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Japanese Ice Cream: What Everyone Needs to Know!

Nic ThibodeauNic Thibodeau
Published Time
Posted on 
September 07, 2017
A bunch of colorful bowls of Japanese ice cream on a wooden table. The colors are purple, red, yellow, pink, light blue, brown, white anad green.

Japanese ice cream and frozen desserts are out of this world! Even though it uses cream, milk, and sugar everywhere, Japan also adds something special! Japanese ice cream is a tasty and fun treat, from green tea to sweet potatoes! But what makes it so popular?

History

The first place in Japan to have modern ice cream was Bashamichi, a trendy Yokohama neighborhood, around 1869. Before that time, instead of cream, makers used eggs. Because of this, the first Japanese ice cream was more custard-like! Eventually, shop owner Fusazo Machida used Hokkaido ice to make the modern version of ice cream!

A soft=serve ice cream cone with chocolate sauce with a Mini-Stop convenience store in the background.
Japanese ice cream was initially made in Bashamichi, Yokohama. Image via Shutterstock

While Machida’s original ice cream shop is long gone, the legacy and popularity of Japanese ice cream are still thriving! International ice cream franchises such as Baskin Robbins catapulted this frozen treat’s notoriety in the stratosphere when it introduced chocomint! During the summertime, ice cream lovers can expect to find all kinds of flavors in Japan!

Uniquely Japanese Flavors

As we mentioned before, ice cream flavors in Japan are unique! There’s the typical vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, but there’s so much more! Let’s take a closer at these ice cream varieties you can find in most grocery stores!

Green Tea

When most people think of Japan, green tea, or matcha, is the first thing that comes to mind. Therefore, matcha-flavored sweet treats are trendy, and ice cream’s no exception! It’s available at most convenience stores and places that sell soft-serve ice cream!

A hearty scoop of matcha Japanese ice cream. It's very green.
Matcha ice cream is one of the most common flavors. Image via Shutterstock

Many people love matcha for its earthy flavor, so its combination with this sweet dessert is divine! If you head to Suzukien Asakusa near Senso-ji, you can taste some of the world’s most decadent matcha gelato!

Red Bean

A lot of Japanese sweets use azuki red bean paste as a sweetener! You might remember it from such wagashi as dorayaki (castella pancakes),  taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry), and anpan (sweet bread). Azuki has a light nutty flavor, which pairs beautifully with most ice cream!

A bowl of red azuki bean Japanese ice cream. The ice cream is a light pink while the red bean paste is a scarlet red.
Red bean paste is one of the less common ice cream flavors abroad. Image via Shutterstock

Red bean ice cream is a little less common at your average store in Japan, but you can find it at gourmet ice cream shops! For genuinely adventurous ice cream lovers, you can make red bean ice cream in the comfort of your home!

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Sweet Potato

In Japan, sweet potatoes are essential cold-weather treats, especially the Annō variety. They’re rich and sweet, and many purchase them roasted at the store. One way to eat them is with butter and maybe some cinnamon! But if you want it even colder, it’s terrific as a frozen treat!

A picture of swirly sweet potato ice cream. It's purple and orange.
Sweet potato ice cream is very creamy. Image via Shutterstock

Even sweet potato ice cream bars in white chocolate bring out the sweet potato’s creaminess! Not to mention, the sweet potato’s orange color makes the ice cream bar incredibly unique!

Black Sesame

If you want the sweetness of red azuki beans and the earthiness of green tea, then look no further than black sesame! Its unique flavor is trendy in Japan! They even have black sesame milkshakes at Shake Shack Japan and select locations in the US!  

Black sesame Japanese ice cream cones, with matching black waffles cones.
Black sesame ice cream may not look like it, but it tastes like peanut butter! Image via Shutterstock

In addition to being sweet and earthy, black sesame ice cream tastes like peanut butter. Some varieties even add a little salt for some fantastic flavor! Not to mention, black sesame’s gray color is pretty cool!

Novelty Ice Cream in Japan

In addition to exciting flavors, Japanese ice cream is available in many forms! There are ice cream bars and sandwiches, but there’s also mochi, rolled, and super-cute ice cream! Let’s take a closer look at these novelty ice cream styles!

Mochi Ice Cream

In 1991, Frances Hashimoto, the late CEO and president of Mikawaya, an American confectionery, invented mochi ice cream. Its predecessor was yukimi daifuku, a rice cake filled with sweet iced milk. This dish was a smash hit across the United States and is still popular today!

A bowl of mochi ice cream.
The modern version of mochi ice cream was invented by Japanese-American businesswoman Frances Hashimoto.

Though it initially used vanilla ice cream, this novelty treat comes in many flavors, including salted caramel! Mochi ice cream usually has flour or powdered sugar on its surface, which makes it easier to eat than an ice cream sandwich or bar!

Rolled Ice Cream

Next, we have rolled ice cream! It originally came from Thailand, but it’s very well-known in Japan because of its unique process! There are quite a few rolled ice cream shops around Shibuya and Harajuku, and many people post about them on social media!

A bowl of rolled ice cream being held by staff.
Rolled ice cream originally came from Thailand but is a hit in Japan nonetheless! Image via Shutterstock

First, you order a flavor, and the staff pours melted ice cream onto a frozen tray. The staff member then peels it, which forms the roll shape. Then, they add various toppings to finish it off! It’s such a neat way to cool off! 

As you can see, Japanese ice cream is delicious, fun to eat, and has a rich history! Have you ever had any of these types before? Let us know in the comments below!

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