Sakura Onigiri (Cherry Blossom Rice Balls)

Sakura Onigiri

Ingredient 18 Rice Balls 18 Rice Balls
short-grain rice 3 rice-cooker-cups (2¼ cups) 3 rice-cooker-cups (540 ml)
salted cherry blossoms 1 oz. 30g
water 2 cups + 13 oz. 2 cups + 400 ml

Onigiri (rice balls) are to traditional Japanese cuisine what the sandwich is in the US — a handy lunch that’s both easy to make and easy to take with you. Sakura onigiri are a twist on the standard, adding a delicate preserved cherry blossom to give an elegant touch to the outside and a subtle floral accent to the rice itself.


  1. Rinse the dry rice two or three times by covering it with water, stirring, and pouring off the milky water. Transfer the damp rice into a strainer and let it sit for 30 minutes.


  1. Soak blossoms.
    Put about two cups of water into a bowl and swish the cherry blossoms in it to remove the salt on the surface then let them soak for 5 minutes. Remove the blossoms and reserve the water. Pat the blossoms dry with a paper towel and set aside the best-looking 18 blossoms to use as decoration; the rest will be used to season the rice.
  2. Cooked rice and cherry blossoms in a rice cooker Cook rice.
    Transfer the rice to a rice cooker and add 200 ml (7 oz.) of water scooped off the top of the blossom-seasoned water. Add an additional 400 ml (13 oz.) of water to the rice, then add the less-attractive cherry blossoms. Cook the rice using the standard setting on your rice cooker.
  3. Form rice balls.
    Once the cooked rice has cooled just enough to handle, form it into 18 equal balls (or your preferred shape). Press one of the reserved cherry blossoms onto the top of each ball and eat warm or at room temperature.


  • Due to a lingering vestige of a traditional Japanese measuring system, rice cookers (even those sold outside Japan) usually come with a special "rice-cooker-sized" measuring cup, equal to 180ml (¾ cup).
  • While rice balls usually have a filling, the cherry blossoms should supply enough salt and flavor that it isn’t necessary, although you can add an additional filling if you like.
  • Rice balls can be just about any shape. Tawara-style (rice-bale-shaped) are shown above, "standard" rice balls are a rounded triangle, and simple spheres are another option. It is also possible to buy rice ball molds in a variety of shapes.
  • Rice balls will keep for about a day if stored in a cool place. Do not refrigerate them; rice undergoes a chemical change at refrigerator temperatures and becomes very hard.
  • A small jar of salted sakura blossoms A salted sakura blossom Salted cherry blossoms (sakura no hana no shiozuke) aren’t easy to find; try Japanese markets. You can also make them yourself from fresh yaezakura blossoms, but of course you will need to find a tree in bloom to do so.