These rice balls are meant to be cooked easily and to last for a long time…but do they sacrifice flavor for function?

Rice balls, also known as “onigiri”, come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Seriously, you can have a one-kilogram (2.2-pound) literal ball of rice stuffed with edamame soybeans, a palm-size disc-shaped rice ball with a dumpling on top, or even what looks like a rice sandwich. If you’ve got rice stuffed with something and molded into some kind of shape, then, well, what you’ve got is a rice ball.

Rice balls make a great snack, but they take a bit of work to make, and they don’t last long once made. But food production company Onisi released a solution to that problem last year: “instant onigiri”! They’re portable rice balls that have a five-year shelf-life (before opening the package), and can be made by just adding water!

Thinking they might be good in a pinch, but wondering if they’re actually tasty, we bought two flavors to try out. We started with the seaweed flavor. The ingredients say that it’s composed of cooked dry rice, which is also known as “quick-cooking” rice. It also contains dry ingredients for flavoring.

The package has a handy zip opening so it can be opened and closed throughout preparation. When we opened it up to look inside…

,,,the rice and seaweed turned out to be dry and crispy! This conclusion was further solidified by the fact that when you close up the bag and shake it, it makes a rattling noise like dry rice.

Now we were curious about how flaky rice pieces could become a rice ball with just water. Without further ado, we took out the freshness package, pulled off the sticker on the front so we could see inside the bag…

…poured water in up to the line….

…sealed it, and shook it up!

After confirming that the water and rice were thoroughly mixed…

…we let it sit. When using room-temperature water, it takes 60 minutes for one of these rice balls to be ready, so we went to watch some dog videos while we waited.

One hour later, filled with the excitement of a new food and hungry for rice balls, we came to check on it. Was it ready?

It was! It had somehow become onigiri-shaped!

Mouths watering, we followed the directions to open the bag and make a nice holder out of the package. Cut off the top first, and then the sides, and…

…voila! A seaweed rice ball!

It looked like an ordinary, fresh rice ball. The rice was soft and fluffy, and the seaweed moist. It looked like we’d bought one from a convenience store!

But how did it taste?

So good! …is not really what we’d say about the flavor of this instant rice ball, but it’s not bad. The rice tastes decent, and the seaweed has a good texture. It’s without a doubt a seaweed rice ball, though its flavor is not on par with a convenience store rice ball.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is holding this rice ball back. Maybe it’s because its flavor is a little brothy, or maybe the MSG taste is too strong. Regardless, to be able to make a rice ball with just water is pretty nice.

Next we tried a salmon-flavored one. This time, we tried cooking it with hot water instead of room temperature water, which only takes 15 minutes.

As before, we opened up the top, poured the water in….

Sealed it and shook it, waited 15 minutes…

…and voila! It was done!

It was steaming hot and looked delicious! It might have been our imagination, but it looked a lot fluffier than the seaweed one. We took a bite….

…and the salmon rice ball is a lot tastier than the seaweed one! It’s still got a strong MSG flavor, but it feels like a solid rice ball. At the very least, it’s a lot better than those ice-cold rice balls they give you on international flights.

In any case, the flavors are decent, and being easy to make is a definite plus. They’d be great to take as a mid-adventure snack on a hike or a long trip. Plus, since they are meant to last for up to five years, they’d also be great to put into an emergency preparedness kit. It’s always best to be prepared!

Officially called Nigirazu Onigiri, you can buy these instant rice balls through Onisi’s web shop in packs of 10 or 30. They’re priced at 2,376 yen or 7,128 yen (US$21 or $63) depending on the pack. A trial set of three is also available for 712 yen, if you’re not ready for complete commitment right away.

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