What Is Dango? Mitarashi Dango and Other Dango Recipes

Taylor Markarian

Table of Contents

    The world of “wagashi,” or traditional Japanese sweets, is simple, fun, ancient and colorful. Once upon a time, basic ingredients such as red beans and rice were transformed into what are today time-honored treats, including taiyaki, mochi and dango. With admiration for Japanese culture trending upward around the world, these confections are becoming more and more beloved internationally.

    In this article, we’re talking about dango: what it is, where it comes from, what kinds there are and how to make them. Enjoy learning about these sweet, sticky morsels, and try making some at home by following these featured dango recipes.

    What is dango?

    The word “dango” literally means “dumpling,” and refers to the exceptionally popular sweet rice ball confection from Japan. Made from glutinous rice flour, dango can come in many styles, from white Mitarashi dango glazed with sweet soy sauce, to green sasadango filled with anko (red bean paste). Two Tippsy staff members actually took a sasadango making class in Niigata, Japan! But more on that later.

    These delightful little spheres are often enjoyed on a stick, three to five pieces per, at Japanese festivals (“matsuri”), but you can also find them year-round at various shops across Japan. According to the Tokyo Wagashi Association, the origins of dango date back more than 2,000 years, and first involved the crushing of nuts into a fine powder. (Today, glutinous rice flour is used.) Other sources state that throughout the centuries, dango was not just eaten, but offered to the gods at religious ceremonies.

    Certain styles, like the aforementioned Mitarashi dango, can be traced back to a specific place; in this case, Mitarashi Shrine, which is part of the larger Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto. The Aoi Festival and the Mitarashi Festival both take place here, and vendors usually sell dango due to the fact that the first Mitarashi dango stall opened in the shrine’s forest!

    Romon Gate at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto

    Romon Gate at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto.

    What is dango made of?

    As mentioned earlier, dango is made from sweet glutinous rice flour, usually cut with some other kind of flour to avoid being overly sticky. Some recipes use wheat flour, while others use another type of non-glutinous rice flour. For this reason, most dango are likely to be gluten free, however you can’t be completely certain unless you’re able to learn the ingredients. Dango is also vegan — unless someone uses honey instead of sugar in their Mitarashi dango glaze and you happen to be really particular about bees.

    Dango can also be topped or filled with other ingredients, such as soybean flour and red bean paste.

    What does dango taste like?

    Desserts made from glutinous rice tend not to be overly sweet. Of course, one can add as much sugar as one likes to the recipe, but in general, dango has more of a neutral if slightly sweet flavor. (Just think of what white rice tastes like.) While the taste of plain dango is mellow, herbs and flavored powders can be added to the dough. As stated, various toppings and fillings can also be added, most of which are moderately sweet with earthy or nutty flavors. Dango is simple, and most of its charm comes from its chewy texture.

    How do you eat dango?

    Dango are often eaten on a stick, but they can also be served in a dish (e.g. tsukimi dango) or even as part of another dessert. Anmitsu, another traditional Japanese offering, contains fresh fruit, kanten jelly, red bean paste and dango. In addition to being a common festival food, serving it on a stick is often the most sensible because dango can be sticky. Dango is often eaten alongside tea, which perfectly complements its savory-sweet flavor profile.

    Is dango the same as mochi?

    It’s easy to confuse some of Japan’s traditional desserts, as they are only made with few and often similar base ingredients. The difference between dango and mochi is that dango is made with glutinous rice flour, while mochi is made by pounding glutinous rice. Dango are also smaller in size than mochi. Mochi that has been filled with a sweet paste is called daifuku.

    Store-bought sakura daifuku mochi versus store-bought Mitarashi dango

    Store-bought sakura daifuku mochi versus store-bought Mitarashi dango | Photo by Taylor Markarian

    How to make dango: 6 dango recipes

    Given that dango is a very simple sweet, various styles have naturally developed over the centuries. Depending on the prefecture or occasion, you may encounter various types of dango. Here are some of the most popular dango varieties, and how to make them at home.

    Mitarashi dango recipe

    Mitarashi dango

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Mitarashi dango is plain dango that has been smothered with a sweet soy sauce glaze. It’s very sticky, so you’re going to want to use skewers. The following Mitarashi dango recipe yields 15 pieces, or five skewers of three dango each.

    Dango ingredients:

    1 cup joshinko (short-grain rice flour)
    ½ cup mochiko or shiratamako (glutinous rice flour)
    ¾ cup water

    Sweet soy glaze ingredients:

    4 tablespoons sugar
    2 tablespoons mirin
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    ⅔ cup water
    2 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch

    Optional kinako topping:

    4 tablespoons kinako (soybean flour)
    2 tablespoons sugar


    Bamboo steamer
    Parchment paper
    5 wooden skewers

    Ingredients to make mitarashi dango

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 1: Soak skewers in water. Set aside.

    Step 2: Combine 1 cup joshinko with ½ cup mochiko and mix. You may alter these ratios depending on how soft or firm you like your dango. This ratio produces firm yet chewy dango. To make it softer, increase the mochiko and decrease the regular rice flour. Note that it will become more sticky.

    Mochi flour in the mixing bowl

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 3: Add water a little at a time and knead dough until it reaches an “earlobe” consistency. (It almost feels like modeling clay.) Note that you might not use up all of the water.

    Add water a little at a time and knead dough until it reaches an “earlobe” consistency

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 4: Separate dango dough into 15 roughly equal pieces. It may be easiest to roll your dough into a long, tube-like shape first to portion it out.

    Roll dough into a long, tube-like shape

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Separate dango dough into 15 roughly equal pieces

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 5: Roll into balls.

    Step 6: Line bamboo steamer with parchment paper to avoid sticking. Place dango in the steamer, making sure none are touching each other. Place lid on top. (If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you may cook in boiling water instead.)

    Place dango in the bamboo steamer

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you may cook in boiling water instead

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 7: Get a large saucepan and put enough water in to cover the pan. Place the steamer on top and turn on medium heat. Once the water starts to boil, allow 5-10 minutes for steaming. Check in now and then to monitor progress. Once the dango become glossy and a bit more plump, they’re ready. (You can also bite into one to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.)

    Once the dango become glossy and a bit more plump, they’re ready

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 8: While the dango are steaming, prepare the sweet soy glaze by combining 4 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons mirin, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, ⅔ cup water and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a small saucepan or pot. Mix all ingredients together. Make sure the water is cold, or the cornstarch will not properly dissolve.

    Step 9: Turn on medium heat and stir constantly until mixture thickens, then let cool. Note that the mixture may thicken suddenly, so don’t take your eye off it.

    Step 10: Once dango have cooled enough to touch, place three on each skewer.

    Cook on low heat to desired crispiness

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 11: Lightly coat a pan in cooking oil and place skewers on pan. Cook on low heat to desired crispiness. Rotate skewers so it cooks evenly on all sides. (For a more traditional, charred dango, heat over charcoal grill.)

    Step 12: Remove skewers from pan and place on plate. Coat with sweet soy glaze.

    Optional step: Combine 4 tablespoons kinako (soybean flour) with 2 tablespoons sugar and mix. Coat dango with this mixture and enjoy!

    Dango is ready to eat

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    “Matcha Omoi”

    The best non-alcoholic drink pairing for Mitarashi dango is green tea, so for sake pairing, “Matcha Omoi” by Yamamoto Honke is a logical choice. This unique sake is flavored with real matcha from Uji, Kyoto. Enjoy it cold or over ice with a splash of milk, or even mixed with the brewery’s “Yuzu Omoi.”

    Hanami dango recipe

    “Hanami” means “flower viewing,” and describes the Japanese springtime custom of taking one’s time to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms. People often picnic with special hanami bento while these pink flowers are in bloom. Hanami dango can be served year-round, but are especially popular during this time.

    Hanami dango consists of three pieces of dango per skewer, each with a different color: pink, white and green. Dango can be made pink with the addition of red food coloring, strawberry powder, sakura powder, or even a few fresh strawberries. For the green dango, you can use green food coloring, matcha powder or mugwort.

    Dango ingredients

    1 cup joshinko (short-grain rice flour)
    ½ cup mochiko or shiratamako (glutinous rice flour)
    ⅓ cup sugar
    ¾ cup water
    ½ teaspoon matcha powder
    ½ teaspoon strawberry or sakura powder


    Bamboo steamer
    Parchment paper
    5 wooden skewers


    Step 1: Combine 1 cup joshinko, ½ cup mochiko and ⅓ cup sugar and mix. You can adjust these measurements depending on how sweet or soft you like your dango.

    Step 2: Add water a little at a time and knead dough until it reaches an “earlobe” consistency. (It almost feels like modeling clay.) Note that you might not use up all of the water.

    Step 3: Divide the dough into three equal parts and place in separate bowls.

    Step 4: In one of the bowls, add ½ teaspoon strawberry powder and knead into dough until color is a uniform pink. Do the same with another third of the dough and ½ teaspoon matcha powder. Leave the final third of the dough as is.

    Step 5: Separate each dough into 5 roughly equal pieces. It may be easiest to roll your dough into a long, tube-like shape first to portion it out.

    Step 6: Roll into balls.

    Step 7: Prep bamboo steamer and steam the dango the same way as the Mitarashi dango recipe. Allow the dango to cool a bit before skewering. Enjoy!

    Homare “Lychee” Nigori

    Bump up the sweetness of hanami dango with this fun nigori from Fukushima prefecture. Flavored with fresh lychee juice and a dash of lemon juice, this sake is delightfully sweet yet still somewhat light. Before gently mixing the rice sediment in the bottle, try drinking the translucent sake liquid on the top first, then compare!

    Kibi dango recipe

    Kibi dango is a speciality of Okayama prefecture, previously known as Kibi province. This treat has a connection to the legend of Momotaro, a folktale about a boy born from a peach who goes on a mission to slay devils. In the story, Momotaro uses sweet rice cakes — which some attest are Kibi dango — to bribe a dog, a monkey and a bird into fighting with him. It is said that this tale may have its origins in another demon-slaying legend associated with Kibitsu Jinja Shrine.

    Kibi dango are made with millet flour, or some combination of millet flour and glutinous rice flour. They can also be coated in soybean flour, or flavored with other ingredients such as sea salt, matcha, brown sugar and peach. A simple Kibi dango recipe by Tokyo Pony uses ⅓ cup millet flour, 1 teaspoon potato starch (which you can substitute with cornstarch), and 1 ½ tablespoons shiratamako glutinous rice flour.

    Kamikokoro “Momo”

    Because Kibi dango can come in so many different flavors, it’s difficult to choose just one sake pairing. But Kibi dango is a specialty of Okayama prefecture, so let’s pair it with some Okayama sake! As mentioned, Okayama is also known for its peaches, so why not pour yourself a glass of Kamikokoro “Momo”? Each bottle contains a whole white peach, and the sake is even made with peach yeast!

    Shiratama dango recipe

    Shiratama dango is made with shiratamako glutinous rice flour only. This makes it incredibly soft and chewy, so instead of using a bamboo steamer, you’ll probably want to cook your dango in boiling water. Shiratama dango is rather flavorless; its primary purpose is its texture. For this reason, it’s often topped with red bean paste or enjoyed in red bean soup or anmitsu.

    All you’ll need is ⅓ cup shiratamako, 3 tablespoons water and ½ teaspoon sugar. You’ll mix the ingredients exactly as you would with all the other dango recipes, and once the proper consistency of the dough is achieved, separate into small balls of equal size. Cook in boiling water until the dango float to the top, then submerge in an ice bath to chill. Serve with whatever topping you like!

    Ozeki “Judan Jikomi”

    With notes of berries and vanilla, this junmai daiginjo by sake titan Ozeki makes for a fantastic dessert sake. While it could easily be enjoyed on its own, its flavors would also complement the sweet taste of fresh fruit, as well as the more subtle taste of shiratama dango and red bean in anmitsu.

    Chi chi dango recipe

    Unlike other dango, chi chi dango comes in a rectangular or square shape. It typically consists of three layers: pink, white and green. Alternatively, they can also be sold as individual squares of each color. Another big difference between chi chi dango and more traditional dango recipes is that it’s made with coconut milk.

    This treat is said to have originated in Hiroshima, Japan, and was adopted as a favorite confection of nearby Hawaii. Oahu’s Nisshodo Candy Store is one of the most famous chi chi dango institutions. In the early 1900s, store founder Asataro Hirao brought the recipe back with him after a trip to his hometown of Hiroshima, and developed his own version with local Hawaiian ingredients.

    Hawaii News Now offers the following recipe for chi chi dango, which is baked in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.


    3½ cup mochiko
    2½ cups sugar
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    2 cups water
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 can coconut milk
    Red and green food coloring (optional)
    Potato starch

    Moonstone “Coconut Lemongrass”

    While chi chi dango has Japanese roots, it has become more of a Hawaiin confection over the years. Keeping that in mind, as well as the fact that most recipes contain coconut milk, Moonstone “Coconut Lemongrass” is the perfect fit. Crafted in the U.S., this silky nigori is infused with sweet coconut and the slight tang of lemongrass. You can even incorporate it in your next piña colada!

    Sasadango recipe


    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    In March 2024, two Tippsy staff members took a sasadango making workshop at Tanakaya Main Store Minato Kobo while in Niigata. The company, founded in 1937, is known for the quality of their sasadango — a Niigata specialty — and other sweets including mochi and daifuku. This workshop is open to anyone, so if you travel to Niigata, try it out!

    Sasadango is a green dango whose color comes from the use of mugwort. Sasadango is traditionally filled with red bean paste. Aside from its deep green color and herbal flavor, what makes sasadango unique is that it is intricately wrapped in bamboo leaves. After steaming for about 20-25 minutes, the dango are ready to unwrap and eat.

    Tanakaya Main Store Minato Kobo uses the following recipe:

    Sasadango workshop instructor, Uchiyama-san, gives an overview of sasadango ingredients.

    Sasadango workshop instructor, Uchiyama-san, gives an overview of sasadango ingredients | Photo by Taylor Markarian


    300 grams mochiko (glutinous rice flour)
    125 grams cake flour
    35 grams wheat flour
    20 grams sugar
    20 grams Trehalose
    100 grams Japanese mugwort
    660 grams anko (sweet red bean paste)
    100 bamboo grass leaves
    30 hagusa (a type of grass string)


    Bamboo steamer

    Now, these measurements make 30 sasadango, so alter the ratios to suit the amount you need. For example, if you’d like to make 10 sasadango, divide the measurements by 3.

    Step 1: In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except anko, bamboo and hagusa. Mix well.

    In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except anko, bamboo and hagusa.

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 2: Add water little by little and knead dough until an “earlobe” consistency is achieved.

    Step 3: Separate dango dough into equal pieces — however many you’re making. It may be easiest to roll your dough into a long, tube-like shape first to portion it out. Roll into balls.

    Knead dough until an “earlobe” consistency is achieved

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 4: Divide anko into as many equal parts. Roll into balls. Make sure these anko balls are small enough to fit inside the sasadango dough.

    Divide anko into as many equal parts. Roll into balls

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 5: Flatten sasadango dough and place anko filling inside. Wrap the sasadango dough around the anko filling completely.

    Flatten sasadango dough and place anko filling inside

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 6: Take two bamboo leaves, smooth side facing up, and place the dango on top. Place a third bamboo leaf on top of the dango.

    Step 7: Twist the top and bottom parts of the leaves.

    Sasadango wrapped up

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 8: Tightly wrap one hagusa string around the top part twice, then proceed to wrap the middle in a criss-crossing pattern. Watch this video by Ankolabo Wagashi for tying instructions.

    Step 9: Once all sasadango have been tied, place in a bamboo steamer and let steam for 20-25 minutes.

    Place in a bamboo steamer and let steam for 20-25 minutes

    Photo by Taylor Markarian

    Step 10: Remove from steamer and let cool. When ready to eat, unwrap the dango!

    Kanbara “Bride of the Fox”

    When possible, it’s always best to pair local food with local sake. Try this Niigata dango with Kanbara “Bride of the Fox,” a junmai ginjo from the same prefecture. This Kaetsu Brewing Company sake combines notes of fruit with some earthiness. It can be enjoyed cold, room temperature or warm, which would be fun to experiment with alongside sasadango’s herbal flavor.

    One dessert, unlimited recipes

    Dango is an ancient Japanese treat that people the world over still enjoy today. It’s woven its way deeply into Japanese culture, history and myth, from Kibi dango in Okayama to tsukimi dango for moon-viewing festivals. The base recipe is simple, with just two or three ingredients. But the regional and seasonal variations are endless, and you can even play around with your own flavors and recipes. Enjoy these sweet, sticky rice balls at home with your favorite sake! Let our sommelier recommend sake to match your tastes, and feel free to browse some of the best bottles and brands for beginners.


    Chen, N. “Mitarashi Dango みたらし団子.” Just One Cookbook. April 8, 2024. https://www.justonecookbook.com/mitarashi-dango/

    Fox, C. T. “Oahu’s Nisshodo Candy Store is the Spot for Handcrafted Japanese Sweets.” HAWAIʻI Magazine. May 1, 2013. https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/oahus-nisshodo-candy-store-is-the-spot-for-handcrafted-japanese-sweets/

    Hawaii News Now. “Sam Choy’s Kitchen recipe: Chi Chi Dango.” May 28, 2004. https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/1904849/sam-choys-kitchen-recipe-chi-chi-dango/

    Hikita, R. “Shiratama Dango.” Umami Pot. Feb. 4, 2024. https://umamipot.com/shiratama-dango/

    Ishida, B. “The Japanese Versions of Hawaii Snacks.” Barrett Ishida. https://www.barrettish.com/log/post/the-japanese-versions-of-hawaii-snacks

    Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation. “Kibitsujinja shrine.” https://www.okayama-japan.jp/en/spot/10624

    Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation. “There are so many kinds! 10 Must-Know Okayama Souvenirs: Kibidango.” Nov. 24, 2022. https://www.okayama-japan.jp/en/11475

    Shimogamo-jinja https://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/english/

    Stephens, M. T. “What is Dango, and How Do You Make it?” Bokksu. April 20, 2022. https://www.bokksu.com/blogs/news/what-is-dango-and-how-do-you-make-it

    Tokyo Wagashi Association. “About Wagashi.” https://www.wagashi.or.jp/japanesesweets-wagashi/en/about/

    Taylor Markarian

    Taylor Markarian

    Taylor Markarian is a culture journalist whose work spans the food and beverage, entertainment and travel industries. She is passionate about world travel and learning about different lifestyles and subcultures across the globe. Markarian is also the author of “From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society” (Mango Publishing, 2019). Explore her work by visiting her portfolio.

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