What is Dango?

What is Dango?

One of the most famous wagashi, or Japanese sweets, ever created is dango (団子). Japanese dango are round glutinous rice flour (mochiko) dumplings that are served with a bamboo stick. On each skewer, there are typically three to five dango balls.

The rice flour used for Dango is mixed with uruchi rice flour. It is different from the method of making mochi, which is made after steaming glutinous rice. Now you may wonder, are Dango and Mochi the same? No they're not, and we'll tell you why!

In this article we'll explore the differences between a mitarashi dango and a hanami dango, but what's even better, we'll teach you how to make dango at home following an easy recipe at the end!



What shape does a Dango have?


Mitarashi Dango


Dango is usually finished round shaped, three to five dango are often served on a skewer (skewered dango pieces are called kushi-dango, 串団子). Generally, dango are classified under the category of wagashi (learn more about wagashi in our ultimate guide here), and are often served with green tea. It is eaten year-round, but the different varieties are traditionally eaten in given seasons.


What is the history of Dango?


Old dango store


The origin of dango may date back hundreds of years, like a number of Japanese sweets and confections. It is believed that nuts were first ground into a fine meal, combined with rice porridge, and then molded into dango balls as long back as two thousand years ago. Dango can be compared to a healthy, home-made version of a hunter-gatherer popsicle from the Stone Age.

The contemporary dango is said to have been invented at Kyoto's Kamo Mitarashi tea establishment in the early 1900s. According to legend, an emperor's visit to Kyoto's Shimogamo Shrine in the 1300s served as the inspiration for Mitarashi dango.

According to legend, the emperor noticed five bubbles while washing his hands in the mitarashi (purifying water) at the shrine's entryway. The five spherical bubbles represented the five dumpling balls of Mitarashi dango. Soon, pilgrims to the close-by Shimogamo Shrine donated Mitarashi dango as a sign of respect and a wish for good fortune for the coming year. The cherry on top of Mitarashi dango is a sweet and salty soy sauce brown sugar syrup, which makes it impossible to resist. The shrine visitors undoubtedly took those same dango home to eat after paying their respects.

Dango are well-established in contemporary Japanese language and culture. Dango occasionally carries a bad connotation. A dango, in the strategy board game Go, is a pointless group of stones. Dango also carries a benevolent or practical meaning. A common fashion statement is a dango hairstyle with a circular bun on each side of the head. Hana yori dango is an idiom that directly translates to "dango instead of flowers" and implies "choose practicality over pretentiousness."


What does dango taste like?




Simple dango balls have a sweet rice flavor. Although it seems uninteresting, the texture is what sets this Japanese dessert apart. Soft, chewable, and yet firm and toothsome. A topping such as sweetened black sesame paste, sweet soy sauce, or anko is included with some dangos (sweet red bean paste).

They are frequently topped with sweet soy sauce syrup or red bean paste (anko). The soft and chewy dango are deserved of the praise they have received in the world of Japanese snacks. The nicest part about dango is that, thanks to its pierced stick resemblance to a lollipop, they make the ideal portable street snack!

There are many different types and flavors of dango. On a barbecue, soy sauce-flavored shoyu dango are baked. Sesame seeds are a covering on goma dango. Green tea flavoring is used in cha dango. Tsukimi dango are plain white dango that are consumed during the autumn full moon viewing festival without a skewer (tsukimi).

Hanami, or the festival of cherry blossom viewing, is when hanami dango, which are tricolored, first appear. Perhaps the most well-known variety of dango is mitarashi. After being grilled, dango balls are covered in a sweet soy glaze. We don't want to "roll out" too many of these adorable balls and overwhelm you, but there are many different varieties of dango, including Sasa, Kinako, and Otoko.


What is dango filled with?


Mitarashi dango


Although plain dango are usually not filled with anything, but come with a topping instead, some variations have delicious fillings.

The otoko dango (also known as the "man dango") is filled with kinpira, while the onna dango (also known as the "female dango") is filled with anko.


Is dango same as mochi?


You're not alone if you think that dango sounds a lot like mochi. Mochi and dango are both made in a similar manner, however there are a few variations. While mochi is created from steamed and pounded rice, dango is formed from mochiko (mochigome).

Dango are smaller, stiffer, and typically covered in sauce rather than being filled, whereas mochi are larger, softer, and occasionally filled with anko or ice cream. Another near relative of dango is the daifuku. Although it has a thinner skin than mochi, daifuku are also made using mochigome rather than mochiko. The main characteristic of daifuku is that it is usually filled with surprises like strawberries or anko.


What are the types of dango?


Japanese love dango, and have always been very creative when it comes to make their confectionneries unique and stand out. Dango has seen numerous variations over the year, and today you can find plenty of recipes. Some are seasonal, others carry deeper meaning. Find some of the most commonly eaten dango in our list below!

Goma dango


Cha dango (茶団子) is green tea (matcha) flavored dango.

  • Shoyu dango (醤油だんご): a kind of baked dango (yaki dango (焼き団子)), covered with soy sauce. One version of it is wrapped with nori and is called isobe dango (磯辺団子).
  • Goma dango (ごま団子) is sprinkled with sesame paste. It is both sweet and salty at the same time.
  • Hanami dango (花見だんご) is sanshoku dango (三色団子, 3 colored dango) and is eaten a lot during hanami. It has three colors (pink, green, white), and is traditionally made during sakura-viewing season, hence the name (hanami means "flower viewing"; hana meaning "flower", and mi meaning "to see"). The order of the three colored dumplings has a meaning, and it represents the order in which cherry blossoms bloom. Pink is for the cherry buds, white for the cherry blossoms when they are in full bloom, and green represents leafy cherry blossoms after they have fallen on the ground.
  • Kibi dango (きび団子) is a different dango made with millet flour. It's often linked to the tale of Momotarō, a folkloric Japanese hero, who offers the rounded ball (not skewered) to three talking animals in exchange for their aid in fighting demons.
  • Kinako dango (きなこ団子) is a toasted soy flour-based dango.
  • Kusa dango or yomogi dango (草団子 or よもぎ団子) is mixed leaves of yomogi, like kusa mochi. It is usually covered with anko.
  • Mitarashi (みたらし団子) is coated with a syrup made from shouyu (soy sauce), sugar, and starch.
  • Sasa dango (笹団子) is from Niigata Prefecture, and mostly eaten there. Sasa dango has two varieties: onna dango and otoko dango. Onna dango (literally "female dango") is filled with anko, while the otoko dango (literally "male dango") is filled with kinpira. The dango is wrapped in sasa leaves for better preservation
  • Shiratama dango (白玉だんご) is eaten in anmitsu or mitsumame.
  • Tsukimi dango (月見だんご) is white dango to eat during Tsukimi. It is traditionally made during autumn full moon (Mid-Autumn Festival).




How to make dango at home


As you’ve seen, there are many different types of dangos. For this article, we’ve found and summarized a very easy hanami dango recipe.


What is hanami dango?


Hanami Dango


Hanami dango is a year round dessert that is enjoyed most commonly during the cherry blossom viewing season in Japan. This coincides with the beginning of spring, and the three colors are said to symbolize the pink of the spring cherry blossoms, the white of the winter snow, and the green of the summer grass. They are made with sweet rice flour and are bright, chewy, soft, and delicious.


Ingredient’s you’ll need for hanami dango:

  • Joshinko glutinous rice flour– The Dango base
  • Shiratamako glutinous sweet rice flour– The Dango base and also to add sweetness
  • Powdered sugar- this is optional but recommended.
  • Hot water– This creates the dough to form the dango
  • Matcha powder– For flavor and color
  • Pink food coloring– For color. Use the gel kind.


How to Make Hanami Dango in 10 steps:


hanami dango


  1. Soak the skewers. First, soak your bamboo skewers in room temperature water.
  2. Mix the rice flour and water. Place the rice flours into a bowl and then pour in some hot water. Mix it with a spoon, and when it starts to take shape, use your hands to mold the dango dough together. Add a little more flour or water if needed. When ready, the dough should feel like clay or play-doh, but softer.
  3. Divide the dough. Use separate bowls to separate your dough mix evenly in 3.
  4. Color the pink dough. Add 1 drop of pink food coloring to one piece of dough and mix it in until it is fully pink.
  5. Color the green dough. Add 1 teaspoon of water to the matcha powder and mix to make a paste. Then add it to another piece of dough and make sure it's fully green. The last piece of dough should remain white.
  6. Shape the dough into balls. Begin shaping the dough into balls. One ball should be about 20 grams. Make sure you have a matching number of each type of ball.
  7. Cook the white dango balls. Bring a pot of water to a boil and begin cooking the white balls first. Once they rise to the top of the pot, continue cooking them for another 2 minutes.
  8. Cool the dango balls. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer the steamed dango to a bowl of ice water.
  9. Repeat with the pink and green balls. Continue this process with the pink and then the green dango to avoid staining the water.
  10. Skewer the dango. Add your dango balls on the skewers. Make sure to pace the green ones on first, then the white, and the pink ones last. Serve as they are or add a topping.

Here you have a recap of how to make easy hanami dango at home in video!



Now you know everything there is to know about Dango. Have more questions? Let us know and we'll make sure to find the answers for you!

Get your own Dango delivered to your door, or even better, we sometimes include some DIY dango kits in our Japanese snack boxes!