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The Sweet Taste of Spring in Japan

The Sweet Taste of Spring in Japan

The sakura have begun to bloom, and there is hardly a more attractive time of year to visit Japan than now.

Clouds of pink petals are covering the nation as friends and family gather for a week of hanami, or flower viewing parties.

pink sakura blossoms

It’s this time of year that sakura-flavored goods start filling the shelves. That’s right, Japan’s love for this transient bloom doesn’t just stop at merely gazing at them– they also eat the blossoms and the leaves. That’s right, each year, blossoms and leaves are picked fresh from the trees to be preserved in salt to be consumed later.

If you have the chance, give something sakura flavored a try, but do be aware of what you’re actually eating.

Sakura (桜) means “cherry blossom”, but do not expect it to taste cherry-flavored or you’ll be severely disappointed. The taste is that of actual blossoms and does taste on the flowery side– nothing at all like cherries. I know a lot of foreigners who continually make this mistake, only to spit out what they’re eating in disgust!

Sakura sake

Previously the preserved flowers were for use in sakura-yu, a kind of tea made by simply floating a blossom or two in plain boiling water. The clear, faintly pink tea is slightly salty and slightly sour, which makes for a nice change from green or barley tea.

Nowadays you can find the preserved blossoms being used for a wide range of foods and snacks, and not just tea.

One of the most favorited snacks this time of year is sakura-mochi. This is a traditional sweet only available during spring. There are several variations of this sweet, but the two main ones are chomeiji (Kanto style) and domyoji (Kansai style) style. Both types are made of mochi filled with sweetened red bean paste.

Sakura mochi

It is this dessert that makes use of sakura tree leaves as an edible wrapper. The pickled taste of the leaf contrasts nicely with the sweet red bean inside, making for a unique blend of flavors.

Another popular way to taste the flavor of cherry blossoms is with sakura-manju. These are also filled with red bean, but instead of mochi on the outside, they are a type of steamed bun.

sakura cupcake

The cherry blossom flavored goods don’t just stop at traditional snacks. Of course you can always find flavored candies, chocolates and other confections during this time. Sakura-flavored cupcakes, ice cream, jellies, you name it, they probably have it.

Breads and pastries are often made to look like the blossoms, or will simply put a preserved blossom on top for decoration.

Sakura pastry

Even Starbucks comes out with a sakura Frappuccino, McDonalds with sakura McFlurries and Krispy Kreme with sakura donuts. Yes, sakura donuts, combining my two greatest weaknesses of donuts and cute things, how could I resist?  

Sakura Krispy Kreme donut

Most popualr snacks like Calbee chips, Pocky, or my favorite, KitKat, release limited edition snacks available only in spring as well. While most of these are sweet desserts that make sense, some of the things sound like a really strange combination, like sakura shrimp potato chips.

sakura flavored goods

Like in Hong Kong, macarons have become very popular in Japan. At Malebranche, a famous patisserie in Kyoto, they sell sakura macarons that used a sakura-flavored ganache and the meringue is colored a light pink. To top it off, the macarons are even beautifully shaped like blossoms.

Even if it’s only from a fast food chain, I hope you’ll try some sakura-flavored goods this spring if given the chance. After all, nothing says spring quite like cherry blossoms in Japan.

 Would you want to try these spring sweets?

22 comments

  1. These Japanese cakes and delicacies look way too cute to me. These colors and lovely shape! Something you can experience only in Japan. Unfortunately, China does not offer such beautiful treats and most of cakes are tasteless.
    Agness recently posted…25 Lessons Learnt While Travelling In Asia For 3 YearsMy Profile

  2. I would love to try some of these treats! I’ve really been enjoying all of the posts about Japan you’ve been putting up; such a fascinating and colorful culture!
    Ron | Active Planet Travels recently posted…How to Meet Locals while Traveling AbroadMy Profile

  3. You’ve got my mouth watering for that amazing looking pink icing :D Will have to hit up Kyoto!

  4. We totally missed this when we were in Kyoto two years ago! We arrived just after blossom season. Next time we won’t make that mistake!
    Keryn from Walking On Travels recently posted…Friday Postcards: Skagit Valley Tulip FestivalMy Profile

    • Aw, we arrived at the tail end for Tokyo but were lucky to still catch a few blossoms. Next time I want to be there for the whole duration, to see them at their fullest and finest!

  5. Wow, they’re all so pretty! What a superb way to welcome in the spring. I’ve seen the little sakura mochi before but I didn’t realize their significance. Thanks for sharing Beth!
    Charli | Wanderlusters recently posted…Outfoxing New Zealand’s Fox GlacierMy Profile

  6. Never knew that people ate the blossoms! I don’t like flowery tasting things, so not sure I would like it, but I would be curious to try anyways. The trees look so beautiful–I really want to plan a visit to see them now!

    • Eating blossoms does seem a bit odd doesn’t it?
      Do plan a visit during the spring, it’s simply beautiful!

  7. I’m not a big fan of sweets, but it looks like something I would definitely give a go :)
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #63My Profile

    • If in Japan you have to! :)
      At least the traditional ones. Plus Japanese sweets are not sweet at all compared to sweets in the west!

  8. I am now curious about how cherry flowers would taste like! And a sakura kit-kat or McFlurry sounds really tempting :)
    Interesting post and beautiful photos!
    Irene @ Away from Tenerife recently posted…Some photos of FrankfurtMy Profile

    • Thanks Irene! Of course the artificial sakura flavors taste quite different from the natural ones ;) … but both are nice!

  9. I actually didn’t know that they were edible and that they are in so many products in Japan. I am pretty sure I had a packet of the choco ones in the bottom right corner of your last pic and loved them. Besides chocolate I had no idea what I was eating at the time.
    Jen recently posted…Destination of the Week – Orlando Theme ParksMy Profile

  10. Wow i love the look of all this cherry blossom food stuff. I don’t know if I’d like the taste though. Actually, knowing me, I probably would. They had a blossom tea latte in the Beijing Starbucks for a while and that was pretty good actually!
    Joella J (J in Beijing) recently posted…What Exactly Is An “I Love Beijing!” Day?My Profile

    • I actually hate the taste of flowery things, like flower teas, but I love the taste of sakura!

  11. I love all of the different snacks found in Japan. We are able to find some of them here at Pacific Mall in Toronto – the biggest indoor Asian mall in North America. They have full candy shops that have all of the different Japanese Kitkats, Pocky, etc. They definitely don’t have as great of a selection as in Japan, but it is the closest that I can get for the moment :) I haven’t tried eating a sakura blossom before but it sounds very interesting! Cherry blossom season sounds like quite the celebration in Japan :)
    Lauren recently posted…Aruba Video – Snorkeling and Exploring OranjestadMy Profile

    • Wow, I’ve never heard of this mall, but maybe I should take a trip there and check it out! I’ve always wanted to visit Toronto and it’s less than an hour flight from me :)