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What Is Wasanbon, the Traditional Japanese Sugar?

Japanese food culture’s popularity has increased worldwide during the last few years and its sweets are also gaining more attention. Among them, there is wasanbon, a kind of sugar often presented in traditional shapes and colorful designs. But aside from its aesthetics, what makes it different from other sugars?

Wasanbon, an “Upper-class” Sugar

Wasanbon is a kind of traditional Japanese sugar that has a history of over 200 years. It is only produced in Kagawa and Tokushima Prefectures, and is considered the “upper class” of sugar in Japan. Wasanbon is mainly used in making Japanese sweets.

One of the most famous sweets is higashi, a dry Japanese candy that is molded using a wooden frame. It’s usually colorful and shaped like seasonal flowers. It is best eaten with matcha (powdered green tea) which is very bitter. Purehigashi, made only of wasanbon, tastes very smooth, melting in the mouth with a sweetness one could call sophisticated. It has a rich taste, but not too sweet, which makes it a bit addictive.

Wasanbon assorts
A typical gift box of higashi like this one costs about 2,500 yen.

A Special Making Process

Wasanbon is made from Chinese sugarcane, so it has a different taste: with more umami compared to other sugars that are made from ordinary sugarcane. The making of wasanbon follows a unique procedure called togi in Japanese.

During togi, the craftsmen mix the water with black sugar and knead it by hand. After finishing togi, they eliminate the sugary juice using some traditional equipment and repeat the whole process two more times. By doing this, the impurities are eliminated and the sugar becomes smoother. Rather than using modern sugar refining techniques, togi is done only by hand, which isn’t always perfect, but creates a pure and original taste from natural ingredients.

Common Uses of Wasanbon in Daily Life

The dry Japanese candy higashi is sold in many Japanese sweets shops and is easy to get in Japanese department stores. You don’t have to be a fan of green tea to appreciate it: it goes well with coffee or black tea. too. However, higashi sugars are not meant to be dissolved like sugar cubes, but bitten into like a piece of candy. Some people even eat it with brandy!

Powdered wasanbon

It is also possible to buy powdered wasanbon, which you can use to bake or cook your own dishes. It’s also interesting to note that nowadays, wasanbon is being used by Western-style cake shops as well.

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.