The Difference: Mochi vs. Dango vs. Daifuku vs. Manju
When you think of traditional Japanese sweets or Wagashi (和菓子), what comes to mind first?
Nowadays, thanks to online stores, it is relatively easy to get Japanese confections even if you are not in Japan.
Besides, Japanese manga/anime may be helpful to know those treats we Japanese commonly consume daily.
Therefore, you may have heard of the names of the Japanese foods Mochi (餅), Dango (団子), Daifuku (大福), and Manju (饅頭) before.
Mochi vs. Dango vs. Daifuku vs. Manju
These are the names of Japanese foods relating to sweet things.
But can you tell what Mochi, Dango, Daifuku, and Manju are and how they differ?
For people who are not confident, let me give an overview of each here.
First, Mochi is a plain white rice cake made from glutinous rice called Mochi-Gome (餅米).
Traditionally, the rice is steamed and pounded with a large wooden mortar called Usu (臼) and a large wooden pestle called Kine (杵).
Mochi only consists of glutinous rice without seasoning or flavoring, so the cake isn’t a confection.
Besides, unlike Dango, Daifuku, and Manju, it is usually toasted or steamed before use.
Cooked Mochi is so sticky and stretchy that, every year in Japan, some people choke on it and pass away.
We use the steamed/toasted cake in various dishes (both sweet and savory) like these, and those are staples during the wintertime.
Dango usually refers to a confection consisting of dumplings made from cereal flour. But it is also made from meat or other ingredients.
The Dango dough for sweets typically consists of these rice flour kneaded with water, formed into ball shapes, and steamed or boiled.
Unlike Mochi, Dango is often sweetened with sugar, skewered on a wooden stick, and served with sweet stuff.
The Dango confection is available in various varieties, but among others, Mitarashi Dango (みたらし団子) is the most common.
Made up of three to five lightly grilled, unseasoned rice dumplings on a wooden skewer, Mitarashi Dango has a sweet soy sauce glaze.
Daifuku, also known as Daifuku Mochi (大福餅), is a small round rice cake filled with sweet Azuki red bean paste called Anko (餡子).
It is a traditional Wagashi confection made from Anko wrapped in a thin layer of Mochi-like Gyuhi (求肥).
Gyuhi is an ingredient indispensable for Wagashi, consisting of glutinous rice flour heated and kneaded with sugar and starch syrup.
As the Gyuhi covering of Daifuku is sticky, like Mochi, its surface usually has a coating of white starch flour (from rice, potato, or corn) to prevent your hands from sticking to the dough.
In modern times, Daifuku comes in various variants, but Ichigo Daifuku (苺大福) is the most popular among them.
Ichigo Daifuku has a strawberry filling, together with sweet bean paste, as Ichigo (苺) means strawberry in Japanese.
Unlike Mochi, Dango, and Daifuku, the main ingredient of Manju isn’t rice.
Manju is a traditional Japanese steamed bun made from wheat flour, baking powder/soda, and sugar, filled with sweet red bean paste or Anko.
As with Dango and Daifuku, Manju is available in various types today, but Cha-Manju (茶饅頭) is the most common among them.
Cha-Manju is the brown Manju using brown sugar with a filling of Anko, featuring its soft fluffy texture.