Although baked goods may not be the first product you think of when it comes to Japanese cuisine, Japan is home to a plethora of baking flours. Though the rising popularity of non-wheat flours is a newer phenomenon in the West, Japanese cuisine has always included many varieties of flour. When shopping for cooking flours at a Japanese grocery store, look for the character for powder (粉/kona) on packaging.
Common types of flours and starches in Japan
Wheat flours (小麦粉/komugiko)
In Japan, white wheat flours are divided into three main categories and differ only in the first character, so you can be confident that you are buying wheat flour if you see either of these sets of kanji: 力粉 (riki ko) or 力小麦粉 (riki komugi ko).
Bread Flour: 強力粉 (kyou riki ko)
- Japanese bread flour has a high gluten content and a minimum 12% protein content. Use this coarse flour for breads, noodles, and dumpling wrappers.
All-Purpose Flour: 中力粉 (chyuu riki ko)
- All-purpose flour is the least common of the three flour categories in Japan. This flour has around a 9% protein content and moderate gluten viscosity making it suitable for udon noodles and everyday confections.
Cake Flour: 薄力粉 (haku riki ko)
- Cake flour has less than 8.5% protein content and, like its counterparts around the world, has low gluten content. Use this flour for everything from cakes to okonomiyaki to tempura!
Whole Wheat Flour: 全粒粉 (zenn ryuu funn)
- As in any country, whole-wheat flour weighs more by volume than regular white wheat flours.If you would like to substitute regular flour with whole wheat to get more whole grains/fiber, try substituting half the totalvolume with whole-wheat.
Sweet Rice Flour
Rice Flours (米粉/komeko)
Rice flours are very common in Japan and you will find many varieties at grocery stores. The most common use for rice flour is wagashi (Japanese sweets), but the texture of a final product differs depending on the variety of rice flour that is used. Rice flours in Japan are either made of non-glutinous rice (used for dishes such as sushi and oyakodon) and glutinous rice (used for mochi in Japanese cooking and often seen in the US as the main ingredient for mango sticky rice at Thai restaurants).
Fine Rice Flour: 上新粉 (jyoushinko)
- Jyoushinko is a fine powder created from polished non-glutinous rice flour. Because it is made of ordinary rice rather than glutinous rice, jyoushinko creates dishes that have a harder texture and are less sticky. The most common uses for jyoshinko are for kashiwa-mochi (red bean rice cake wrapped in oak leaves) and uiro (a sweet rice jelly). Contemporary bakers often also use jyoushinko for baked goods such as cakes.
Sweet Rice Flour: 白玉粉 (shiratamako)
- Shiratamako is made up of polished glutinous rice ground into coarse granules. Shiratamako is unique because of its absorbent nature which allows for a smooth and elastic dough. Activate shiratamako by mixing it with cold water and use it to make all types of wagashi (Japanese desserts) such as daifuku and shiratama dumplings.
Glutinous Rice Flour: もち粉 (mochiko)
- Mochiko is made of glutinous rice flour and is coarser than shiratamako. Compared to shiratamako, mochiko creates a softer and chewier dumpling. The primary use for mochiko is to add sugar in order to create gyuhi, a primary ingredient for wagashi.
Dango Flour: 団子粉 (dango-ko)
- Dangoko is a blend of glutinous and non-glutinous rice. By soaking and drying the two types of rice together and then grinding them, manufacturers are able to create a more chewy texture compared to mochiko and shiratamako. As its name suggests, use this flour to make dango (Japanese dumpling balls).
Other “flours” (粉/kona)
These “flours” are actually often starches and are made from the root of plants native to Japan.
Warabi Starch: わらび粉 (Warabi-ko)
- Warabiko is the starch made by grinding the root of the Japanese warabi plant, also known as bracken. This fiddlehead fern creates a distinctive starch which is mild in sweetness, transparency, and has a jelly-like texture. The most popular use for it is to make warabi-mochi, a jelly-like wagashi (Japanese sweet) most often enjoyed with kinako (soybean powder) and kuromitsu (Japanese black syrup).
Kudzu Starch: くず粉 (kudzu ko)
- Kudzu starch (also known askudzu) is made fromkudzu, a climbing vine which grows native in Japan. The entire plant is used to avoid waste; the leaves feed livestock, the stems are used for cloth, and the roots are dried and ground to make starch powder. The powder is commonly used as a thickening agent and can be found inwagashi (Japanese sweets) as well as savory dishes.Compared to other starches, kudzu starch does not have a starchy taste and is clear and transparent, making it a superior choice for gel-like dishes.
Potato Starch: 片栗粉 (katakuriko)
- Katakuriko is the Japanese name for potato starch and is used as a thickener in Japanese cooking. It was originally sourced from dogtooth violet plants but is now sourced from potatoes, which are cheaper and more abundant. Make sure not to confuse katakuriko with potato flour as this starch is very fine, has little fiber or protein, and has no taste.
Barley Starch: はったい粉 (hattaiko)
- Hattaiko is a flour made of roast barley. It is a healthy food that can be used similarly to kinako (soybean powder) and has high fiber and protein contents. Try adding this powder to your sweets or even mixing it into batters for cakes!
Hi All! I am Miriam Weiss and am a mixed race Japanese/American passionate about promoting Japanese culture and all that it has to offer around the world. I grew up between Japan and California and was most recently living in Boston before moving to the Netherlands! I am excited to share my passion and knowledge with all of you!