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.
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:
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.
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.
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?