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How to Make Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

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Learn how to make rice balls! If you are new to onigiri, it may look overwhelming, but I promise it’s not. With the right ingredients and a few tools – they are easy to make! I’ve made a salmon onigiri here, but I’m also sharing other filling ideas below, and you can also leave them plain or dipped into furikake. While Japanese rice balls are a quick snack to take on-the-go, they are regularly requested by my kids for lunch and a great way to use up extra sticky rice.

Plate of onigiri rice balls

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

What You’ll Love About Onigiri

  • Easy to make
  • Fun and different
  • Looks impressive, but it’s simple
  • Delicious way to pack up a carb for lunch
  • Easily customizable
  • Made with basic ingredients

How to Make Onigiri Video

Ingredients

  • Sushi rice – Sushi rice is the best type of rice to use as it will dry out and get hard, especially if you make them a day in advance.
  • Rice vinegar – This will help give the sushi rice classic flavor. Many people also add sugar and salt, but I typically omit those as I don’t taste a big difference. If you want to include them, simply heat the vinegar and dissolve sugar and salt in the vinegar. (Typical amounts: 2 cups dry sushi rice, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt.)
  • Sushi nori wrappers – I cut these to place a little bit around the bottom of the rice ball for a traditional look and flavor. You can also leave this off if you prefer.
  • Furikake – This blend of seaweed, salt, and sesame seeds is delicious on rice balls and you can also mix it right into the rice.
  • Fillings – See list below! I made a salmon filling with soy sauce, a little mayo, and sesame oil.
Hand holding Japanese onigiri

How to Make Rice Balls

This is an overview on how to make rice balls, the detailed instructions can be found below in the recipe card.

Prepare sushi rice. I use a rice cooker for perfectly cooked rice, but you can also make on stovetop, follow package instructions. Stir in rice vinegar.
Sushi rice, rice mold, and seaweed
Assemble onigiri. Using the onigiri rice mold, pack some rice down in the bottom half (if filling). Add any fillings in the middle of the rice and then top with more rice and lightly pack down with cover.
Onigiri rice ball mold
Finish rice balls. Remove onigiri from mold and wrap with a strip of nori wrapper shiny side out at the bottom of rice ball. Dip edges in furikake if desired.
Japanese rice balls

Onigiri Filling Ideas

There is a large variety of onigiri fillings you can use – both traditional fillings, and some other non-traditional ideas. You can also leave them totally plain, which is what I do most of the time. Use your favorite filling for a fun and extra-filling meal:

  • Salmon – Fresh or canned
  • Tuna – Fresh or canned
  • Spicy tuna or salmon
  • Salmon, trout or cod roe
  • Teriyaki chicken
  • Japanese mayo (Kewpie)
  • Cooked veggies
  • Sesame seeds
  • Furikake
  • Bonito flakes

FAQs

What is the filling in onigiri?

There are a lot of filling options (see above for a list) – or you can even leave them plain or dipped in furikake. There are many kinds of onigiri!

Is onigiri meant to be eaten hot or cold?

We typically serve them at room temperature as I send them in lunchboxes most frequently, or sometimes we eat them right out of the fridge! When my husband and I are making sushi at home, we’ll also make them with hot rice and eat them right away.

Does onigiri just taste like rice?

It does taste a lot like rice, but you may also want to dip them in soy sauce or a Japanese barbecue sauce or incorporate some of the filling options or dip in furikake to add in some other flavors.

Can I make this without the plastic onigiri mold?

Yes! This onigiri recipe is easy to make with or without a mold. Wet hands in a small bowl of water and shape the fresh rice into a triangular shape. Round shapes also work, you’ll just need to plan your fillings and make a small indentation, add your fillings, and add more rice to enclose it.

Storage Instructions

The rice balls are best served within a few hours, although I will say my children don’t mind when I make them a day or two in advance. You’ll definitely want to be sure to use sushi rice however as other rice will get dry, hard, and crumbly after a day.

You can also wrap them individually in plastic wrap to help save them even longer.

Plate of onigiri rice balls

What to Serve with Onigiri

If I’m serving the onigiri in a lunch box, I always include some fruit, veggies, something fun, and something crunchy, but if I’m serving them as part of a meal at home, here are some serving ideas:

How to Serve Onigiri to the Whole Family

I get it, feeding kids can be tough! But following the Division of Responsibility and knowing your job and your child’s job makes it SO much more enjoyable. You’ll be able to feed your kids any meal, which will help ensure that they are eating a variety of nutritious foods – with plenty of play food sprinkled in.

My kids love having these rice balls for lunch, so that’s typically when we serve them. Serve them with a few items you know they will eat if it’s a new or “learning-to-like” food.

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animal rice ball shapes

Helpful Tools to Make Onigiri

There are some tools that you either need – or that you’ll want if you’re going to make onigiri!

  • Onigiri rice mold – You can definitely make the rice balls without a mold, but I find it easier to use one. This mold makes a triangle shape and is easy to store in the refrigerator. Check your local Asian markets as well.
  • Animal rice molds – We also have these animal molds, which are fun and the kids love. The smaller size makes them perfect if you have just a little leftover rice. I don’t add fillings to these as they are too small.
  • Rice maker – The key to perfectly cooked sushi rice. I use this once a week and it has truly been a game changer and one of my favorite weeknight dinner helpers!
  • Sushi nori wrappers – These are optional, but fun.

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Plate of onigiri rice balls

How to Make Onigiri

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Description

Learn how to make onigiri! If you are new to onigiri (rice balls), it may look overwhelming, but I promise it’s not. With the right ingredients and a few tools – they are easy!


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 2 cups dry sushi rice
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • seaweed
  • furikake
  • cooked salmon (if using!)
  • soy sauce for serving

Instructions

  1. Prepare sushi rice according to package instructions.
  2. Stir rice wine vinegar into rice until incorporated.
  3. Using the onigiri rice mold, pack some rice down in the bottom half (if filling). Add any fillings and then top with more rice and lightly pack down with cover.
  4. Store in refrigerator if not using right away.
  5. Remove onigiri from mold and place sushi nori wrapper shiny side out at the bottom of rice ball.
  6. Dip edges in furikake if desired.


Notes

  • TIP: If including a filling, make sure to only place it in the very center of the rice ball or it won’t properly seal, you want the top and bottom rice pieces to be able to connect around the perimeter.
  • TIP: If you have trouble getting your rice ball out, pry gently with a butter knife. You can also spray mold with cooking spray.
  • TIP: The nori wrapper has two sides, the shiny side goes on the outside or it won’t stick as well.

Keywords: how to make rice balls, rice balls, onigiri

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