Zakkoku Mai

Zakkoku means whole grains, and mai means rice in Japanese. In Japan, people really love to eat white rice, and it is a very important part of our cuisine. But because of the recent discovery of the better nutritional value for whole grains vs. white rice, Japanese people have been trying to eat more whole grain rice. This is similar to what’s happening here in the U.S. as well ; more people try to eat whole wheat bread rather than white bread. Unfortunately switching from white rice to whole grain rice is not easy for most Japanese people especially those who grew up with white rice. I think the main reason is that Japanese cuisine is so simple, people are very sensitive to each ingredient’s flavor and also its texture. When white rice is replaced by brown rice or zakkoku mai, the texture and flavor changes, and that doesn’t go really well with all Japanese food, at least this is how we think. It is very hard to explain, but you can a kind of imagine from sushi as an example. Brown rice sushi is fine, but not really the same as sushi made from white rice.

As the result, a lot of Japanese people specifically men and older generations are having a hard time accepting whole grains. People first tried brown rice, and then sprouted brown rice. The sprouted brown rice is doing much better since the texture is much closer to white rice. The most successful one of all the things they are trying, is mixing zakkoku (mixture of whole grains) into rice, called zakkoku-mai. You can buy a little package of whole grain mixture (zakkoku) at most grocery stores in Japan, and you just add it to white rice before cook. The reason I think this is successful is that the package contains only one or two tablespoonful of whole grains so actually they are not eating much whole grains. But right now this seems the most popular way of eating a healthier choice of rice for those who are interested in being healthy. Of course, plenty of people don’t even think about eating anything other than plain white rice.

Anyway, the main point of this story is about this whole grain mixture, zakkoku. Different companies make different mixtures, but they are all actually really good. By adding interesting whole grains, the white rice gets some interesting added taste. You can buy this package at any Japanese grocery stores in the US, but they are pricy for what it is. So, one day I decided to make on my own. Basically you can add just about any whole grains to your rice, although there are certain grains that will taste better, and certain grains that are better not to use too much of. So I have divided grains into three categories here. This can helps you to decide which grains to use more or less in your own mixtures. The most important thing here is to use whole grains not instant grains or grains cut into smaller pieces. The grains need to have cooking times somewhat close to white rice.

Once you make your own zakkoku, the next step is to decide how much to add to rice. Most Japanese would add 2 tablespoons of zakkoku into 2 cups of white rice. I normally like to make 1/2 cup zakkkoku and 1 1/2 cup of white rice (or sometimes 1/2 cup zakkoku, 1/2 cup brown rice, and 1 cup white rice). If you add too much zakkoku, the mixture no longer tastes like rice. So, just finding the right balance is important. When you add more than 1/4 cup zakkoku, reduce the water a little bit.

How to make zakkoku mixutre

Category 1:
Amaranth, Quinoa, Wild Rice, milletMillet, or any other whole grains that are tiny.

Category 2:
Oat Groats, Kamut Whole Grain, Buckwheat Groats, Wheat Berry, Farro, Barley wholeWhole, BulgarBulgur Wheat Whole or any kind of whole grainother than rice.

Category 3:
Purple Sticky Rice, Brown short Short grain Grain Sticky Rice, Red Rice or any kind of really whole grain rice.

Make a mixture of proportion of 1:2:3 = Category 1: Category 2: Category 3. So for example, If I mix 2 tablespoon of each amaranth and quinoa from category1, and the total amount is 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons.). Then I will try to mix any combination of category 2 to make 1/2 cup. And finally I will make a mixture of category 3 to make 3/4 cup.

This is really just a helpful starting idea. There is no right or wrong. It is just that the stuff options in category 3 tend to make the rice taste better. The whole grains in category 3 are all a type of rice. When I make, I don’t really measure, but I will make sure to put more category 3 and less category 1. I make a lot, and keep it in a large container right next my rice.

How to make zakkoku rice


  • 1/2 cup zakkoku mixture (recipe above)
  • 1 1/2 cup white short grain rice
  • 2 cup water

Cooking the rice

  1. Wash the rice, and strain the rice in a colander for at least 5 minutes. (This process helps to measure an accurate amount water to cook with.)
  2. In a heavy bottomed medium pot (2-3 quarts), put the rice and water, and soak for at least 30 minutes in summer time and 1 hour in winter time.
  3. Heat the pot over medium high heat until it boils. Steam or cooking sounds will help you to judge when it boils, but at this point it is less importantokay if you take the cover off to see if it is boiling or not. Once itboils, cook for 2 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium heat and cook for another 3 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Make sure not to open the cover during the process.
  4. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Take the cover off, and Serve immediately or use at room temperature.If you are cooking with electric cook top, simply boil, reduce to low heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes.
    *If you are using a rice cooker, follow the directions above; lust make sure to soak the rice enough


I am originally from Japan and have been living in the US for about 20 years. Over the past 20 years I have traveled to many different parts of the world, seen different cultures, and tasted all kinds of interesting food. In between I studied anthropology, art and interior design. I currently live outside Boston and I teach cooking in continuing education programs and at home. I also take on freelance interior design projects. I hope you enjoy the blog! Yoko

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