Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

manjū, a traditional Japanese sweet, are steamed, stuffed buns made from wheat, rice, or buckwheat flour. Sweetened azuki paste (an) is the most common filling for manjū today, but the earliest manjū were vegetarian versions of meat buns. See azuki beans. According to one of many stories about their origin, Zen monks brought the recipe for manjū to Japan from China in the Kamakura era (1185–1333). The monks ate manjū stuffed with vegetables as snacks, sometimes in a broth. During the Muromachi period (1336–1573), peddlers dressed as monks sold savory manjū in medieval cities. By the late 1600s, “sugar manjū” stuffed with azuki paste became more prevalent than the savory type. The elite adopted manjū for use in the tea ceremony but commoners also enjoyed them, and the sweet remains one of the most popular of traditional confections in Japan, where there are many varieties. The flour to make Sake Manjū is kneaded with amazake (a rice beverage made from rice, water, and kōji—the mold Aspergillus oryzae), which imparts a tangy taste. Chestnut Manjū contain pieces of chestnut mixed with the sweetened azuki paste. Rikyū Manjū, alleged to be a favorite of tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591), have brown sugar mixed into the flour. Tea Manjū are made with powdered green tea. Hot-spring resorts sell Hot Spring Manjū cooked by the steam of the hot spring. Savory versions of manjū survive as buns stuffed with meat (nikuman) or curry (karēman).