9 Types of Japanese Ice Cream & Frozen Desserts
Frozen desserts have been enjoyed for centuries in Japan, dating back to the Heian period when the Japanese nobility enjoyed treats of frozen shaved ice which were carved by hand and sweetened with nectar. The first Japanese to try Western-style ice cream is believed to be a group of samurai, envoys of the shogun to America, who ate ice cream in San Francisco. Today, a wide variety of ice cream is popular in Japan, and popsicles and frozen desserts can be found everywhere from convenience stores offering the latest seasonal Japanese ice cream flavors, to boutique gelato stores and vending machines. Read on to learn more about the different kinds of ice cream found in Japan.
9 Popular Types of Ice Cream in Japan
Frozen popsicles, known in Japan as “ice candy”, come in a wide variety of flavors. Fruit popsicles, in particular, are incredibly popular and come in a variety of flavors including strawberry, kiwi, watermelon, and mixed fruit salad.
Monaka is a traditional Japanese wafer cookie that’s eaten with sweetened red bean paste. It can also be used to make ice cream sandwiches, with ice cream and chunks of chocolate sandwiched between two crispy monaka wafers.
Daifuku is a traditional Japanese sweet featuring a mochi rice dumpling with red bean paste in the middle. It has been adapted into the delicious Japanese ice cream treat called “yukimi-daifuku”, or mochi ice cream, made with a bite-sized scoop of ice cream wrapped in a mochi rice dumpling. The soft and chewy mochi and the dense, creamy ice cream make for a delicious combination.
Although traditionally a western dessert, parfaits are just as iconic in Japan where they can be found on the menu of many casual eateries. A typical Japanese parfait consists of a crunchy base of corn flakes or puffed rice cereal, and layers of ice cream and freshly whipped cream. Other toppings include custard or pudding, bite-sized pieces of cake, anko red bean paste, shiratama dango (miniature mochi rice dumplings), clear warabi (bracken) mochi, cubes of jelly, and fresh seasonal fruits.
Soft serve ice cream, known as “sofuto kurimu” in Japan, was first introduced during the mid-1900s when modern refrigeration made it possible for soft serve ice cream to be sold widely across the country. The soft, creamy texture of this frozen treat made it a huge hit with people in Japan, and before long sofuto kurimu was being made with a variety of Japanese ingredients and flavors to appeal to the local palate. Common flavors include matcha green tea, kinako (toasted soy flour), and adzuki red bean, but there also some quirky and unusual varieties out there including seaweed, squid ink, and wasabi flavor.
Soft-serve ice cream trucks and stands are a frequent sight during the summer months. In addition, popular sightseeing destinations will often have a sofuto-kurimu stand set up offering special local flavors, so be sure to keep an eye out and give one of these local flavors a try.
Kakigori is the Japanese version of shaved ice, which has been eaten in Japan for centuries. It’s made with finely shaved ice that has a snow-like texture and can be topped with either simple flavored syrups or a variety of rich toppings, such as thick and sweet condensed milk, red bean paste, fresh fruit, shiratama dango, whipped cream, and even scoops of ice cream.
Although traditionally kakigori was carved by hand with a very sharp knife, today both hand-powered and electric shaved ice makers exist so you can enjoy kakigori without the hassle. Typically, kakigori is only sold during the summer months of Japan. You’ll know that it’s kakigori season when you begin to spot a distinctive banner outside of cafes and restaurants, featuring the Japanese character for ice (氷) in red with a picture of blue waves beneath it.
Frozen choco-banana is a summertime favorite, featuring a frozen banana on a stick dipped in chocolate and covered in crystallized sugar, sprinkles, or nuts. In addition to milk chocolate, white chocolate may also be used and food coloring may be added to the white chocolate to create fun colors, such as pink or blue frozen choco-bananas. They’re commonly found at yatai food stands set up for summer festivals in Japan.
Adzuki Bean Popsicles
Adzuki bean popsicles are a Japanese ice cream that inspire nostalgia in many adults. They combine adzuki, a traditional Japanese dessert ingredient of sweetened red beans, with western style popsicles. The red bean is suspended in a creamy base and frozen solid-so solid, in fact, that frozen adzuki bars often come with a warning label that they should be allowed to soften a bit before eating.
Anmitsu is a dessert that’s similar to a sundae, but made with traditional Japanese ingredients. It contains a scoop of chunky red bean paste called “tsubuan”, cubes of kanten jelly (a traditional dessert ingredient made with vegan gelatin), fresh fruits, and shiratama mochi dumplings. Ice cream can also be added to the dish to make “kurimu anmitsu”.
Ice Cream in Japan is Creative and Varied
Ice cream is a favorite treat in Japan that can be enjoyed not only in the summertime, but year-round. Be on the lookout for unique ice creams to try on your next visit to Japan, and check out the Gurunavi Japan listings to explore other summertime foods. Itadakimasu!