones too).

    I am a wife, mom of two, and nurse practitioner here in the beautiful state of Hawai’i. I was born and raised in Hawai’i and I am of native Hawaiian descent. In my spare time I love to cook and bake and I have compiled many of my favorite recipes here for you to enjoy.

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