Traditional recipes

Japanese Rice Balls (Onigiri)

Japanese Rice Balls (Onigiri)

  • Prep 30min
  • Total30min
  • Servings6

This is basically the PB&J of Japan and a great way to use up sushi rice. If you're packing these for lunch, wrap them in plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.MORE+LESS-

ByVoodoo Lily

Updated August 4, 2016



cups cooked calrose (sushi) rice


sheets nori seaweed OR 6 nori snack strips (e.g., teriyaki flavor)


Hide Images

  • 1

    Scoop a ball with wet hands and form a little pocket in the middle to stuff in your choice of fillings.

  • 2

    Cap the filling with more rice, form into a rounded triangle or ball and slap a little strip of nori on to keep your hands from getting messy when grabbing one. You can also wrap the balls completely, or just use one strip.

Nutrition Information

No nutrition information available for this recipe

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) (Video) おにぎり

Stuffed with a variety of fillings and flavors, these rice balls make an ideal quick snack and are a fun alternative to sandwiches for lunch. In this recipe, you’ll learn how to make onigiri using the common ingredients for rice balls in Japan.

What is Onigiri (Omusubi)

Onigiri (おにぎり) or sometimes called Omusubi (おむすび) or Nigirimeshi (握り飯) is a Japanese rice ball made of rice formed into triangular or cylindrical shapes and often wrapped in nori. It’s often stuffed with various fillings.

Onigiri vs. Sushi

If you are new to Japanese cuisine, sometimes onigiri is misunderstood as a type of sushi but it is not.

One of the key differences between onigiri and sushi is that onigiri is made with plain steamed rice, while sushi is made of steamed rice seasoned with vinegar, salt, and sugar.

Various Fillings

Because of its popularity in Japan, all different appetizing flavors/fillings of onigiri can be found in Japanese convenience stores. You can even buy onigiri from specialty stores for take-out.

At the time onigiri were first invented, refrigerators didn’t exist yet. So the Japanese came up with a method to keep the rice fresh longer by filling it with salty or sour ingredient as natural preservatives. That’s why salt is rubbed on hands when you make onigiri so that rice is kept safe for a longer time.

The most common fillings for onigiri in Japan include:

  • sha-ke (salted salmon)
  • umeboshi(Japanese pickled plum)
  • okaka (bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce)
  • kombu (simmered kombu seaweed)
  • tuna mayo (canned tuna with Japanese mayonnaise)
  • tarako (salted cod roe) – not in the picture

Nowadays onigiri fillings and flavors are more creative! It is an inventive way to use up any leftovers from the previous dinner like Chicken Karaage and Shrimp Tempura. Some onigiri also uses mixed rice Takikomi Gohan instead of plain white rice.

Formed into a compact form, these little rice balls make rice portable and easy to eat with hands. You can enjoy onigiri for a quick snack, or as school/ work lunch or picnic food. They are also commonly included in bento boxes.

Tips & Techniques of Making Onigiri

1. Use Freshly Cooked Rice

Let the cooked rice cool just slightly before making them. It should be warm/hot when you make onigiri.

2. Wet Your Hands

It’s important to wet your hands with water to prevent the rice from sticking. Prepare a bowl of water next to your working station.

3. Salt Your Hands

Salt both your hands and rub to spread all around. This helps to keep the onigiri for a longer time as well as flavoring the onigiri.

4. Give Just Enough Pressure

Your hands should be just firm enough when pressing the onigiri so the rice doesn’t fall apart and shape into the typical triangle, ball, or cylinder shapes. You don’t want to squeeze the rice too tight.

5. Use Kitchen Towel to Save for Next Day

If you want to make onigiri for lunch the next day but don’t want to wake up early, here’s my tip. You can wrap the finished onigiri (in plastic wrap) with a thick kitchen towel to protect from being too cold in the refrigerator. Rice gets hard in the refrigerator but with this easy trick, your onigiri will be cool enough to stay safe.

Recipe : Kayaku Mixed Rice (Takikomi Gohan) Onigiri

In this recipe video, I will show you how to make Kayaku Mixed Rice (Takikomi Gohan) Onigiri. Kayaku means to add various nutritious ingredients. Takikomi Gohan is a genre of cooking rice and it means to steam and mix rice with various ingredients like veggies, seafood and meat. The umami flavor from shiitake mushroom leftover water and other soup make this dish so flavorful and comfort. Please also don’t forget to check simple Japanese breakfast ideas!

Ingredients (4 servings) :

1/4 Cup (50ml) Water
2 Shiitake mushroom *soak in a water
1/4 size Carrot
1/4 size Burdock
1/2 slice Deep-fried tofu
1/8 block Konnyaku

1 Cup Japanese rice
A pinch of Salt
1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 Cup (200ml) Mixture of Leftover soup + Water
4 Sheet Nori seaweed

1 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 Tbsp Mirin
1/2 Tbsp Sake
1 tsp Sugar


1. (Preparation) Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in a water.
2. Peel the carrot and burdock.
3. Cut all the ingredients into small pieces.
4. Prepare a pot and put leftover water from dried shiitake mushrooms and all the seasonings. Lightly stir and then bring to a boil.
5. Bring to medium heat and add chopped veggies and tofu. Cover with fallen lid (Otoshibuta) and simmer for 5 minutes.
6. Separate simmered ingredients and leftover liquid in each bowls.
7. Wash the rice and put it in a rice cooker. Pour leftover liquid and water to the appropriate level, then steam the rice.
8. Prepare the cellophane wrap and put Kayaku mixed rice on it.
9. Form the mixed rice to make triangle shape and wrap with nori seaweed.

YUCa’s Tip :
1. Recommend to cut every ingredients into small pieces.
2. Keep the leftover soup/water from dried shiitake mushrooms.

About Onigiri :

Memo :
1. Are you looking for Japanese kitchenwares and cooking tools? Please visit our online store!
2. Would you like to cook many more recipes? Download Free recipe app from here! “Recipe by YJC”


How to make the most standard Japanese Salt Onigiri Rice Ball (塩おにぎり). - Makes 5-6 riceballs.


  • 600g Cooked short grain Japanese white rice (hot) ( 300g before cooking)
  • 2g Salt
  • 2 Nori seaweed (Optional)
  • A bowl of iced or cold water


  1. First, cook your rice. Use short grain white rice, preferably Japanese sushi rice or something similar. You need the rice to be sticky so that it holds it shape. We recommend using a rice cooker or see how to cook Japanese rice on the stove here.
  2. Have your set up ready. You should have your cooked rice, a bowl of water and ice and a small bowl of salt. Nori is optional too.
  3. Wash your hands well and then submerge them into the bowl of icy cold water for about 15-20 seconds. This stops the rice sticking to your hands.
  4. Rub 1-2 pinches of salt over the palms your hands. This not only adds the flavour to the rice ball, but also acts as a preservative whilst it's in your lunchbox.
  5. Take a handful of warm cooked rice and start to press it together, pressing the edges to form a triangle shape. If you press and turn, press and turn, press and turn, you should make a good firm triangle shape.
  6. Don't handle the rice for too long, quicker is better. Once you're happy with the shape, wrap it with nori.
  7. Put your hands back in the icy water and repeat. This recipe makes 5-6 rice balls (depending on size).
  8. Eat straight away or put in your lunch box with an ice pack. They're best eaten the same day.
  9. Enjoy!


If you don't like the idea of handling the rice too much with your bare hands, you can also put the rice into plastic wrap and shape it like that, just don't forget to salt the outside of the rice ball before or after shaping.

If you want to make them for tomorrow's lunch you can wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge. To stop the rice from getting too hard over night, wrap the plastic wrapped rice ball once more in a towel or kitchen paper.

Practice makes perfect but if you're having trouble, watch our youtube video or feel free to comment below!

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Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

If you love rice, onigiri is a must-try: a humble rice ball accented by a variety of fillings, wrapped in roasted seaweed (nori), and perfect for snacking or a light meal. Onigiri is open to customization and experimentation&mdashfillings popular in Japan include fish roe, karaage (small pieces of fried chicken), various veggies, and grilled beef.

Below, we give three different filling options: miso salmon, spicy tuna, and umeboshi (pickled plum) dotted with furikake (a variety of Japanese seasoning mixes). You can stuff whatever your heart desires inside each ball, or, simply mix the rice with your favorite seasonings to create a super flavorful rice ball. It's the perfect cooking project to do with the whole family.

The type of rice

Because the heart and soul of onirigi is the rice, the quality of your grain is super important here. Go with the good stuff, Japanese varieties are definitely preferred. Short grain white rice gives you the proper amount of stickiness for a cohesive rice ball. You can substitute brown rice, but I&rsquod recommend glutinous brown rice for a better hold&mdashthe longer the grain, the looser the hold, the crumblier your rice ball will be, which is something you definitely don't want in this application!

There are two types of starches in rice: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose content is higher in long grain rice and amylopectin content is higher in short grain rice and glutinous rice. Amylopectin is responsible for the desirable stickiness that we need for our onigiri: During the cooking process, the starch granules burst and gelatinize, creating a tackiness in the rice that is crucial to holding the signature triangular shape we want our onigiri to stay in.

Cooking the rice

Be sure to soak your rice in water for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. There are two ways to cook your rice. Boiling the rice directly in the pot with an almost 1:1 ratio of rice to water is the traditional method. This yields a soft, creamy, tender rice kernel that is perfect for eating straight or for forming into onigiri.

The second method, which is the one we used in our video and in the instructions below, is a much more experimental technique that's more often used in Thai cooking to make glutinous, sticky rice: The soaked rice is placed in a steamer basket (or a fine-mesh strainer) and cooked over a pot of boiling water. Because the rice never touches the water directly, this method yields a much more al dente grain of rice: bouncier and chewier than traditional onigiri rice is. The choice is yours!

If you made your rice using the second method and find that the grains are too al dente, worry not, you can make it softer! With the rice still in the strainer, pour about 1/2 cup of boiling water evenly over the rice, then use a spoon to thoroughly stir the rice and distribute the water (any excess water will drain right into the pot below!). Clamp on the lid to your pot and bring the water to a boil again steam the rice for another 5 minutes. With the added water content and steam action, your rice should be much softer now!

The filling

For ease, the recipe below uses canned salmon for the miso salmon mixture. You can just as well use fresh salmon! Or, if you have any leftover baked salmon, feel free to jazz that up with a little miso and use that instead. Onigiri is a great vehicle to repurpose leftovers of all kinds. Get experimental! Stuff it with pulled pork, diced garlic butter mushrooms, spicy Korean fried chicken, or super crispy bacon.

Eat as soon as possible!

Shaped by lightly salted and dampened hands, onigiri is a way to temporarily preserve rice at room temperature. It is best when eaten fresh right after shaping. To preserve the moisture in the rice for a little while longer, you can tightly wrap each rice balls individually in plastic wrap.

Rice starch tends to harden when refrigerated, which is why chilled rice always tastes starchy and chalky. If you must, onigiri can be kept in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 1 to 2 days. To reheat, unwrap each onigiri and sprinkle a tablespoon of water on top, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave until rice is steaming hot, about 2 to 3 minutes. (Let stand a minute before eating, to avoid burning yourself!)

If you've made this recipe, let us know down below in the comments how you liked it!


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It’s best to use Japanese white rice or sushi rice to make onigiri. The sticky texture means it will hold its shape. Long grain and brown rice doesn’t really work BUT some people do mix the sticky rice with brown rice or grains to make it a bit healthier. It might be harder to shape though.


Nope! You eat it with your hands. We wrap the nori to stop the rice sticking to our hands but you can also just hold it in the plastic wrap if you don’t like nori.


Onigiri is different to sushi. Sushi rice is mixed with sushi vinegar whereas onigiri rice balls are made with simple salted rice. They are also shaped differently, onigiri is bigger and uses more rice. Lastly the fillings of onigiri are wrapped in the rice. With sushi, fish or vegetables are usually placed on top or rolled in so that they are still visible.


The best way to make sure you eat a soft and delicious onigiri, is to eat it on the day that you make it without putting it in the fridge. Saying that, some people like to prepare their lunch the night before but find that the rice has gone hard after being stored in the fridge. If you wrap the ongiri in plastic wrap, then again in a towel or kitchen paper, it won’t get as cold and so won’t become so hard.

Yaki-Onigiri Rice Balls (焼きおにぎり)

So how is Yaki-Onigiri rice balls are different from normal ones?

Yaki (焼き) means fried or grilled, so this will have a very different texture from a regular onigiri!

The rice is mixed with soy sauce and mirin and then the onigiri is shaped and fried in a frying pan. The inside stays soft whilst the outside becomes crispy.

Because of the extra liquid added to the rice, the rice becomes less sticky and tends to fall apart. To avoid making a mess, and to make your life easier, wrap the rice in clingfilm for this recipe. Then you can press the rice into shape a lot easier!

Other than the shaping, it's actually pretty simple to make.

How to Make Homemade Onigiri, the Japanese Rice Ball

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Meet onigiri: the humble, sensible sibling of sushi. This Japanese rice ball doesn’t require the artistic detail or fancy preparation that sushi-making might in fact, the beauty of onigiri lies in its simplicity and practicality.

Onigiri dates back to feudal Japan, during which rice balls were eaten by everyone from village farmers to samurai warriors for quick and hearty meals. Today, they’re a popular and filling snack widely sold throughout convenience stores in Asia.

Making onigiri gives you an excuse to play with your food, whether you’re using a rice ball shaper (which you can find at Daiso) or your two hands (you’ll feel like you’re building a delectable, rice sandcastle!). Onigiri are great for make-ahead meals, and while you can use traditional fillings such as fish, you can really use up any leftover meats or vegetables. Yes, even Spam, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Servings: 4-6

2 cups cooked sushi rice (or any short grain rice)
1/2 cup water, for moistening hands
1/4 teaspoon salt
4-6 servings of desired filling
Optional: 2-3 sheets of nori (dried seaweed), sesame seeds

1. Moisten both of your hands with water, then put some salt in your hands and rub around thoroughly. Water prevents the rice from sticking to your hands, and the salt will lightly season your rice.

2. Place a handful of rice into one slightly cupped hand.

3. Make an indentation in the rice and fill with 1-2 teaspoons of filling (the amount of filling will depend on the size of the rice ball). Be careful not to overstuff, or your rice ball will fall apart.

4. Gently mold the rice around the filling to cover it.

5. Use both hands to shape rice ball into desired shape. (TIP: To form a triangular shape, use your thumb, index and middle finger to firmly squeeze each corner of the rice ball.)

6. You can have your rice balls plain, wrapped in nori (seaweed) or rolled in seasoning such as sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Onigiri and samurai

Though, their exact introduction to history is unknown, with the most common record being that of onigiri being taken to picnics and, evidently, battles.

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Many samurai or Ashigaru (foot soldiers), stored onigiri in bamboo to be used for later.

This is mostly due to the fact that onigiri can be kept over a long period of time, so you don’t have to eat them straight away like many cooked foods. In other words, they are excellent rations.

They do contain a high-calorie count, which is a problem for people watching their health, but if you’re on the move a lot, like a soldier or a wandering monk, then a good onigiri will keep you full.

In addition, to keep the onigiri fresh, they were often stuffed with Umeboshi or dried ume.

Ume, not the bank, is a dried fruit that contains many antibacterial properties that keep the onigiri from becoming spoiled or dirty, which is important for long trips.

Japanese Rice Balls (Onigiri)

Andrea Fazzari

There are two different styles of onigiri: those that are stuffed and those that have seasonings mixed in. For the filled variety, umeboshi (pickled plums), cubes of salt-cured salmon, or tarako (cod roe) are often encased in the warm rice, and then eaten as is or wrapped in nori (dried seaweed). For others, seasonings like toasted black sesame seeds, yukari (red shiso powder), or sakebushi (dried salmon flakes) are simply mixed with the rice and then shaped into the typical triangle, ball, or cylinder shapes. Most importantly, when shaping the rice for onigiri, take care not to compact the rice too firmly. Press until the grains just hold together.