Are you looking for healthy Japanese snacks that suit your diet?
Being in Japan on a low carb diet, I’ve always found it hard to find healthy snacks that I could have. Keto and paleo are still relatively unknown here. With limited options, I mostly ate nuts.
Yah, I could eat dried squid and seaweed, but how much dried squid can one person eat.
These past few weeks, I’ve been scouring the shelves of natural food stores in Tokyo to find more options for snacks on the go.
With your eyes peeled and an open mind, you can find more low carb/ low sugar options.
Here’s my list of healthy Japanese snacks to help get you started.
To avoid all the plastic packaging, or for those of you who don’t live in Japan, hopefully you’ll feel inspired enough to replicate one of these snacks in your kitchen at home. Send me a message if I can help!
I crack up just imagining you boiling and marinating quail eggs in soy sauce. If you do, send me a picture and I’ll keep it enshrined on my wall permanently.
#1 Organic Pea Chips
Transitioning to a low carb diet, I missed the crunchy texture of chips, crackers, and pretzels.
Which is why I eat these pea chips way too often. If I dip them in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, they’re just as satisfying as potato chips.
Two ingredients: organic peas and salt (gluten free)
Available at: Crayon House, Natural House, and Bio C’Bon
#2 Organic Mung Bean Chips
I rotate in this flavor so I don’t get sick of eating pea chips.
I had never heard of mung beans- they’re mainly cultivated in countries like India, China, and Southeast Asia.
Two ingredients: organic mung beans and salt (gluten free)
Available at: Crayon House, Natural House, and Bio C’Bon
#3 Dried Konyaku Chips
This is a snack for when you just feel like chewing on something.
It won’t make you feel full or energized, but it’s worth trying once.
It’s made from konjac, a root that’s used to make konnyaku jelly or shirataki noodles (the clear ‘miracle’ noodles used in beef sukiyaki). Even an entire slab of konnyaku you’d buy at a Japanese supermarket is almost zero calories.
Flavors: kuromitsu (brown sugar) cinnamon, plum, beef, scallop, smoked squid, and mitarashi (skewered rice dumplings in a sweet soy glaze)
Available at: Natural Lawson convenience stores
#4 Salmon Jerky (shake toba)
If you like beef jerky or smoked salmon, you’d like shake toba.
This dried fish snack is famous in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. You could compare it to salmon jerky from Alaska.
Shake toba is one of my favorite snacks in Japan, especially if you put it on the grill and eat it when it’s warm and crispy.
In the winter, it’s so good! Often you’ll find it on the menu at an izakaya that specializes in seafood. Nothing goes better with saké! (The only possible exception is karasumi, sun-dried salted mullet roe, but it’s super expensive.)
Available at: Seijo Ishii (this brand) and supermarkets and convenience stores all over Japan. (In Hokkaido, you’d have a hard time not finding it!)
#5 Organic Beans (variety pack)
What did the edamame say to the green pea?
How have you bean?
I don’t buy this snack often, though it’s pretty good and filling. I tend to avoid soybeans and product named with bad puns. In Japan, there’s a lot of both so it’s hard to avoid. Quoting my first grade students, “I don’t get it. That’s not funny at all.”
Yesterday I saw “Eggcellent Egg Tarts” at the airport. There’s no escape in the “land of the rising puns.”
If you’ve just read The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry, you’re probably deathly afraid of legumes now. Lectins- RUN! ! ! If you’re a big fan of Tim’s Ferriss’s The 4 Hour Body (like I am), you’ll like this snack.
Ingredients: soybeans, green peas, red beans, chickpeasThe 4 Hour Body
#6 Goya Chips
Goya is a superfood grown in Okinama. It looks like a fat cucumber with bad acne.
If you’re a fan of a bitter aftertaste or just like trying something really different, this snack is for you. Not entirely guilt free (low carb) with some added flour, but worth trying.
It’s a snack with a bite but tastes gourd-geous!
RUN! ! !
Available at: Seijo Iishi and other supermarkets or specialty stores
(No more puns, promise. Please don’t leave.)
#7 Black Pepper Broad Beans (sora mame)
Sora mame (broad beans) with black pepper, I looooooove these!
This snack and I go way back- I used to buy them at Seijo Ishii. My sister likes these too. So good!
This one as well isn’t entirely low carb-friendly with some added flour, so I try to go easy on them even though they’re addictive.
“Discipline, Matt-san!” Then I do some Bruce Lee moves, and have one more handful before swiftly closing the package.
Available at: the basement market of Shibuya Station and some supermarkets/specialty stores (can be a little bit hard to find)
#8 Organic Nuts
Seijo Ishii started carrying small packages of organic nuts. I’ve seen organic nuts other places as well.
I tend to buy one packet of almonds and one packet of walnuts rather than buying the mixed nuts because cashews are high in carbs.
Kinokuniya also carries organic walnuts, which sometimes go on sale. If they’re all sold out, sorry, that was probably me.
Available at: Seiji Ishii, other brands at Natural House, Natural Lawson’s, and Crayon House
#9 Fish Sausage
This particular brand, I cut up and grilled in a skillet just like breakfast sausage with my eggs. Surprisingly good!
Looking at the ingredients, these fish sausage products seem to be a mix off two kinds of fish meat. There are other ingredients including flour, so eat fishing sausage isn’t quite as low carb as grilling a fillet of fish. Nutrition facts in Japan don’t give all the specifics.
Available at: the basement of Shibuya Station (this brand) and other supermarkets/specialty stores
#10 Fish cake- salmon flavored (kamaboko)
Kamaboko, another fish paste-based product, comes in all shapes and flavors.
It’s processed pureed white-fish meat called surimi in Japanese. The imitation crab meat you’ve had a Japanese restaurant is similar to kamaboko. Or if you’ve ever eaten oden, you’ve most likely eaten some form of kamaboko.
Lower quality kamaboko, like the kind filled with processed cheese sold at convenience stores, may contain MSG and other crappy ingredients.
If you go to the basement of a higher-end department store, you’re more likely find kamaboko made with better quality ingredients.
Available at: the basement of Shibuya Station and supermarkets all over Japan.
If you visit Hakone from Tokyo, you can try famously good kamaboko from Odawara. I also eat freshly made kamaboko every time I’m at the airport in Sapporo.
#11 Fish cake- mashede damame flavored (kamaboko)
lavor: zunda (mashed edamame)
I learned a new word. They had two other flavors as well- I forget what they were.
#12 Quail eggs (uzura no tamago)
Boiled quail eggs are pretty typical in Japan.
I’ve never really looked, but I think you can find them at any supermarket.
Seek, and ye shall find.
I wonder where they keep the quails.
I prefer chicken eggs, though the taste is about the same. For some reason, they’ve always weirded me out a bit. I would try them once, just for the heck of it- they’re just mini eggs. I imagine them hard to peel. You’d need to have very small fingers, no?
Available at: Seijo Iishi and other supermarkets, specialty stores, and convenience stores.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1) What healthy snacks do Japanese eat?
I would put the healthy snacks that Japanese people eat into two categories:
1) Healthy snacks that are the same as what a healthy eater living in Western countries would eat.
For example, fresh vegetable slices, fresh fruit, meat jerky and nuts. Especially in Tokyo, other healthy Western option like smoothies are available. This morning I had a black sesame smoothie. And of course, there's edamame beans, the quintessential summer snack, which have become increasingly popular in the West in recent years.
2) Healthy snacks that are tradition Japanese snacks or popular in Asia:
For example, there are lots of savory Japanese snacks such as dried squid, dried fish, and seaweed snacks made from nori, wakame, or kombu (kelp). Because Japan is an island nation, many of these snacks are made from seafood or sea plants. There are various flavors of seaweed snacks like ume (plum)-flavored kombu.
2) Are Japanese snacks healthy?
Yes, there are lots of healthy Japanese snacks you can try. But if you don't speak Japanese or have never been to Japan, it's hard to know what's healthy and what's not. To get started, you can get a free copy of the Healthy Snacker's Guide to Japan. I wrote a guidebook It's a comprehensive 78-page guide of what to eat and where you can find healthy snacks that fit with your healthy lifestyle.
The free guide includes:
- a curated list of healthy, low-carb snacks (keto and paleo-friendly)
- where to buy them in Japan and online
- organic products, superfoods
- supplements you should take
- “healthy snacks” to avoid
- ingredients you should avoid
- how to read Japanese nutrition labels- the basics
- food allergy precautions
- free online resources
- printable translation card
Get your free guide to healthy Japanese snacks.
3) What is the number 1 snack in Japan?
For Japanese people, eating rice cakes with a bottle of green tea is a traditional Japanese snack that continues to be popular today.
Onigiri (Japanese rice balls) is also one of my favorite Japanese snacks. Onigiri are those triangle-shaped balls of white rice wrapped with dried nori seaweed. The rice balls are filled with something like cooked salmon or pickled plum. You can find them at practically every convenience store in Japan. However, if you want onigiri that are made with only natural ingredients, you'll have to shop elsewhere or make your own.
4) What are the most popular Japanese snacks?
Cup ramen is another hugely popular snack in Japan. Cup ramen was invented in Japan.
The other snacks that would likely make the list of top ten are: milk chocolate, hard candy such as Ramune, chewy Japanese candy such as haichu, Pocky Sticks and Pretz, Jagarico, potato chips, kaki no tane, almond fish, Soy Joy, and protein bars. Most of these snacks come in a variety of flavors. You can even get seaweed flavored potato chips, which are actually really good.
On Amazon Japan, the number one snack is this bar made by Glico.
If you are looking for a healthier option, I list those in my free guide to healthy Japanese snacks. You can find a healthy alternative to what you would normally snack on plus a bit of cultural adventure.
5) What is the most popular healthy snack in Japan?
Japan could very easily be the land of the healthiest snacks in the world.
While Japanese rice crackers are popular, most of them don't contain much nutritional value. They're made from rice flour, which is mostly empty carbs.
6) Are Japanese snacks healthier than American snacks?
As a whole, yes, Japanese snacks are much healthier. Saying this, there's still plenty of junk food available in Japan. And a lot of the junk food is American-influenced.
This is a big, general comparison though. If you make your own smoothies with organic vegetables, then I would not say this is unhealthy compared to Japanese snacks.
In North America, store-bought snacks tend to be made from corn, wheat, and potato. In Japan, snacks tend to be made from rice (gluten-free), seafood, and seaweed.
In Japan, you would also notice the small portion of food, especially compared to the U.S. There are also many healthy options available at a typical convenience store in Japan compared to the U.S.
7) What are the best Japanese snacks?
You can find all my favorite healthy Japanese snacks with translations and pictures in my free guide to healthy Japanese snacks.
My favorite (not so healthy) snacks include taiyaki, takoyaki, dorayaki, Jagariko, seaweed-flavored potato chips, matcha-flavored anything, manju filled with red bean paste or sweet potato, and Kinoko no Yama mushroom-shaped chocolates that taste like s'mores. My sister's favorite are called "Carmelizers". They're chocolate-covered almonds with carmel inside.
8) What healthy snacks can you buy from Japanese convenience stores?
If you are looking for a healthy snack option on the run, a convenience store may be your only choice. You can still find some healthy-ish snacks at convenience stores in Japan.
You can check out my list of healthy snacks from konbini (convenience stores) in Japan. Some examples are almond fish, plum-flavored kelp, and konyaku chips.
For the full list, get my free book.
9) What are the best Japanese snacks for kids?
If you're looking for an after-school snack for your kids, seaweed might be the perfect snack. I'm serious, many of my students, including non-Japanese, love it! Korean and Japanese seaweed snacks are becoming widely available worldwide. For more info, you can checkout my guide to nori seaweed. Here is my favorite homemade seaweed snack that kids will love. It's made with almond slices and sesame seeds.
Another great option is an onigiri rice ball, if your child needs something more substantial to hold them off until dinner. Onigiri have at least some nutritional value on top of being filling. Paired with some edamame, pieces of sweet potato, miso soup, onigiri are the perfect option for a light lunch.
Rice crackers, while they are a great snack that many kids will like, are mostly made of rice flour. There aren't a whole lot of health benefits to eating rice crackers.