What is Wasanbon?

What is Wasanbon?

Mar 09, 2023 Tags 

Do you love sweets? Are you a fan of sugary treats? Well, you’re in the right place because Japan has a lot to offer you; however, one treat stands out the most. Wasanbon is a type of handmade fine-grained sugar unique to Japan and used in making traditional Japanese candy. It isn’t like the usual sugar with crystals. You might often hear or see Wasanbon mentioned alongside wagashi (Japanese sweets), thats because it is a crucial ingredient in making Japanese sweets. 

Taking this sugar in powdered form is okay but it’s way cooler to mold it into interesting arts that are a symbol of Japanese crafts and history like flowers or even fishes. That’s why Wasanbon comes in different shapes and colors that melts easily in the mouth. They are very delicate, and sugar production is labor intensive, so keep in mind that they can be a little pricey when you find them, but they are definitely worth your time.


History of Wasanbon


Box of Wasanbon


For many years, Wasanbon has been produced in Shikoku, in Kagawa and Tokushima Prefectures. Sugar production in general started as far back as the Edo period when Yoshimune Introduced it. Later, the apprentice of a feudal lord called Mastudaira Yorikata went on to research sugar production and how it can be improved in Japan. That's how the Wasanbon sugar was born. 

Wasanbon is a high quality sugar because the production process is complex. It literally means "thrice refined Japanese Sugar" to show its uniqueness. Today, the usual crystal sugar is more popular and cheaper than Wasanbon, however, people still stick to the traditional Japanese sugar and wagashi. We'll tell you more in our dedicated article about the best Japanese wagashi.  


What are the ingredients in Wasanbon?


The main ingredient of Wasanbon is the sugarcane plant, also known as “taketo or chikusha.” The region where the sugarcane is grown tends to affect the taste, and the process of refinement involved in making Wasanbon is much more different from other types of sugar. Also, the sugarcane used to make Wasanbon does not grow flowers, so the plant’s nutrition stays in the stem and is processed into sugar.

Wasanbon is also used as a sweetener in coffee and tea. At sushi restaurants, you might find Wasanbon added to the dipping sauces.


What does Wasanbon look like?


Wasanbon Sweets


At the end of the process, the Wasanbon becomes a pale pastel color, and it is known for its unique and delicate taste. The texture is fine-powdered. The Wasanbon sugar from the factory is often molded into traditional patterns like lucky cats, Japanese flowers and leaves. Sometimes the forms of the Wasanbon are inspired by the seasons, and you might find Halloween and Christmas-themed Wasanbon out there.


How to make Wasanbon?


Wasanbon Making


A great deal of attention and detail goes into the production of Wasanbon. It is primarily produced in the Hokkaido or Okinawa region, and you need a specific type of sugarcane plant harvested between December and February. Manufacturing Wasanbon is done in eight processes.

  1. The first process is extracting the juice from the chikusha following harvest.
  2. The sugarcane juice is then boiled.
  3. The extract goes through a purification process.
  4. Once more, the purified extract is boiled.
  5. The sugar is left for some time.
  6. This refining process is repeated two or more times.
  7. After refining, the sugar is sifted to get a fine powdery texture.
  8. The final process is the drying of the Wasanbon.

The refining process can take up to twenty days before achieving the final product. That's why it's not surprising that it's quite pricey. When you get the hang of making Wasanbon, you would realize that they are great snacks to give to your friends and family. Do you want to learn about the best Japanese snacks to send as gifts?


How to Make Wasanbon Sweets


Wasanbon Sweets


Wasanbon is a sweetener that tastes good in pretty much anything that you would add to normal sugar. The delicate taste and aroma can bring out the best in your coffee or other tasty confectioneries of your preference. However, if you want something more traditional like wagashi, Japanese sweets made with Wasanbon, and you’re wondering if you can make them at home, there are ways that you can go about that.

Making sweets with Wasanbon sugar isn’t quite complex; the issues that might arise can be acquiring the ingredients you need and the molds to make them, but there are workshops in Japan where you can go, and the gracious host would put you through the process.

  1. First, you acquire your powdered Wasanbon and have it placed in a bowl.
  2. Next, you choose which liquid food coloring you prefer. Colors like blue, red, and yellow are great choices.
  3. Add the food coloring into the Wasanbon and mix it.
  4. After mixing the coloring, you can sieve the Wasanbon into a bowl to get a smooth texture.
  5. The next step is to choose your molds. Unfortunately, they may be a bit difficult to acquire as there are only a few artisans in Japan who still make Wasanbon sweets molds but silicon molds work just fine. They come in different shapes, like flowers or paws. Pick the ones that appeal to you.
  6. Now, press the Wasanbon into the mold shapes and give it time to set.
  7. When you’re certain the Wasanbon has formed, you gently knock on the mold with a spatula and then flip them over so that the Wasanbon sweets would fall out.

And voila! Your Wasanbon sweets are ready to be eaten and enjoyed. These sweets turn out very well when you combine them with green tea, coffee or tea.



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Why is Japanese Sugar Different?


Natural, healthy and nutritious are words that are often attributed to Japanese food. These titles aren’t misplaced as the Japanese folk pays special attention to what they eat, even sweets. Wasanbon is unique not just because it is more expensive than the average sugar but the special care that is given to the sugarcane plant, the climate it is grown in and the tedious refining process that it passes through. Remember that it is not entirely mechanized. Wasanbon is produced by hand.

All of these factors come together to give this special sugar a unique and subtle taste that is perhaps one of the best in the entire world.
If you have a sweet tooth then Japanese treats are just right for you. Luckily, we at Zenpop Japan make it our mission to deliver these tasty treats to people from all over the world with our amazing Japanese snack boxes.



This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem and edited by us.