Friday, July 27, 2012

Vocabulary for finding baking ingredients in a Japanese supermarket

A recent near miss with some alleged ‘cornflour’ has prompted me to put together a little list of handy vocabulary and various guiding tidbits to help improve your chances of find what you need for baking in your local Japanese supermarket.

Cornflourgate occurred when the package of yellow powder "コーンフラワー / corn flour" on the right in the photo was purchased on my behalf at Nissin supermarket, when I had intended to ask for the silky white powder labelled "コーンスターチ / corn starch" on the left. This was a US/UK cultural misunderstanding rather than a Japanese language issue, as the white, sauce-thickening/meringue-softening powder commonly referred to in the UK as “cornflour” is called corn starch in the US, and in Japan the American term is used. Put the fine yellow American 'corn flour' in your Pavlova and I’m not sure what texture you’ll end up with, although I daresay you’ll be able to make some nice corn tortillas.

Incidentally, there is a similar starch ingredient used in Japanese cooking called 片栗粉 / katakuriko sometimes refered to simply as starch てんぷん / tenpun, but though it looks and feels similar to corn starch it is made from potato and has different properties (it's more viscous, does not retain viscosity when cool, and becomes transparent when used in cooking), it's used in sticky, warm sauces like ankake and mabo tofu. For baking purposes it's best to hunt down the corn starch.


Wheat is 小麦 / komugi in Japanese, and flour is 小麦粉 / komugiko (the 粉 being 'kona' or powder), you'll sometimes also see it written as フラワー / furawaa. 

The most common type of flour you'll see is 薄力小麦粉 / hakuriki komugiko, this means 'weak flour' and is regular all-purpose plain flour suitable for pastry and cakes. It is possible to make good bread from this flour too, but it is more difficult than using bread flour because the gluten will not be as strong. Note that Japanese all-purpose flour will generally be weaker (that is, lower in protein) than flour from the US.

強力小麦粉 / kyouriki (or kyouryoku) komugiko is strong bread flour, it will often be the one with pictures of bread on the label, and will have a higher protein content than the regular flour (protein is 蛋白質 / tanpakushitsu). Again, Japanese bread flour tends to have a lower protein content than US bread flours - the Nissin brand bread flour is 12% protein, which is on the low end of the 12-14% scale associated with bread flours. Bread flour is also sometimes labelled as such パン専用小麦粉 / pan senyou komugiko.
  • 漂白 / hyohaku = bleached
  • 無漂白 / muhyouhaku = unbleached
  • 全粒粉 / zenryuufun = wholewheat flour
  • 有機 / organic

Japanese supermarkets don’t often sell self raising flour (Nissin supermarket does stock Odlums however), and there doesn't appear to be a special word for it most forums describing it as flour with baking powder in it ベーキングパウダー入り小麦粉 / beikingu pauda iri komugiko. Fortunately that's exactly how you do it:

Make your own self raising flour (metric grams and U.S. cup versions)
  • sift together 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt per cup of flour in your recipe 
  • which if you prefer is 6 grams of baking powder (about a teaspoon), and 1 gram (a small pinch) of salt for every 100g of flour. 
Source for the baking powder ratio: Harold McGee.


Eggs are 卵 / tamago in Japanese. Although you wouldn’t need any help identifying the eggs in a supermarket, note that 温泉卵 / onsen tamago are soft-boiled and not for baking. They are often packaged remarkably similarly to the raw eggs and right next to them on the shelf. I've seen free range written as フリーレンジ / furii renji, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a marketing point in Japan outside the international supermarkets. I have seen powdered egg whites in small amounts on sale at Tokyu Hands.


- Butter. Butter is an easy one as it is just written in katakana as バター however, you might want to know the kanji for unsalted 無塩 / mu en or 食塩不使用 / shokuen fushiyou, to get the purer form of butter that is best for baking. Also worthy of note is the huge (sometimes 300%+) difference in price between some domestic and imported butters. This is partially to do with the quality, percieved or otherwise, of the imported butter, but also a lot to do with import taxes.

- Suet = スエット / suetto. (Since this is the same pronunciation as "sweat" it might be necessary to explain you are looking for the fat from around the kidneys of a cow (or sheep) - 牛の腎臓についた脂肪 / ushi no jinzou ni tsuita shibou)

- lard = ラード / ra-do
- shortening = ショートニング / sho-toningu

Of these last 3 fats shortening is the most widely available, you’ll often see it in a white bucket type container on the shelf with the other baking ingredients, stable and solid at room temperature. It's often organic, vegetarian and trans-fat free. I shudder to think what effect this stuff that keeps for ages at room temperature has on our bodies, and rarely choose to bake with it, but perhaps I’ll learn more about it and come around to the idea eventually.

Similarly, lard can be found in a squeezy bottle, resembling kewpie mayonnaise, often in the oils and sauces section. This is clearly not the same stuff we used for pastry in the UK when I was little, which came in waxed paper blocks and had to be kept cold. It is intended for use in savory cooking, to grease the pan for cha-han and for frying etc, and I don't feel I can recommend baking with the squeezy bottle room-temperature lard until I’ve experimented myself.

I have yet to find packets of Atora or similar dry suet, vegetarian or otherwise in Japan. It makes sense really as suet baking isn’t a part of the culture. You can find fresh suet in the meat section of many supermarkets however. Sometimes in little trays near the fresh meat, frequently frozen in chunks, this fresh suet is used to oil the pan for sukiyaki dishes. I’ve tried baking with it but need to experiment further, as it is much richer than the dry stuff used in most recipes, and so amount used in the recipes will need adjusting down. You may also need to melt it down once and skim any membranes and froth that become apparent. If you can't find it at your supermarket, try asking at the butcher shop, even if they don't have any on display.

Food colouring

Check out the cool little spoon that comes with them

Food colouring is 食用色素 / shokuyou shikiso in Japanese. The most common type of food colouring in Japan is in powder form. These can be added to small amounts of water, or mixed well into a liquid batter. If you are making a coloured frosting for cupcakes use very little water to avoid curdling or watering down your frosting and turning it into an unpipable consistency. If you're making macarons, mix the dry powder in well with the dry ingredients. It’ll be self-evident from the packaging, but here are the basic colours:
  • red = 赤 / aka
  • yellow = 黄色 / kiiro
  • blue = 青 / ao
  • green = 緑 / midori

In the same section you can usually find similarly sized bottles of powdered cream of tartar for whipping egg whites to great volume. Baking soda/bicarbonate of soda (which you can use to leaven cakes that already contain acidic ingredients, to boil preztels in, or as an ingredient in your own baking powder) and baking powder itself.


Sugar is 砂糖 / satou in Japanese, and there are many, many varieties available.

In most baking you’ll want a fairly fine sugar, and luckily the large bags of the cheap 上白糖 / jyouhakutou (sometimes this is just labelled 'white sugar' 白砂糖 / shiro zatou) will do the trick in many cake recipes that call for caster sugar, but it has not performed well for me in meringues or macarons.
Although this is frequently translated directly as 'caster sugar' it's different. The most important difference is that it is sweeter and less pure, you might want to test using it in a recipe from abroad and experiment with reducing the amount you use. It is also a little grainier than the Silver Spoon/Tate and Lyle stuff from home.

Nissin sells small packs of imported caster sugar should you need the very fine stuff, and it is possible to whiz up some of the grittier granulated / グラニュー糖 / guranyu tou sugar in a food processor to make your own finer caster sugar-sized particles. Counter-intuitively, you can find granulated / グラニュー糖 / guranyu tou with caster sugar-sized grains. If you find that (Nissin have 300g packs for 210 yen and you can order from places online), then that is your identical caster sugar, perfect for baking cakes, macaron, etc.

白ざら糖 / shirazaratou is a chunky granulated sugar which is the purest form available and good for professional sponge cake making. Where the 上白糖 is 97.8% pure, グラニュー糖 is 99.5% pure and 白ざら糖 is 100% (more information here in Japanese). There is also a light brown version called 中双糖 / chuzaratou.

Icing sugar = 粉糖 / funtou, and can be found in most supermarkets. It's also known as confectioners sugar or powdered sugar: パウダーシュガー / pauda shugaa, アイシングシュガー / aishingu shugaa. Many supermarkets just sell the little 70g bags of it, but Nissin does a 500g box.

Note that 三温糖 / sanontou, which looks like golden caster sugar, is actually made from refined white sugar that has then been repeatedly heated and has some of the molasses returned back to the mixture to create the colour and slight caramel flavour. Golden caster sugar on the other hand is made with partially refined sugar meaning it hasn't reached the white stage during processing. You can experiment using 三温糖 in recipes, many Japanese sites have it listed as an ingredient in fruit cakes, but it may not behave exactly like golden caster sugar.

Another light brown Japanese sugar is 和三盆 / wasanbon, this is made in Shikoku, used in making Japanese sweets 和菓子 / wagashi, and is quite expensive due to the labour intensive production. There is a lovely write-up of the history and production of it here. I haven't baked with this sugar yet, but since it is also very sweet it would probably also require using somewhat less than stated in an international recipe if you were going to experiment using it in place of golden caster sugar, for example.

For something a little darker (such as when you need demerara sugar in British recipes) try brown sugar ブラウンシュガー / buraunshugaa, this is a partly refined sugar that retains more of the molasses.

Japan also has a range of distinctively flavoured raw black sugars from Okinawa and Kagoshima called 黒砂糖 / kurozatou that you can try when a recipe calls for dark brown or muscovado sugar. Kurozatou includes types that are made from sugar cane サトウキビ / satoukibi and from sugar beet テンサイ / tenzai.

Cream and milk products

Cream is often labelled fresh cream 生クリーム/ nama kuriimu. If it doesn't specify whether it is single cream シングルクリーム / shinguru kuriimu or double cream ダブルクリーム /daburu kuriimu, you can pick out which is as they are often clearly labelled with the butterfat percentage (乳脂肪 / nyuushibou). Single cream is about 18%-20% butterfat and double cream is upwards of 48%. There are other creams with butterfat percentages of between 35-48% and those are also whippable. Single cream is best for pouring, and double cream best for whipping. Many of the whipping-suitable creams also come with a little piping bag taped to the carton which is a good hint.

There is a similarly packaged cream-like "whip" ホイップ / howippu substance available that would be ok for putting next to your dessert, but I wouldn’t trust it as an ingredient for something like ganache or caramel because they often contain vegetable fats (植物性脂肪 / shokubutsuseishibou) and other additives rather than being pure cream. Sour cream is widely available in little pots, and some international supermarkets stock fromage frais and crème epaisse. I haven’t found crème fraiche, which a lot of quiche recipes call for, but sour cream can be substituted.

Condensed milk = コンデンスミルク / conndensumiruku, or 加糖煉乳 / katourennyu
You’ll often see little red and white tubes of Megmilk Snow brand condensed milk next to the strawberry display in a Japanese supermarket, though you’d need a few to make enough for a millionaire’s shortbread recipe, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s the appropriate consistency. Navigate instead to the tinned goods aisle, and frequently between the tinned fruits and the tinned tuna (and the mysterious tinned "シーチキン" / sea chicken, which if you are interested turns out to be a tuna+katsuo mix), you will find tins of condensed milk. Nissin has about 3 brands and they make good cheat's caramel for the above-mentioned shortbread.

Other ideas

If you’re working from a British recipe, quite often you might be able to look up an American substitution online and find that more easily in Japan. Such is the case with treacle, although I’ve found Lyon’s Golden Syrup in Nissin and other international supermarkets I’ve yet to find their treacle. If your recipe calls for treacle/black treacle then try using molasses instead which come in various strengths of flavour. Nissin does the Brer Rabbit brand in mild and full flavour.

Other times you're stuck, you might be able to make the ingredient yourself – such as with mixed spice or marzipan. Also it's easy to forget that Kappabashi is an option too, where specialist shops such as Flavorland stock many niche ingredients that your local supermarket might not have.

Ordering online whether from within Japan or from abroad is another option, although you might find that some foodstuffs cannot be easily imported (Lakeland cannot send their food-grade glycerin to Japan for example. You can get glycerin domestically on Rakuten however ;) ).


  1. Hi, I'll be going to Tokyo this December.
    Was goggling for places to but baking stuff in Tokyo when i saw your blog.
    Nice direction & guide. Are there any other areas that provide baking stuff.
    I don't really know Japanese so it'll be a bit tought to read the ingredients.
    Any shops which actually provide or sell english labelled products?

  2. Hi there! Your best bet for a good selection of baking ingredients would be one of the following supermarkets: Nissin in Azabu Juban National Azabu or maybe even the baking department of a Tokyu Hands (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza and Ikebukuro)
    If you're staying around for a while and need something specific and hard to get, you might also want to look into ordering online. You can use Amazon jp in English to some extent and they have food items, also these companies shop for you at Costco and deliver and they operate in English:

    If you're looking for equipment too, and an interesting afternoon out then check out 'kitchen town' Kappabashi. There are another couple of baking supplies posts on here that might also be of interest:

    Hope some of this helps :) Have a great trip!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this!
    So many things make sense now.

  4. dear little shop,

    thank you for this write up.

    i used to be a professional baker in the u.s. and haven't done much baking in japan until very recently (scones, cakes, pies, etc.) with very mixed results (esp. scones). i'd be interested in your opinion.

    what seems to me to be the most common type of white sugar here appears to have a bit of moisture to it (somewhat similar to the brown sugar i would see in the u.s.). a less common but also readily available type of white sugar appears perfectly dry, like what i am more used to cooking with.

    i was looking for validation and found this in english:
    and in japanese:

    do you found the moisture in the more common sugar here has negatively impacted your baking? or do you use the completely dry sugar? if the completely dry variety, how does the grain size compare (e.g., it does/doesn't dissolve in wet batters)?

    thank you again.
    - b

  5. Hi b,

    The most common type of sugar in Japan is jyouhakutou (上白糖), this includes anything labelled just "sugar" "sato" "white sugar" "table sugar" etc. even if it doesn't specify the name jyouhakutou.

    They are all this slightly more moist type of sugar which I understand to be not pure sucrose (like US and European white sugars tend to be), but as having a slightly higher fructose content (I'm not sure about the chemistry, but this might mean that part of the sugar is invert? If you've used trimoline in your professional baking you'll be familiar with the moisture-retaining properties it gives to recipes, perhaps this is comparable on a smaller scale with Japanese white sugar). Jyouhakutou is sweeter gram-for-gram compared to Western regular white sugar, and so you can use less in a recipe and get the same sweetness at a lower calorie count.

    You should find that this Japanese white sugar is fine in baking moist cakes, though you may need less and they may brown more easily than you're used to. It has been fairly disastrous for me in meringue however! Presumably due to the higher water content. You can not leave a pavlova in the oven overnight if it has been made with this sugar. :)

    Since I do a lot of British recipes I use finely ground granulated sugar (the completely dry variety you referred to) for most of my baking in Japan, including scones and meringues. It is precisely the same as what we would use at home.

    The counter-intuitive thing about this that I tried to explain in the article above is that in Japan our type of higher sucrose (drier, free-running) sugar is called "granulated" regardless of the size of the grains.. you can buy coarse and finely ground granulated sugar here. We would call finely-ground granulated sugar caster sugar ;)

    I think I may have made it confusing again - please feel free to let me know if you have further questions.

    Since I think this is a key problem when baking in Japan, particularly for people attempting meringues, I might separate out the sugar section of this post into its own article...

  6. Hi! Thanks for your post. Are candy melts available here in Tokyo? Can we also find them at Tokyu Hands?

    1. The Wilton shops have them, not sure about Tokyu Hands, possibly!

  7. Just found your blog n find the ingredients in Japanese & English helpful. What is the Japanese word for cream of tartar? You mentioned it in the Food Colouring section. Thanks

    1. It's just called "cream tartar" クリームターター hope that helps! Not every supermarket has it, nissin does, in Azabu Juban, it's in a box near the yeasts and jelly powders.

  8. Regarding molasas in one reply. Japanese have something they call kuromitsu or black honey that I think is comperable to molasas and should be cheaper.