In March, April and May Japan’s dormant cherry trees come to life in full bloom in beautiful shades of pink. Cherry blossoms or sakura mark the start of spring in Japan, a time for new beginnings, and the famous or perhaps infamous (depending on the company you keep), hanami parties where revellers have picnics with friends and family, drink and be merry. So with the onset of spring comes a whole host of sakura flavoured snacks and beverages which I have rounded up here.
From traditional Japanese sweets to beverages and ice cream from Western brands, these snacks are sure to stand out on shelves due to their beautiful pink presentation. As cherry blossoms are usually pink, sakura flavoured food and drinks are often combined with strawberry flavours to give added sweetness.
Mochi rice cakes made from rice flour or glutinous rice flour are a wildly popular sweet in Japan. They are eaten to bring in the New Year and are offered to the Gods during Girls’ day (Hinamatsuri) on March 3. Therefore, it is no surprise that mochi should get a sakura inspired twist during the spring months. Sakuramochi is the quintessential traditional spring wagashi (Japanese sweet) combining sweet pink rice cake (mochi) with a red bean paste (anko) filling. Traditionally they are wrapped in a salt pickled cherry blossom (sakura) leaf. You can remove the leaf but if you want to enjoy a sweet salty taste you can eat it with the mochi.
There are two main types of Sakuramochi, the kind from Eastern Japan (Kanto) comprises of a flat piece of mochi made of rice flour rolled around red bean paste filling, the other from Western Japan (Kansai) is made from glutinous rice and has a much more granulated texture. I prefer the latter but I also enjoy other regional variations such as the traditional Kyoto sakuramochi which is triangle shaped, soft and has an anko centre.
In cheaper, omiyage (souvenir) box variations of sakuramochi the salted leaf is sometimes left out, but fake leaves or cute shapes are used to evoke spring. Sakuramochi is chewier in its Kansai form, but is universally soft, deliciously sweet and has a pleasant aroma, which makes it the perfect accompaniment for the spring season.
- Häagen-Dazs Mochi Sakura An Ice Cream
During spring in Japan as the weather transitions from the brisk winter months, and the temperature starts to increase my thoughts start to turn to cold treats. For this very reason I was excited to stumble across Häagen-Dazs’ new cherry blossom inspired ice cream. The Mochi Sakura An Ice Cream is made up of three layers of delicious spring decadence. The first layer is creamy sakura flavoured ice cream, the second layer is soft, gooey mochi rice cake, and the third layer is sakura an (cherry blossom and sweet and salty bean paste). Though the extra drizzle of sweet sakura sauce on top might be a step too far for some, as a fan of sweet things I really enjoyed this sticky seasonal treat.
- Sakura Country Ma’am Cookies
Country Ma’am Cookies are a really popular brand of cookies in Japan by company Fujiya. The original flavour is chocolate chip but for spring the cookies get a sakura makeover with a pink cookie and white chocolate chips. The cookies are so soft, moist, doughy and delicious, and the cute pink colour makes it the perfect snack to share at hanami.
- Sakura and Roasted Soy Bean Kit Kat
Kit Kats in Japan are famous for their unique flavours, many being Japanese influenced, from green tea, to wasabi and sake, sakura fits in with the range of Japanese flavours. Sakura and Roasted Soy Bean Kit Kats are this years limited edition spring flavour. The chocolates are off-white in colour and the 12 pieces are individually wrapped in cute packaging decorated with sakura petals. The Kit Kats were really sweet and creamy and the taste of kinako (roasted soy bean) came through strongly. The crisp wafer complimented the slightly salty sakura taste and soft soybean cream.
- Starbucks Sakura Drinks & Desserts
Every year Starbucks Japan rolls out a range of sakura themed drinks and desserts. This year was no exception and saw a range of three drinks including the Sakura Strawberry Pink Milk Latte, the Sakura Strawberry Pink Mochi Frappucino, and the Sakura Strawberry Pink Tea. There were also desserts including sakura frosted donuts, sakura chiffon cake, and sakura pudding.
I tried the iced Sakura Strawberry Pink Mochi Frappucino which was topped with whipped cream and small pieces of sakura mochi on top. The Frappuccino tasted a lot like a strawberry milkshake and as a person with a sweet tooth I really enjoyed it. Those who aren’t fans of sweet tastes may have enjoyed the alternative hot Sakura Strawberry Pink Tea which was more red than pink and tasted very fruity, and herbal and had a great aroma.
The Sakura frosted donut was also very sweet, as was the chiffon cake frosting but this was downplayed a bit by the delicate cake, and the sakura flower on top which was very bitter. If you have the chance to be in a Starbucks in Japan during spring you’ll also be able to encounter a whole range of sakura themed coffee beans, mugs, and thermoses which are a perfect gift for that coffee addict in your life.
Unfortunately, like the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms themselves, Starbucks’ sakura themed drinks and desserts are only around for a short time, and have stopped selling but while stocks last you might be able to pick up a cheaper alternative from a convenience store. The Sakura Caramely Milk with Mix Berries is a mini version of the Starbucks sakura drinks, tasting like a strawberry shake with little jelly pieces.
- Sakura Convenience Store Snacks
The real king of sakura-flavoured snacks is the amazing convenience stores or ‘konbinis’ across Japan. This season 7-Eleven and Family Mart offered up a range of delicious sakura flavoured sweets to try. From Family Mart I tried fluffy pink dorayaki pancakes filled with anko paste.
From 7-Eleven I tried a sakura dessert consisting of a spongy rolled pancake with red bean paste and sakura flavoured whipped cream filling. It had a sakura flower inside which gave the treat some bitterness. I also tried Mochitoro Sakura Milk, a treat inspired by daifuku, a traditional rice cake, but instead of the customary anko paste inside, the mochi was filled with a sakura flavoured whipped cream. It was an interesting twist on the classic daifuku.
- Sakura Coca Cola
Though this beverage doesn’t actually have any sakura taste to it I couldn’t resist adding it to the list as it is just so fun. Original taste sakura themed Coca Cola bottles are also available in Japan, and are totally instagrammable next to the beautiful cherry blossoms.
While the beauty of the cherry blossoms is fleeting and so is the availability of sakura themed seasonal products, if you’re not able to get your hands on something from this list remember there’s always next year, and the year after that. Though cherry blossoms represent the fragility of life, there is always the hope that we will be able to enjoy seeing them again in the future, as the flowers bloom, shed, and then bloom again like the circle that is called life.