Kakigori: From Street Snack to Gourmet Delight

July 04, 2024

What Is Kakigori?


Kakigori is a Japanese dessert made of finely shaved ice.

It is served with a variety of flavored syrups poured over ice shavings.

The most popular syrups include strawberry, lemon, and melon.

Japanese flavors such as matcha (green tea) and azuki (sweet red bean paste) are also common.

It is usually eaten on hot summer days and often found at festivals and special events.

Fruits and condensed milk are sometimes added as toppings for a richer flavor.


The history of kakigori dates back as far as the Heian era (794–1180), where desserts using shaved ice were already being consumed in Japan.

However, they were a luxurious food and enjoyed only by the aristocracy at the time.

In the Edo era (1603–1868), ice preservation techniques developed, and more and more people began to enjoy kakigori.


In recent years, kakigori has evolved from  merely a summer dessert to a gourmet sweet with an artistic appearance and delicate taste.

What attracts people is the ice's extremely fine and soft texture, often described as "fluffy."

Luxurious syrups made from natural fruits and authentic matcha are also becoming increasingly popular.


Additionally, many types of kakigori are unique to each region, including those that use local specialties or are layered for an appealing visual effect.

Kakigori continues to be beloved by many fans in Japan and abroad because it maintains traditional elements while incorporating new challenges.


Types of Kakigori

There is a wide variety of Kakigori, and the flavors vary greatly depending on the syrups and toppings used.

Below are some typical types of kakigori.


  • Old-fashioned kakigori

    The most familiar type of kakigori in Japan.

    Old-fashioned kakigori, commonly sold at summer festivals and beaches, is characterized by its coarse ice shavings and sweet syrup.

    It is more affordable than the trendy types of kakigori available at cafes.

    Strawberry, melon, lemon, and "Blue Hawaii" are the classic syrups.

    It is often served in paper cups and eaten using the cut end of a straw as a spoon.


  • Fluffy kakigori

    This variety of kakigori has been popular since the 2010s.

    Unlike the conventional crunchy texture, it is fluffy and melts in the mouth.

    The ice is made and shaved to create a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

    Many of these kakigori are inventive with both the ice itself, and the syrups and creams.

    You can even savor new and unique flavors, such as black tea and caramel.


  • Fruit kakigori

    This kakigori is topped with plenty of fruit.

    While most kakigori syrups imitate fruit flavors and scents, fruit kakigori is made with natural pulp and juice.

    Flavors include strawberry, melon, and mango, and the syrup is often thick.

    In addition to fruits, vegetables with high sugar content like pumpkin and sweet potato are also sometimes used.

    Fruit kakigori is usually served at kakigori specialty stores.


  • Ujikintoki

    Japanese-style kakigori with matcha syrup.

    It pairs well with Japanese-style toppings such as azuki, shiratama (sticky rice dumplings), and matcha ice cream.

    Matcha kakigori topped with azuki is called ujikintoki, which attracts many enthusiastic lovers.

    You can savor matcha's deep flavor in the sweetness.


New kakigori varieties, such as flambéed kakigori, are now being offered for a more experiential enjoyment.

By covering the ice with meringue and flambéing, the ice does not melt, and the meringue becomes crispy.


Enjoy the craftsmanship

Below is a recipe for making basic kakigori.


The first step is to select and refine the ice used for kakigori.

For high-quality kakigori, the ice should be made from pure water and frozen slowly to avoid trapping air.

Eliminating air bubbles as much as possible during freezing results in clear and hard ice.

For this reason, it is crucial to freeze the ice slowly.

Ice should also be stored at the appropriate temperature and cut just before use to keep it fresh.


Another factor that determines the quality of kakigori is the ice shaving technique.

When using a manual shaving machine, the ice must be shaved evenly with a proper amount of force.

With electric machines, the desired fineness and texture can be achieved by fine-tuning the angle and rotation speed of the machine's blades.

How the ice is shaved determines whether it will be a fluffy or crunchy kakigori.


Separately from the ice, prepare the syrup to pour over the ice.

While you can simply use store-bought syrups, homemade syrups are often a popular option.

These syrups are made with juices or extracts squeezed directly from the fruit to give them a rich flavor.

Make a syrup with a deep flavor by carefully choosing the type of sugar and flavorings to add.

Some new variations of kakigori use cream instead of syrup, and the recipes vary greatly from store to store.


Prepare the toppings.

Pick seasonal fruits and homemade sweets for toppings to add visual and flavor accents.

For example, you can use fresh strawberries, ripe mangoes, handmade anko (sweet red bean paste), and matcha ice cream.


Finally, serve with the prepared syrup and toppings.

The presentation of the kakigori demonstrates creativity, with attention given to every detail, from the selection of serving utensils to the arrangement of the ice and the color balance.

Even simply for serving, creating beautiful layers and distributing colors requires high skill.

The presentation varies from shop to shop, and syrup is sometimes poured over the ice during the shaving process.


How to eat Kakigori

Now let's learn how to eat kakigori.

Eating a kakigori is typically very simple; you use a spoon to scoop out the shaved ice and toppings.

However, there are a few tips to keep in mind.


  1. Eat from the top

    Be careful not to eat from the bottom side, as the shaved ice may collapse.


  2. Eat while saving some syrup

    Sometimes, the syrup may only be on the surface.

    If you eat only the syrup part first, you will end up eating plain ice.

    Check how the syrup is poured on your kakigori and eat it so that the syrup remains until the end.


  3. Eat without taking too long

    Since it is ice, kakigori will gradually melt.

    So, be sure to enjoy it without taking too much time.


  4. Avoid eating a lot at once

    Eating a large amount of ice at once can cause a headache.

    Enjoy a moderate amount.

    Some say that good quality ice is less likely to cause headaches.


People’s reaction when eating