What is a Takana Onigiri?

What is a Takana Onigiri?

Jun 15, 2023 Tags 

There are so many onigiri fillings and varieties in Japan, but have you heard about takana onigiri? Your typical rice balls are filled with ingredients like tuna, umeboshi, and salmon. If you want a different kind of Japanese rice ball, try takana onigiri.

In this post, we’ll discuss all the things you need to know about this unique rice ball dish. We'll explore the process of making one as well as the flavors and textures that make takana onigiri a standout among other onigiri varieties.


What is takana onigiri?


6 Takana Onigiri


Takana onigiri is a rice ball that uses pickled mustard greens or takana (高菜) as its flavoring ingredient. The takana leaves are processed to become what’s locally known as tsukemono or preserved vegetables. 




Takana leaves


Takana leaves, also called Japanese giant red mustard, have a peppery taste. Pickling them keeps their gentle spice and satisfying crunchiness. At the same time, the natural bitterness from the leaves decreases.

People who plant these mustard greens in their garden can easily make takana or takana-zuke, the pickled version of the leaves. If you’re in Japan and you’ve got nice neighbors around, maybe they’ll even give you some! Takana can also be bought in the country’s supermarkets.

The Japanese giant red mustard didn’t originally grow in the country. It was during the Heian period (794 – 1185) when the plant was imported from China.


Takana Preparation



When pickling takana leaves, it’s important not to wash them before you start the process. This allows the leaves to get rid of most of their prickly taste. 

You need to measure the weight of the leaves to determine how much salt is required. The long pickling process requires salt of about 8% to 9% of the weight. When you’re ready to eat them, an additional 4 percent is added. Some people add small bits of sliced pepper, but this is completely optional.



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Variations of the Takana Onigiri


Takana onigiri wrapped in seaweed


Generally, there are two ways to prepare takana onigiri. If you bought some of this tsukemono, then you can easily make rice balls featuring takana. The easiest way is to cook your short-grain Japonica rice and then set some aside for your takana onigiri. Add some of the takana to your rice and then mix them together. Shape the mixture into a triangle then wrap it with a sheet of nori.

Others want to achieve an elegant takana onigiri look by wrapping the rice balls in the pickled mustard leaf. If you want your takana onigiri this way, you only need to lightly salt your rice and then wrap it in the whole takana leaf. Others would add some takana fillings before shaping the rice ball and wrapping it with the mustard leaf.


What does takana onigiri taste like?


You can expect the saltiness coming from the pickled mustard greens. But what makes this dish a winner is its texture. The combination of the crunchiness and saltiness of takana makes it a flavorful rice ball.


Is takana onigiri vegetarian?


Whether or not a takana onigiri is vegetarian heavily depends on the preparation of the dish. If the takana is homemade and no other ingredients aside from the mustard leaves and salt were used, its onigiri version is good for vegetarians. Those commercially available ones may include additives or seasonings that could potentially contain animal-derived ingredients.


Takana Chahan: Takana Onigiri’s Close Cousin


Takana Chahan


Aside from takana onigiri, there is another way to enjoy a takana-based rice dish. It’s none other than takana chahan, a Chinese-style fried rice dish that gets its flavor from the pickled Japanese mustard greens.

Takana chahan consists mainly of rice, egg, and takana. While it's not well known among people outside Japan, takana chahan undoubtedly ranks among the top 5 fried rice variations you can savor and is surely a must-try when you come to Japan or if you have the ingredients available to you.

Takana chahan can be found in restaurants, cafés, and stalls (called yatai, 屋台) along shopping streets. If you're staying in Japan for a good amount of time and you live in a populous area, you'll likely find this among the menu of the local establishments.

If you plan on making one, it's important to keep your takana chahan simple. Ensure that there's a good amount of rice and just enough takana to add flavor to your dish.

A perfectly cooked takana chahan features rice that has enough fluffiness within and crispiness along the edges. The combination of egg and the tangy notes of takana creates a harmonious blend of flavors.


How Takana is Used in Japanese Cuisine


Cooked Takana


Takana, the pickled mustard greens, holds a prominent place in Japanese cuisine beyond its inclusion in onigiri and fried rice. This versatile ingredient finds its way into various dishes, giving other foods an excellent twist in terms of textures and tastes.

  • Takana can be used as a topping or garnish for tonkotsu ramen, okayu (Japanese rice porridge), and miso soup, creating an element of pungency in the flavor profile. It's also an excellent addition to noodle dishes such as soba and udon. 
  • Add it to stir-fry dishes. Its distinctive flavor holds up well against other ingredients, contributing a zesty and savory note. Whether combined with vegetables, meats, or seafood, takana imparts a delightful taste that complements and elevates the dish.
  • Takana serves as a side dish or okazu. Simply add it on top of your rice and enjoy your proteins and vegetables.




Takana onigiri is a simple rice dish that draws its flavor and texture from the pickled Japanese giant red mustard. Its saltiness and crunchiness will delight your taste buds, whether you mix the takana with rice, use the tsukemono as a filling, or use the mustard leaf as an onigiri wrap.

When you’re in Japan and ready to taste some dishes that you’re not familiar with, give takana onigiri a try. It’s an excellent dish for those seeking to expand their palate.

And if you want to put your culinary skills to the test, Try the simple pickling method and make your very own takana onigiri! In the meantime, get yourself some Japanese snacks to pair with your Onigiri!