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What is Furikake: A Guide to Japanese Rice Seasonings

Rice has been a staple of the Japanese diet since the late Jōmon period (around 400 BCE), and so it may be unsurprising to learn that the word gohan (ご飯, ごはん) means both “cooked rice” and “meal”.

Although Japanese rice is unbelievably fluffy and mighty tasty, plain rice can become repetitive if you’re eating it multiple times a day. Your solution lies in furikake (振り掛け, ふりかけ), a rice seasoning that helps to diversify the flavor of your rice every time you eat it. 

Many shallow white bowls on a table filled with different furikake rice seasonings.
There are many varieties of furikake flavors, Japanese rice seasonings /via Getty Images.

What is Furikake?

Furikake is a popular dried condiment meant to be sprinkled on your rice. The basic ingredients of this rice seasoning are dried or powdered foods such as fish, vegetables, eggs, and miso.

While you may use it on other parts of your meal, such as veggies or fish, sprinkling it on your hot, steamy bowl of rice is the primary use. It’s also a popular seasoning for ramen.

The word consists of two verbs put together: furi, the stem form of the verb furu meaning “to shake,” and kake, the stem of kakeru meaning “to sprinkle onto.” At the time of its origin, furikake–the noun– didn’t exist; instead, it was used as a verb, such as “I sprinkled salt on my food.” (「食べ物に塩をふり掛けた」、「たべものにしおをふりかけた」).

However, as time passed, this simple yet inventive seasoning became more popular, further flavors were developed, and a new word and category of food, furikake, was born.

A hand can be seen sprinkling furikake on a bowl of white rice with a small wooden spoon. The bowl is ceramic (white with red detailing) and sits on a lacquered wooden serving tray along with wooden chopsticks on a ceramic chopstick rest.
Japanese rice seasoning is an excellent way to create varied tastes /via Getty Images.

History of Furikake

Furikake-type seasonings are said to have come about in the Taishō (1912-1926) and Shōwa (1926-1989) eras, not only as a boost of flavor but also as a supplement of nutrients.

According to the International Furikake Association, Gohan no Tomo (御飯の友, ごはんのとも) or “A Friend of Rice”, was the first ever furikake. It was invented by Suekichi Yoshimaru, a pharmacist in Kumamoto with an interest in combating the common problem of calcium deficiency.

He came up with the idea of grinding fish bones into powder and selling it to his customers to sprinkle on their rice as a dietary supplement. However, using just fish bones lacked flavor, so he added dried seaweed and sesame seeds.

While Gohan no Tomo may be regarded as the first official furikake, there are records of similar rice seasonings being produced much earlier. The Diary of Ishiyama Hongan-ji (also known as “Tenbun Diary” or “Diary of Saint Shōnyo”), for example, chronicles daily life in Osaka over a 19-year period (1536 to 1954).

Within that diary was written, “…March 3, sekihan (red rice) was served at the celebration, and gomashio (sesame seeds and salt) was placed on top of it.” Gomashio (ごま塩、ごましお) is a well-known furikake flavor that mixes roasted sesame seeds with salt.

Whether this is the true origin of the immensely popular furikake we know and love under the same name is debatable, but it sure is reminiscent. And it remains on supermarket shelves even now, after hundreds of years.

Packs of 'gomashio', a furikake rice seasoning made of sesame seeds and salt, at a supermarket in Japan. The product is by Japanese furikake manufacturer Marumiya and the packaging is predominantly blue with red writing.
Packs of ‘gomashio’ (sesame seeds and salt) by Japanese furikake manufacturer Marumiya at a supermarket in Japan. © Devon Furuta

Over time, brands started making furikake with different uses, such as seasoning to mix in rice rather than only sprinkled on, and for a dish called ochazuke, hot green tea over rice. They also began targeting different consumers and packaging plastered with Pokemon or Hello Kitty characters designed to appeal to children became prominent. These packets were easily sent along to school in bentos (packed lunches).

Then Otona no Furikake or “Furikake for Adults” came about as a means of eradicating the image that sprinkled rice seasoning was only for children and expanded the furikake market to a larger demographic. The idea was that the flavors were a bit more sophisticated than the simple egg-heavy children’s furikake.

This included “strong” flavors targeted at men, such as Furikake Strong Dried Ume by Oomoriya, a salted, pickled plum product utilising the two kanji characters, 男梅, meaning “Man Plum” (男, おとこ, otoko, man・梅, うめ, ume, plum).

A supermarket shelf in Japan. On the left is furikake marketed for children with animated characters on the packaging. On the right is "Furikake for Adults" with darker, more subdued packaging.
Furikake marketed for children on the left and “Furikake for Adults” on the right. © Devon Furuta

Classic Furikake Flavors

Some of the most common and classic furikake flavors include:

Gomashio (ごま塩, ごましお), roasted sesame seeds and salt
Nori kombu  (海苔昆布, のりこんぶ), seaweed kelp
Sake (鮭, さけ), salmon
Wasabi (わさび), wasabi
Katsuobushi (かつおぶし), dried bonito

Regional Furikake Flavors Around Japan

One of the most fun things about furikake, and typical of Japan and its pride in regional cuisine, is that often different areas of Japan will highlight their famous foods in specially-made furikake. You’ll find some unique and fun-to-discover flavors in these products!

Some examples:
Taberu Tōgarashi (食べる唐がらし, たべるとうがらし) or edible chili peppers from Nagano (one of my favorites – it packs a punch and spices up any feelings of blandness)
Jaga batā (じゃがバター) or buttered potato from Hokkaido
Uni (雲丹, うに) or sea urchin, also from Hokkaido
Iburi Gakko (いぶりがっこう) or smoked pickled veggies from Akita (gakko means pickled foods in the local dialect)
Takoyaki (タコ焼き, たこやき) or octopus dumplings from Osaka
Kobe-gyū (神戸牛, こうべぎゅう) or Kobe beef from Hyōgo prefecture
Hiroshima Okonomiyaki (広島お好み焼き味, ひろしまおこのみやき), the Hiroshima version of the savory Japanese pancake
Mozuku (海蘊, もずく), a type of edible seaweed from Okinawa
Kaki no Tane (柿の種, かきのたね), a famous crunchy snack from Niigata

And so many more! Many of these flavors are only available in their region, so be on the lookout to add to your collection!

Furikake Brands

One company, Marumiya, stands out in the furikake industry, producing about 50% of commercial furikake. Marumiya (丸美屋) makes many flavors, including classics right through to more modern takes on this rice seasoning, such as yakiniku (焼肉, やきにく, grilled meat), yakisoba (焼きそば, やきそば, fried noodles), and unagi (うなぎ, eel).

Nagatanien is the brainchild behind Otona no Furikake (“Furikake for Adults”). It is also the producer of the most popular ochazuke, Ochazuke Nori, a blend of seaweed, rice crackers, and green tea flavor, allowing one to pour hot water over the rice and seasoning and still get the traditional “tea effect”.

Mishima Shokuhin is the producer of one of my favorites, Yukari to Gohan (ゆかりとごはん), a red shiso blend with hints of mint, basil, and anise flavors. It’s got a little kick to it! But honestly, one of my favorite things about this company is their packaging. It’s so simple yet instantly recognizable, making its flavors hard to forget.

Tanaka Shokuhin produces furikake meant to be mixed with rice, which is perfect for rice balls packed in children’s bentos.

And lastly, Oomoriya (also written as Ohmoriya and Ōmoriya), home of the “strong man’s” furikake.

Three shelves at a Japanese supermarket packed with different varieties of furikake rice seasoning.
Varieties of furikake rice seasoning at a Japanese supermarket. © Devon Furuta

Furikake is a popular condiment for children, adults, Japanese and non-Japanese residents, as well as international visitors. Not only does it often make eating rice a lot more fun, but it also makes it an adventure for your taste buds!

But be forewarned, despite the variety of delicious flavors of furikake you will enjoy; you may also start to crave a hot, steamy bowl of plain rice!

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