The Secret to Finding Brown Rice & Whole-Wheat in Japan

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brownrice
February 18, 2014

In a nation in love with dessert bread and sushi rice, whole-wheat and brown rice products can be scarce. Armed with a few kanji and the willingness to closely examine the shelves at the supermarket, though, you can find these foods. Below, I’ll explain what kanji you should know and what products you can expect to find.

Brown Rice

While picking out rice at my local supermarket one day, I spotted a package of rice that looked slightly different from the others. The outside of this particular bag of rice was brown, and the kanji on the label were slightly different from that of the rest. I whipped out my electronic dictionary and looked up the kanji on the packaging. The secret to finding brown rice in Japan can be summed up with two kanji:

玄米

These two kanji, when put together, are pronounced “genmai” and indicate “brown rice.”

I’ve recently been eating Akita Prefecture brown rice that was on sale, but brown rice can also be found in other foods.

If you look on the back of some bread packages, you’ll see 玄米粉 (“genmaiko”), which means “brown rice flour,” as one of the ingredients. You can buy brown rice flour on its own and use it in brownies, bread, omlettes and so on.

You’ll also find brown rice floating in 玄米茶 (“genmaicha”), a popular green tea in Japan. According to the supplement company Wakasa Seikatsu, because of the brown rice it contains, genmaicha helps fight against against aging and diabetes.

Whole-Wheat Bread

My typical breakfast back in the US was peanut butter on whole-wheat bread. In Japan, peanut butter costs about as much as a Rolex. As for the bread, if you aren’t careful, you could end up with chocolate bread instead of whole-wheat bread. Not wanting to risk having chocolate bread, or worse, pure rye bread for breakfast, I stuck with white bread and a monster jar of peanut butter I’d brought from the States.

If only I had looked on the lower shelf at my supermarket in Japan, I would have found my desired whole-wheat bread.

The word for “whole-wheat” consists of three kanji:

全粒粉 (pronounced “zenryuufun”)

A whole-wheat loaf of bread may be labeled “全粒粉入りパン” (“zenryuufun iri pan,” meaning “bread containing whole wheat”). Products that state that they “contain whole wheat” are normally made by mixing white flour with whole wheat and other types of flour, so buying this type of bread is probably more about taste than health. The phrase 全粒粉入り (“zenryuufun iri,” “containing whole wheat”) will show up on a lot of products, such as muffins, noodles, cakes, and so on.

Like I mentioned earlier, chocolate bread may look like whole-wheat, but obviously tastes much different. You’ll want to make sure that your bread doesn’t have the katakana チョコ (“choco,” meaning “chocolate”) on it. Well, or if you like chocolate, you’ll want to make sure that your bread does have the word “choco” on it.

Just like brown rice flour, you can also buy whole-wheat flour. Whole-wheat flour will usually just say 全粒粉 (“zenryuufun”) on the package, although some do have ホールホイート (“hooru hoiito,” “whole wheat”) written in katakana.

On the topic of whole wheat, a Google image search led me to find a Kit-Kat with whole-wheat wafers inside! I know what I want for my birthday.

kitkat

I may not have tried a whole-wheat Kit Kat yet, but thanks to a few kanji, the era of white-bread breakfasts and white rice dinners for me is over.

Have you had any luck finding whole wheat products or brown rice? More pressingly, what are your thoughts on chocolate bread?

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  • Jesse Cadd

    Costco has an excellent large bag of brown rice that my family loves.

  • maryjoruck

    Agreed with Jesse, I get my brown rice cheapest at Costco. Though if you find a local JA Green – they often sell rice from bins, and it all starts out as brown rice, so you just have to ask them not to polish it for you.

    As for whole wheat products, it definitely is scarce. I actually make my own whole wheat bread in my home bakery. Its quite perfect. tomizawa.co.jp is a great place to find whole wheat flour. They also have really cheap shipping. Just know that if you want to make your own 100% whole wheat bread, you need to buy bread flour – or the 強 symbol on the bag of flour, in addition to confirming that it is indeed whole wheat flour. Sometimes in English it gets translated as “hard” flour.

    • http://wandertokyo.com/ Lynn

      Making your own bread is a great idea! I’ve been doing it with regular flour, but I might have to buy some whole wheat flour. Thanks for the tip about the whole wheat flour.

  • Todd

    It’s true that many whole wheat products are just white flour with whole wheat flour or just gluten added–but that’s also true in America and probably most other places too. If anyone needs good reduced-chemical brown rice, feel free to contact me. We grow our own a few hours outside of Osaka and can ship within Japan.

  • Angela

    I just came back from Japan 2 weeks ago, and my breakfast was shokupan (I never tried to look for flour as I was in hotels the whole time) with sweetened peanut butter. Over in Shinjuku at the tower observatory building people were selling 3 varieties (sweetened crunchy, sweetened smooth, and unsweetened) on the main floor (along with a whole bunch of other peanut products). Well, technically it’s moreso called “peanut paste” as opposed to butter, but it was definitely peanut butter by US standards. I don’t know if they are still there because that one jar lasted forever 0.0 I came back to the states before finishing it (was there half a month), so I didn’t have to return to the store to buy more. It was opposite the Hanko and book store on level 2 or 1. Like 500 or 600 yen or something if I remember correctly for a nice sized jar. And the people in the store were so friendly!

    • http://wandertokyo.com/ Lynn

      Your anecdote about peanut paste reminded me of something that happened to me recently. A newcomer to Japan asked me (an American) and a Japanese coworker if peanut butter is popular here. The same time I answered “no,” the coworker answered “yes.” Peanut paste is definitely not peanut butter. In any case, at least peanut butter is available, even if it costs more than in the US!

      • Angela

        I guess I don’t know what the difference between what Japan calls peanut paste and what we call peanut butter is. The only different thing I noticed really was that it was sweet, but since they also had an unsweetened variety, how do they differ? It also could be that I wasn’t brought up on a lot of the more common varieties like Reese’s peanut butter or Jif. My family always went for the organic or natural varieties. It was… not as oily as those, though, when I opened it up. Like… the consistency of Peter Pan peanut butter and the taste of the natural plus sugar.

        My friend who I went to Japan with and I got the feeling that the popularity of peanut butter might depend on where in Japan the person grew up? You could definitely tell by the way the people in the store were interacting that they weren’t from Tokyo, which is why we thought the store might be temporary. Like, a more established farmer’s market, sorta? That was the first time while in Tokyo that people started a conversation with me and joked with me. Either way, I definitely never thought I’d see an entire store devoted only to peanut products in Shinjuku of all places! That’s for sure! They even had a cute peanut character drawing propped up outside ^.^

        But yeah, what’s the difference between Japanese peanut paste and American peanut butter?

        • http://wandertokyo.com/ Lynn

          Actually, I think what I was referring to was Japanese “peanut cream,” which is really smooth and sweet because of kanten (agar-agar/kinda gelatinous seaweed) and sugar. Peanut cream also seems to have peanut butter as one of its ingredients. I’m curious now what “peanut paste” is like. If it has a similar texture to peanut butter, I might switch out my expensive Skippy for some local stuff ;)

          I’ll have to check out that store in Shinjuku! Do you happen to remember the name?

          • Angela

            That sounds good! I never came across peanut cream. I want to try it now, though…

            I don’t remember the names of like 80% of the places we went XD. But, I remember how to get almost everywhere. ^.^ It’s the tall observatory building, that famous one that is one of the main attractions. The one that has the North and South towers and is a government building. We went to the tower that closes earlier, which I’m 99% sure is the North one. We found the store after coming back down the elevator. At the bottom, you’ll be in this atrium/corridor/open place. Take a right and continue down the corridor. If it’s still there, there will be an adorable cardboard peanut mascot propped up outside a store on the right half of that area. I don’t remember the exact day we saw it, but if it isn’t there, one of the workers will likely be able to give more information because it was definitely some time between May 19th and May 22nd of this year that we went to Shinjuku in search of Zauo restaurant, which was closed for construction T.T so we went there instead.

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