Main image courtesy of Fugetsu-do, Los Angeles, CA
When I was a kid eating mochi (rice cakes), no other childhood experience made me more aware of death other than mochi because of several choking incidents I had. Call me lazy for not wanting to chew insistently, but luckily the Heimlich maneuver had my back (literally).
“Be sure to chew it, do not just swallow it” had been pounded into my head, although that did not stop my sister or myself from the life-threatening experience of choking on mochi. Yea, I chewed it, but after a while, you get tired of chewing, and well, YOLO. That is when I learned my dad knew how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, and if he had not known, you would not be on the verge of learning all the major mochi types, mochi brands, and where to buy mochi.
Listed below is everything you need to know to:
1. What is mochi and all the varying types of mochi.
2. How to make mochi yourself (ingredients to brands).
3. Every significant/best mochi producer in the United States from Los Angeles to New York. They range from long-established, generations-old Japanese American businesses to your corporate/venture capital brands like MyMochi.
Why Bother Reading this Post About Japanese Mochi
I care about the history and culture behind the food, so not only will I let you know the varieties of mochi, but I will also give you the history of the ones who are behind the brands and businesses you can purchase mochi from (many are multi-generational family owned business that have been around for 100+ years).
Most Japanese and Japanese American mochi businesses doing business for the last century in the United States are typically in large coastal cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York). Although, I will be updating this post with shops in smaller rural areas.UPDATED: March 15th, 2022
Now What is Mochi (Mochi to Dango Ingredients)
Glutinous “sweet rice” to glutinous rice flour is all you need (neither contain gluten or are artificially sweet/sweetened).
- Glutinous Rice (Mochigomeko/Mochigome) is a short-grain japonica glutinous (emphasis on “glutinous”).
- Glutinous Rice Flour (Mochiko) is not the same as regular rice flour and this version is used to produce dango to “mochi” donuts.
If the Fear of Death Does Not Deter Your Craving for Mochi, This Might Be a Life Changing Mochi Resource For You
Don’t let that talk of death scare you off from wanting to eat/try mochi because there are many ways you can try mochi. You can start with the traditional Japanese options to variations innovated by Japanese Americans, to several constantly new and inventive ways of utilizing mochi as a froyo topping to gluten-free rice flour mochi donuts.
- Mochi rice cakes: traditional Japanese rice cakes are made of mashed steamed glutinous rice that is pounded and shaped into a “cake” (looks more like the shape of a saline implant). The final result is chewy goodness, so if you miss the chew of gluten, this is the gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.
- Ozoni (soup with mochi rice cakes): a dish that is served in Japan on New Year’s day with small mochi rice cakes and is responsible for sending a few older folk knocking on deaths door.
- Mochi ice cream: I do not know if the freezing minimizes the choking hazard (it is probably the special mochi formula used in mochi ice cream), but this is one of my favorite ways to enjoy mochi without the constant fear of choking. The perfect amount of chew to not choking ratio.
- Strawberry mochi (ichigo daifuku): as a kid, I never thought of beans as a dessert, but the combo of red bean and a strawberry has got to put this version at the top of my list of ways to enjoy mochi. Yea, even over mochi ice cream.
- Mochi bits: if you are a fan of froyo to shaved ice, you may have come across mochi bits as a popular topping because they come either plain (unflavored), or in a number of flavors.
- Dango: unlike Django where the “j” is silent, dango is Japanese and pronounced “don-go,” and unlike mochi, dango is produced from glutinous rice flour vs. whole rice grains. It is also served differently from mochi with 3 to 5 bite size spheres on a skewer (the emoji has 3).
- Mochi donuts, muffins, to brownies: every time I see a mochi donut, I can not help but think of a cock ring, but aside from the appearance, they have a denser feel and slight chew to them that make it worthwhile to try over your typical donut.
Leave it to Asians to turn rice and beans into one tasty dessert (I know, we all expected this from our fellow Latino homies).
I feel so much more Asian having had rice stuck to my clothes (goodluck getting it out of knitted materials) while many of you just had to only worry about gum.
What Do I Mean By the “Best”
There are several ways you can enjoy mochi, so I have broken it down into five categories listed below. In each category, the major (the best) players are listed from farms, mills, to large and local producers.
- Homemade Mochi
- Mochi Rice Farms/Mills
- Traditional Mochi Producers
- Mochi Ice Cream Producers
- Other Types of Mochiko (Rice) Products
In the Japanese American community, I spent portions of my youth (teens) producing mochi for fundraisers/mochitsuki. Although looking back now, I can’t believe that they trusted us around the 40’s era industrial equipment that looked like it could mangle tiny little hands. Well, you don’t need that heavy duty of equipment, and you can get by with a stand mixer (links to Just One Cookbook).
- Homemade mochi: all you need is the rice (mochigome), and a way to mash/pound it up in to a paste (think a wooden mallet like in Tom’n’Jerry and a mortar).
Common Japanese Ways to Eat Mochi
Mashed up rice might be good if you are a hardcore mochi lover, but these are some of the common mochi pairings/toppings:
- Anko (sweet bean paste) with shaved ice or froyo is a winning combo.
- Kinako (soybean flour) my favorite way to eat it.
- Shoyu (soy sauce) and sugar is how my mom and grandparents ate mochi, but I was not a fan.
If I did not have kinako “roasted soy bean flour,” I would not eat mochi. The powdery finish takes mochi over the top. The most common and widely available brand is Shirakiku (5oz) for $5.89. A SF Bay Area company, Umami-Insider also has a Kuromame kinako (2.46o) for $4.90.
Japanese American Mochi Rice Producer/Farm/Mill
Koda Farms is a Japanese American farm (brand) that has been operating since the 1910’s. They produce Certified Organic & Conventionally Farmed Table Rice (kome), Japanese Sweet Rice (mochigome) and Rice Flours (mochiko).They are a goto brand if you are preparing mochi yourself (homemade).
- Koda Farms (www.kodafarms.com) – is California’s oldest family owned and operated rice farm and mill. Keisaburo Koda arrived in California in 1908, family has been farming since the 1910s. Today, Koda Farm is owned and operated by the grandchildren of Keisaburo, Ross and Robin Koda.
Sho-Chiku-Bai (Mochi Rice): Japanese style, short grain “sweet” or “mochi” rice is super starchy with specialized applications and not typically used as table or sushi rice. Grains are short, plump, and opaque and steam up in a sticky mass. Friction milled white. Less than 2% broken kernels.* Certified Kosher (KSA), GMO-free (Non-GMO Project Verified), Gluten-free. Pure, unadulterated rice – no additives of any sort.
Blue Star Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour: Sweet Rice Flour milled from California farmed, short grain sweet rice. Gluten-free, no additives of any sort, certified Kosher (KSA), GMO-Free (Non-GMO Project Verified). 105 Mesh.
Traditional and Large Japanese Mochi Producers
“Fugetsu-Do has been a family owned and operated confectionery store in Little Tokyo since 1903. Japanese rice cakes, more commonly known as mochi (rice cake) and manju (sweet bean-filled rice cake), are the staple. The shop, which is currently operated by Brian Kito, is located on East First Street, in the heart of the Historic District of Little Tokyo. Some of the family history was shared with me, and I welcome the opportunity to put down on paper one family’s history in the United States.”– Nancy Kikuchi, Fugetsu-do, Los Angeles, CA
Fugestu-do is an iconic business in Los Angeles, Little Tokyo and you can purchase online through JapanSuper (they handle the online transaction).
- Fugetsu-do (www.fugetsu-do.com) – Fugestsu-do is a fourth generation, Japanese American mochi shop located in Los Angeles, Little Tokyo. They are located right on East 1st street, right next to Hachioji and Daikokuya.
If you are searching for mochi, you will most likely come across manju, another Japanese confection. Although manju is steamed or baked, it is not made up of sweet rice. Manju is made from wheat flour and is typically filled with anko (sweet red bean paste).
In the San Francisco Bay Area:
- Benkyodo Co (benkyodocompany.com) – I have added this business because in the United States, the Bay Area and Los Angeles have had large communities of Japanese and Japanese Americans. The history behind the company:
“1906, Suyeichi Okamura opened Benkyodo Company – one of the original businesses in Japantown – on San Francisco’s Geary Boulevard. When the family was interned during World War II, Benkyodo Company was forced to close temporarily. After the war ended, the shop reopened, and in 1951 Suyeichi’s son, Hirofumi, took over. In 1959, the shop moved to its present-day location at Sutter and Buchanan Street. In 1990, Hirofumi passed the shop to his sons, Ricky and Bobby. Continuing a family legacy, the two brothers still own and operate the business, bringing the sweet confections – and smiles – to customers daily.”– Benkyodo Company, San Francisco, CA
Mochi Ice Cream Brands
The inventors of mochi ice cream is the late Frances Hashimoto (who passed away in 2012) and her husband, Joel Friedman. The Mochi Ice Cream Company is the parent company that produces the Mikawaya brand, although, in the last half-decade, a couple of private equity firms acquired the company. The first group, Century Park Capital Partners, was responsible for launching the MyMo or My Mochi ice cream brand up until January 2020. Lakeview Capital is the current private equity group carrying on the growth of the 100+-year-old company and its much-loved product line:
Update June 2021: Not only did the current private equity company take over the Mikawaya brand, but they then shut down the 111-year old store in the Japanese Village Plaza. The store had started in 1910 by Koroku and Haru Hashimoto and is no more.This is what happens when the grandchildren of Francis Hashimoto sell off to a venture capital.
- MyMochi (www.mymochi.com) – mochi for the masses (you know, for “you people”), so the packaging design is lot more appealing (great font type choice), along with their brand look’n’feel. The only telltale private equity clue, is their lackluster and generic “About Us.”
- Mikawaya (www.mikawayamochi.com) – Founded in 1910 by Ryuzaburo Hashimoto, but the one behind Mikawaya’s mochi ice cream is Frances Hashimoto, the grand-niece of Ryuzaburo. Her contributions have made Mikawaya and mochi ice cream synonymous with each other, and you can try their product in a couple of ways. Either by visiting their retail location in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, or in Japanese markets to Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s, to Safeway.
Mochiko Donuts, Mochiko Muffins, Mochi Mini Bites, to Mochiko Brownie Producers
I’m just listing a few companies, and I kept it the ones I have tried although there are a number more.
- Modo Hawaii (www.modohawaii.com) – Honolulu, HI, Torrance, CA, and Santa Clara, CA.
- Third Culture Bakery (www.thirdculturefoods.com) – Berkeley, CA
Remember to Chew Your Food
If you search the Japan Today website for “mochi death,” you will come across several articles every half-decade of deaths in Japan from mochi. Most of the deaths are of elderly dudes, but luckily for one 70 y/o, his daughter saved his life using a vacuum cleaner to suck the mochi out from his throat.
In 2021, if the past year was not bad enough for the elderly, they have mochi to content with too. “5 taken to hospitals in Tokyo after choking on mochi; one dies”– JapanToday.com
In contrast, how deadly is fugu (poisonous blow fish)? Between 34 and 64 people were hospitalized, and zero to six died, per year, with an average fatality rate of 6.8%. Only 1 of the deaths happened in a restaurant, while the bulk of deaths happened from people catching and eating the fish.
Just a Reminder of Your Options for California and New York Residents
I can bet you that both of these businesses have no clue that this directory is out there to support them although I hope you support them because they rep the Japanese American community.
When it comes to the best packaged mochi: There are your large producers (MyMochi sold in local markets), your small “mom and pop’s” (Fugetsudo and Benkyodo in LA/SF), and large Japanese entities with six U.S. locations (K. Minamoto).UPDATE 3/15/22: I will try to add additional businesses outside of West coast cities, and I just added New York City.
If you are in Los Angeles looking for mochi.
If you are in the San Francisco, Bay Area
For the East Coast, this is your spot in New York City
(they also have an online store)
If You Found This Article Useful, Learning the Heimlich Maneuver May Also Prove to Be Useful (My Dad Did)
I am not saying you will need to know to know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver, but it does not hurt to familiarize yourself with it because I have no clue as to how my dad learned it, but he did.