Friday, June 5, 2009

Mochi: Product review & recipe

While trolling my local health food store, Hampton Natural Foods, for new and different GF, sugar free, tree nut and peanut free yummy stuff, I came upon Raisin-Cinnamon Mochi in the GF frozen section. I was a bit skeptical, as it looks like a 1/2" flat square...and not all that appetizing. I remember reading something positive about mochi somewhere online and also hearing about it on our recent trip to Hawaii, so I thought I'd give it a try...boy am I glad I did!

First thing's first - what is mochi? It's a traditional Japanese sweet brown rice snack eaten by Japanese farmers that want to increase their stamina and have lasting energy. The rice is pounded flat and allowed to cure and harden. It becomes soft again when you cook it.

The first time I made it, I cooked it according to the package directions - cut into 1 - 2" squares (being straight from the freezer, this part was challenging) and baked it at 450 for 8 minutes (I used my toaster oven which bakes faster, so I dropped the heat to 425). I didn't think it would puff up, but it did. It was crispy on the outside, somewhat hollow on the inside, and chewy at the same time - I'm kind of a texture person, and I liked this different texture. It also had a pleasant flavor. It did stick to the foil I noticed, but when it cooled, it came right up. I thought "kinda cool." But then I made it again...

Last night, I wanted a sweet treat. Being that I'm still in the challenge phase, it could not be too sweet. I remembered the mochi and recipe idea on the back for cinammon rolls. This time, I let it defrost first, then cut it into squares and baked it. It puffed up even more and didn't stick. As soon as it came out, I topped it with a little bit of cream cheese (non-dairy would be fine) and a dot of Agave (you could use honey or maple syrup, too). OH MAN! Mochi reached a whole other level - it tasted just like a cinnamon roll. Absolutely delicious...warm, crispy, gooey, sweet...YUM!

Here's the allergen rundown: mochi is wheat free, gluten free, and dairy free. The flavor I tried had no sugar, just sweetened w/ a bit of raisin. Grainaissance, the makers of the mochi I tried, does use peanuts and tree nuts in some of their products and the package contains that warning. They are kosher, they never use animal products, and the rice is whole-grain - not milled. Other flavors are available but check the ingredients label for each as they vary (for example, the chocolate brownie mochi contains walnuts). They recommend putting the savvory flavors in soup like dumplings...I bet that would be great!

A surprisingly delicious discovery that you don't need to feel guilty about...


  1. Dear "Coach!" What a great blog you have here -- and I especially like the ferreting out of some new more "adventurous" food products that many of us may not have come across.

    However, I did want to comment about mochi. They are such a great idea, in theory -- but Japanese food, sadly, is often a sleeping time bomb because they use barley or barley malt so frequently. I'm glad to see the brand of mochi you found, as they seem to be mainstream enough and clearly "get" what gluten means.

    However, there are lots of little companies out there that produce mochi. I do not know if these products come from Japan, or if they are small manufacturers of Japanese products here in the U.S.

    But, as you well know, the labeling requirements only apply to wheat, specifically -- and many Japanese manufacturers do not label barley. Sadly, for me, I have an even more violent reaction to barley than to wheat -- so I kind of learned the hard way about mochi.

    I love Japanese food more than life, and have come to learn this is a very difficult aspect to deal with, and often to get straight answers for. Among other Japanese foods to be on the alert for is miso -- which can be fermented from a rice, wheat or soy base. That part is pretty easy to tell from the labeling. However, what you often cannot see on the label is if there is barley or rye, used otherwise in the process. From wikipedia, here is a list of miso raw materials that often include:

    mugi (麦): barley
    tsubu (粒): whole wheat/barley
    hadakamugi (裸麦): rye
    gokoku (五穀): "5 grain": soy, wheat, barley, proso millet, and foxtail millet

    If wheat is part of any of the above, they should have to list it, but they do not have to list the others (or explain what they are, if they do list them). In Japanese restaurants, I have found that it is not enough to ask them to read the label of the miso they use, because even if it's from rice or soy, it could have barley, malt or rye ... not listed, or just listed under the Japanese name. Recently, I did come across Westbrae brand white miso, which is made by Hain -- and I am quite sure that Hain discloses all gluten on the label. I can't wait to try it!

    The hidden and rather common danger is GREEN TEA. If you are buying the tea to brew yourself, it's easy enough to check the label -- and it seems my own experience with teas is that they are pretty good at labeling all ingredients. However, it is not uncommon for Japanese green tea to be brewed with roasted BARLEY. If in a Japanese restaurant, at least, I never thought a bit about any problem with just ordering plain green tea. Well, it ain't always so "plain," as it turns out. Sometimes the restaurant will simply add roasted barley to the tea, or it is blended with something called Mugicha, which is, literally "barley tea."

    Sorry about the bombardment of info. I cannot wait until the labeling requirements include ALL gluten. So many millions will be so much happier! :-)

    Thx for your blog, Kim!

    "The Naked Fork"

  2. Hi Suzette,

    Thanks for the info! The mochi I had was from a company in CA. I agree, anything produced outside of the US leaves too much uncertainty. Let me know how Hain's miso is...I might have to get some myself.

    If you go to the advocacy page of my website the second thing listed is a petition to the FDA to include barley, rye, and contaminated oats on labels. If it interests you, sign it!

    Thanks again,

  3. Just a comment on the green tea issue- pure green tea is fine. There is an entirely different kind of tea called Mugicha 麦茶 which is made solely from barley and contains gluten. However, to my knowledge there is not a green tea with roasted barley (except perhaps as a specialty item). There is a very common kind of green tea with roasted RICE, Genmaicha 玄米茶[GEN-mai-cha]. I have to admit that I avoid it as I've never been certain about the roasting process (and if any malt could be used), but the main grain concerned is actually rice. The confusion may come from the fact that Ocha is a generic term for tea and would not indicate whether or not it is mugicha or genmaicha or bancha etc. I have not personally seen or experienced a tea where mugicha was mixed with a green tea, and I lived in Japan for 2 years and several summers. However, mugicha is definitely something to be aware of and cautious of. Any cold tea in summer should be suspect, although oolong cha, a cold black tea from China which is safe. (mugi cha can also be served hot in winter, I believe, so be careful there too.)

    Also- about your article- traditional Japanese mochi is actually made from WHITE rice, not brown, from a short, sticky white variety that has been well polished so that the brown kernel is removed. Brown rice is something of a health food in modern japan and can almost never be found used for mochi except in a health food (macrobiotic) type store or brand. Grainnaisance is great but something of an American invention, especially with all the weird flavors like cinnamon, raisin, etc- you would never find that in Japan where the unprepared mochi is always plain or seasoned with traditional Japanese ingredients at most.

    One of the most suspect ingredients in most forms of prepared mochi is glucose. This should not contain any form of gluten after processing, according to European standards. It is possible that barley would be present, perhaps in a sweetener. However, grainnaisance mochi or the traditional WHITE RICE hard mochi sold in Japanese stores that is just pounded rice and has to be grilled to be edible would not contain any form of barley or gluten.

    As far as Miso goes, there are several brands such as Cold Mountain that clearly label themselves as gluten-free. You can even buy gluten-free koji (the starter for miso) from them that in other brands may be problematic.

    I agree that eating in a Japanese restaurant in the US can be tricky due to language issues (often Korean or Chinese not Japanese) and potential issues in things like koji miso starter. However, as far as living in Japan, allergen declaration laws are the same as the US- where we also must declare wheat clearly on the label but NOT declare a gluten/gluten-free status. Japanese products can be trusted to label the ingredients, within reason.


  4. I love mochi! I used to eat that all the time growing up...of course I stuffed it with loads of butter, so I'll have to get out of that habit if I start eating it again. :)