Dessert Dumpling: What Is Manju and Why You Should Give It a Try!

When you bite into a piece of chocolate with a delicious flavored center (gooey caramel, decadent peanut butter, refreshing mint, or classic cherry), the experience tends to bring about multi-layered satisfaction. Not only is there an external beauty, alluring to the eyes, there’s maybe a sense of anticipation as you wait for the beauty within to be revealed. And, suddenly, when the complementary flavor blends with the initial taste and texture, it becomes something you want to enjoy again and again.

Another item that creates a similar sensation doesn’t even include chocolate. (We know, hear us out on this one.) Its name is manju (mahn-ju), and it’s been popular throughout Hawai`i for generations. Usually this circular-shaped confection falls more on the savory side of the flavor scale, but it’s so wonderfully diverse that it can slide back to the sweet side, depending on the ingredient at the center.

If you’ve never heard of manju, keep reading. We’ll give you a little background about where it comes from and why it makes such an inventive treat (for yourself and others). Plus, we’ll share some of the variations we here at Big Island Candies have created over the years.

The Origin of Manju: It Goes Way Back

Manju has been a classic Japanese confection for almost 700 years! And before that, manju originated in China as mantou, steamed buns made with wheat flour that can be left unfilled or filled with a sweet or savory ingredient (baozi or bao). When mantou was brought to Japan, it was renamed manju, stemming from mochi, a Japanese rice cake.

Over time, various types of manju have emerged. Some are made using wheat flour and brown sugar; others are made using rice flour and feature grated yam. This latter variation, some produced in red and white colors, can be made for special occasions and celebrations and traditionally represents happiness and luck. As far as preparation method, the steamed or baked varieties filled with a red bean paste made from azuki beans (You might see it as adzuki or anko.) are the most common.

Why Eat Manju?

Here are five reasons why manju makes such a great goodie:

1. Depending on the type of manju, its outer shell can be reminiscent of delicate, flaky pie crust. A conventional piece of pie can’t be eaten with your hands (or really shouldn’t be), but you can hold a manju morsel easily in your fingers.

2. Some days you feel like enjoying a savory treat, some days a sweeter one. Manju provides you with either option!

3. Fall/winter flavors:

  • Manju with a sweet red bean paste, matcha (green tea), or ube (purple yam—more about this flavor later) on the inside can help instill cozy, comfy vibes during the fall and winter seasons. (And since we’re talking about matcha and azuki beans, have you tried our Matcha Azuki Shortbread?)
  • Kuri manju features a chestnut surrounded by a bean paste as the filling. Before baking, the top of the manju is brushed with egg yolk, eventually giving it its beautiful brown hue.
  • Momiji manju is made with buckwheat flour as a main ingredient and filled with a red bean paste. It’s formed into the shape of a Japanese maple leaf.

4. Spring/summer snack: Manju filled with pineapple or blueberry (Stay tuned to learn more about these too.) are especially refreshing. They make amazing after-school snacks, post-play summertime goodies, or an after-work reward.

5. Innovative gift: A box of cookies, chocolates, or brownies will always be a welcome gift for someone. But if you’re looking to mix things up a bit, share a box of manju with them. And if they’re a tea or coffee lover, even better, as manju goes well with a cup.

In Addition to the Original

Over the years, we here at Big Island Candies have created tasty takes on manju:

  • One of our local favorites is also one of our popular products: Pineapple Manju. It features a crisp, buttery crust surrounding a golden pineapple filling.
  • Then there’s our Peanut Butter Manju. This new option has more of a cookie crust on the outside and a rich, smooth peanut-butter filling.
  • Available at our Hilo and Ala Moana Center stores, we carry our Frozen Pie Crust Manju in three different flavors: blueberry, koshian (azuki bean), and ube. These you can bake right at home in the oven. (Get your muffin pan ready!)

Just like flavored chocolates, manju can provide multi-level satisfaction: the enticing sight; the flavorful filling hitting your palate; the wanting of maybe just one more bite, then one more piece. We hope you’ll give this “dessert dumpling” a try. After all, 700+ years of tradition—and innovation—can’t be wrong.

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