Asian Recipes/ Japanese/ Lunch/ Most Popular Recipes/ Recipes/ Snack

Easy Onigiri – Japanese Rice Balls

11/09/2020 (Last Updated: 01/12/2020)

This EASY onigiri recipe is flavoured with delicious Japanese seasonings and wrapped in nori, perfect for a quick snack or a tasty lunchbox treat. Read on for tips, tricks and our handy step by step guide.

Onigiri rice balls on a wooden board, sprinkled with furikake rice seasoning.

Why We Love This

These are the cutest little rice ball snacks! We love onigiri because they are so easy to adapt to your own flavour combinations, and a great way to use up leftover ingredients.

You can enjoy onigiri warm, cold or at room temperature, so they’re perfect in your lunchbox or as a portable snack on the go. You can even plate them up as a tasty appetiser!

Three Japanese rice balls on a plate scattered with black sesame seeds.

What is Onigiri? 

Also known as o-musubi or nigirimeshi, onigiri are Japanese rice ball snacks made from cooked or steamed sushi rice, furikake seasonings (and sometimes tasty hidden fillings), wrapped a nori seaweed wrapper.

In Japan, they’re either made at home in the morning or purchased from a nearby kombini (convenience store), then taken to work or school as a tasty snack or quick lunch.

Onigiri are similar yet different to sushi rolls or handrolled temaki sushi. The biggest difference is that regular sushi is seasoned with sushi vinegar while ongiri starts from a base of plain rice. We also think they are so much easier to make than regular sushi!

Where We Learned This Recipe

We learnt this recipe at a sakura celebration in Miyoshi, Japan.  After spending the morning making udon noodles with our feet (yep), it sounded like the perfect way to escape the cold, blustery weather, and maybe even try some local Japanese food. Funny how nobody mentioned the karaoke.

Plate after plate reached the tiny table in front of us as we sat on the floor, Japanese style – filled with homemade oden stew, t onigiri rice balls, and free flowing cups of sake and beer.

Afterwards, the ladies from the community took us into the kitchen and showed us step-by-step how to make onigiri by hand. They taught us that ideally want to end up with one face of the onigiri having a small indentation from your fingers, so you can see that it’s handmade.

What You’ll Need

Just three ingredients are all you need for these easy onigiri rice balls! All you need is cooked rice, a good sprinkling of rice seasoning (also known as furikake or gomashio), and a simple technique to mould it into a cute triangular shape. Wrap in a small decorative sheet of nori seaweed and your onigiri will be ready to eat!

  • Rice – We recommend koshihikari rice for the best texture. Cook it in a rice cooker, a multi-cooker, or on the stove using the absorption method. Here’s a great guide on how to cook Japanese sushi rice.
  • Furikake – This is a type of Japanese seasoning usually sprinkled over cooked rice. It’s made from a blend of ingredients like dried bonito flakes, sesame seeds, seaweed, egg, salt, sugar and various spices. There are so many furikake flavours out there, so look for packets of assorted furikake flavours and experiment to find your favourite! You can get them from your nearby Asian grocer or online, or even make your own. We’ve also included some optional ideas below to customise your onigiri with different seasonings and fillings. You can buy the furikake pictured below online here.
  • Nori – This is the flat seaweed wrapper also used to wrap sushi. You can find it online, at Asian grocers or even from well stocked supermarkets either in full size squares or in mini pre-cut strips. It’s not essential, but does make for a great little hand hold for your homemade onigiri.
Cooked Japanese rice sprinkled with furikake seasoning.

How to make Onigiri:

  1. Pop your cooked rice into a nice mixing bowl. Add the furikake or rice flavouring and mix through evenly. Separate the rice into equal portions, big enough to be a large handful each.
  2. Wet your hands with water and rub together with a pinch or two of salt. This stops the rice sticking to your hands and helps keep it fresher for longer.
  3. Take up one portion of rice in your hands.
  4. If you are hiding some fillings inside, here is where you make an indent, place the ingredients inside and fold the rice over, then lightly press into a ball.
  1. Using mainly your fingertips while resting the rice on your palm, start to press and squeeze the rice into a triangular shape, rotating as you go so it’s even.
  2. Place a slice of nori on the bottom of the onigiri (the rough side should face the rice) and fold it up towards to the middle of the onigiri.

Onigiri Filling & Seasoning Ideas

Our favourite method to make onigiri is to use furikake – aka rice seasoning – which is mixed through the rice itself. Here are some of our favourite seasonings, which you might be able to find on online or from well-stocked Asian grocers.

  • Gomashio – black sesame salt
  • Ume Goma Shio – plum sesame salt (our favourite! The Marumiya brand is delicious and also includes the cute little decorative flowers you can see in our photos)
  • Katsuo Fumi – bonito flakes with seaweed and spices

And here are some delicious ideas for fillings that you can hide inside the rice ball itself:

You’re only limited by your imagination and your tastebuds. What will you add to make your own homemade onigiri?

Onigiri rice triangles on a board next to a spoon full of rice seasoning.

Wandercooks Tips

  • For best results, make your onigiri while the rice is still warm. This will help the rice stick together better and make it easier to form the traditional triangle shape.
  • To make your fresh onigiri look more authentic, add a slice of nori around the base. It looks great and tastes great too!
  • If you’re making onigiri ahead of time, it’s a good idea to store the nori separately from the rice until you’re ready to eat, otherwise it will go soggy.

FAQs

What kind of rice should I use for onigiri?

We recommend using koshihikari sushi rice which is stickier and will hold its shape better. Medium grain rice or short grain rice works best for onigiri as the grains tend to stick to each other better than long grain rice (such as jasmine rice). 

How can I keep onigiri fresh overnight?

Onigiri are best enjoyed fresh. If you need to store them overnight, we recommend wrapping in plastic wrap or popping in a small airtight container before storing them in the refrigerator. Doing this will help retain moisture in the rice and stop the surface from drying out. You can also wrap them in an extra layer (such as paper towel or a regular towel) to stop the rice getting too cold and hard.
If you plan to eat them with a nori seaweed sheet, we recommend keeping it separate until you’re ready to eat. 

What should I do if my onigiri have dried out?

If your onigiri have dried out a bit but are still good on the inside inside, you can bring them back to life as yaki-onigiri – also known as grilled onigiri. Baste them in a little soy sauce, then fry them in a pan with sesame oil. The heat will crisp up the outside leaving the inside tender and moist. Yum!

Variations & Substitutes

  • Use Leftovers as Fillings – How about fried chicken, canned tuna or pickled vegetables?
  • Get Creative with Shapes – Instead of triangles, try making them into squares or animals! If you’re feeling creative, use thin slices of nori to create faces or patterns on top of the rice. Careful note: In some areas of Hawaii and Japan, it is considered bad luck to serve circular or round onigiri, as this shape can be reserved for funerals.
Top down view of three triangle shaped onigiri sushi on a platter.

P.S. Heaps of our lovely readers have been asking about the cute little flowers in the furikake we used to decorate our onigiri!

It’s part of a gorgeous Japanese rice seasoning we LOVED in Japan, called Ume Goma Shio (ie plum sesame salt), and it’s made by the brand Marumiya.

The good news is you can easily find Marumiya Brand Ume Goma Shio online from Amazon, or occasionally in the seasoning section of Asian import stores. Just look for the cute little white seal cartoon.

It’s super fun to use and has a lovely salty sesame flavour with a hint of ume (Japanese plum). If you give it a try, let us know what you think or make your own gomashio at home!

Want more tasty Japanese snacks? Try these:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating below!

A closeup shot of a finished onigiri rice ball.

Easy Onigiri – Japanese Rice Balls

This EASY onigiri recipe is flavoured with delicious Japanese seasonings and wrapped in nori, perfect for a quick snack or a tasty lunchbox treat.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Course: Snack
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 6 onigiri
Calories: 143kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $5-$10

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Pop your cooked sushi rice into a large mixing bowl. Add the furikake rice seasoning and mix through evenly. Note: if you feel like hiding something tasty inside instead, you can skip this step.
    3 cups sushi rice, 50 grams rice seasoning
  • Separate the rice into equal portions, approximately one large handful for each onigiri.
  • Wet your hands with water and rub together with a pinch or two of salt. This stops the rice sticking to your hands and helps keep it fresher for longer.
    water, salt
  • Pick up one handful/portion of rice. If you are hiding some fillings inside, here is where you make an indent, place the ingredients inside and fold the rice over, then lightly press into a ball.
  • Using mainly your fingertips while resting the rice on your palm, start to press and squeeze the rice into a triangular shape, rotating as you go so it’s even. According to our Japanese friends, you want to end up with one face of the onigiri having a small indentation from your fingers.
  • Place a slice of nori on the bottom of the onigiri, rough side in towards the rice. Then fold it up towards to the middle of the onigiri.
    nori sheets
  • Repeat for the remaining rice portions.

Video

Recipe Notes

Tips to get this recipe just right:
  • Rice – We recommend koshihikari rice for the best texture. Cook it in a rice cooker, a multi-cooker, or on the stove using the absorption method. Here’s our full guide on how to cook Japanese sushi rice. Make sure the rice is warm while making your onigiri. This will help the rice stick together better and make it easier to form the traditional triangle shape.
  • Furikake – This is a type of Japanese seasoning usually sprinkled over cooked rice. It’s made from a blend of ingredients like dried fish, sesame seeds, seaweed, egg, salt, sugar and various spices. There are so many furikake flavours out there, so look for packets of assorted furikake flavours and experiment to find your favourite! You can get them from your nearby Asian grocer or online, or even make your own. We’ve also included some optional ideas below to customise your onigiri with different seasonings and fillings.
  • Nori – This is the flat seaweed wrapper also used to wrap sushi. You can find it online, at Asian grocers or even from well stocked supermarkets either in full size squares or in mini pre-cut strips. It’s not essential, but does make for a great little hand hold for your homemade onigiri.
  • To Store – Wrap them in plastic wrap or popping in a small airtight container before storing in the refrigerator. Doing this will help retain moisture in the rice and stop the surface from drying out. You can also wrap them in an extra layer (such as paper towel or a regular towel) to stop the rice getting too cold and hard. Keep the nori separately from the rice until you’re ready to eat, otherwise it will go soggy.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Easy Onigiri – Japanese Rice Balls
Amount per Serving
Calories
143
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
1
g
2
%
Saturated Fat
 
1
g
6
%
Sodium
 
2
mg
0
%
Potassium
 
129
mg
4
%
Carbohydrates
 
32
g
11
%
Fiber
 
4
g
17
%
Sugar
 
1
g
1
%
Protein
 
3
g
6
%
Vitamin A
 
140
IU
3
%
Vitamin C
 
0.2
mg
0
%
Calcium
 
133
mg
13
%
Iron
 
4.4
mg
24
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Easy Onigiri - Japanese Rice Balls

Browse all our most popular Japanese recipes

Japanese mochi, matcha green tea ice-cream. okonomiyaki, gyoza and chicken katsu dishes, with the words "Click here for Japanese recipes" overlayed.

46 Comments

  • Reply
    Allie
    17/08/2022 at 5:35 am

    When preparing the rice for onigiri, do you add the vinegar as you would for sushi or omit that step? I didn’t see any clear distinction there but have not used rice vinegar in other recipes that I can recall.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      19/08/2022 at 3:21 pm

      Good question! Omit the vinegar in this case. For onigiri, you just make plain sushi rice. Then any leftover rice, you can add the sushi vinegar seasonings etc to that rice to make sushi if you like. 🙂

  • Reply
    Brian Marshall
    11/04/2022 at 7:48 am

    5 stars
    Was amazingly good, first time I made them I made giant round balls with seaweed wrapped all the way around the ball like an ornament, second time I made stuffed triangles with hotdog and shredded cheese inside. Both were fantastic, thank you very much for the recipe also it was my first time trying Onigiri 😀👍💕

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      11/04/2022 at 4:03 pm

      Amazing work Brian, I love how you put your own spin on the recipe and experimented with those fillings. Thanks for sharing with us!

  • Reply
    Angelica
    11/04/2022 at 1:34 am

    5 stars
    So, so good!! My husband rarely gives 10/10 for a recipe, but that is what he gives this one. Easy steps and absolutely addictive. We love it and I will definitely be making these again soon!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      11/04/2022 at 4:02 pm

      Oh wow, this is awesome Angelica! So glad you and your husband enjoyed it so much.

  • Reply
    Anon
    03/02/2022 at 2:25 pm

    This turned out WAY too salty. Especially if you used the water and salt on your hands trick to keep the rice from sticking to them. Definitely won’t be trying this way again. Next time I’ll probably just stick with some mirin, vinegar, and sugar

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      07/02/2022 at 11:57 am

      Hey, it sounds like too much salt was used. We call for a pinch or two of salt for the entire recipe. If it’s still too salty, omit and make sure to still water your hands to stop the rice from sticking. The mirin, vinegar and sugar is for flavouring when making the sushi rice and isn’t part of making the onigiri itself and should not be used the way you described. Have another go, it can take some practise, watch the video again and good luck!

  • Reply
    Lauren Dasaro
    19/11/2021 at 10:55 am

    5 stars
    Haven’t made these yet but of all the recipes I’ve looked at,these look the best and sound the easiest to make! I’m so excited to try these and will update how I did and if I messed up like I do when I try to pronounce the names of everything lol wish me luck!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      19/11/2021 at 3:58 pm

      That’s awesome Lauren – if you get stuck, shoot us a message! Good luck! 😀 😀

  • Reply
    Glenda Groves
    16/06/2021 at 12:34 pm

    5 stars
    Made these little morsels, as stated in the recipe and really excellent. Also tried it with a new rice ‘lemon and herb’ rice seasoning, and still excellent.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      16/06/2021 at 2:32 pm

      Great, so glad you enjoyed them! 😀

  • Reply
    CaraLea
    13/06/2021 at 12:09 am

    If serving to people who know anything about Japanese culture, be careful about circular rice balls. They are usually only served at funerals.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      15/06/2021 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks CaraLea, we’ll add that tip to the post. Intriguing though that our Japanese friends served us round ones when we cooked them homestyle in Japan.

      Upon further research, it seems the round onigiri served at funerals are a tradition in only certain areas of Hawaii and Japan, which is why we hadn’t come across it before!

  • Reply
    Vickey
    25/03/2019 at 9:53 am

    5 stars
    Turned out great for a first try!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      25/03/2019 at 11:49 am

      Oh fantastic Vickey – which style did you end up making? Did you use a particular furikake flavour? Onigiri are so much fun! ????

    1 2

    Leave a Reply

    Recipe Rating




    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    41K Shares
    Pin
    Share
    Yum
    Share
    Tweet