Japanese Herb Series 1: Soybeans - Japan’s Soul Food


Soybeans are the Essence of Japanese Cuisine

Washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, consistently attracts attention from around the world because people value its varied ingredients and methods of bringing the best out of them. 

So much so that the traditional Japanese cuisine was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013. Its appeal stems from its healthiness, excellent nutritional balance, natural beauty, and seasonal variety. 

In Japanese cuisine, soybeans are considered an essential ingredient.

Popular Soybean Products

Among soybean products, edamame and tofu are also two of the most popular ones in the United States.

Edamame refers to soybeans that have been harvested immaturely, and eaten after they are boiled while they’re still in their pods. They also pair perfectly with beer.

Tofu, on the other hand, is made by soaking soybeans in water overnight and grinding them until they become smooth. Then, water is added on, and everything is heated while being stirred. Soymilk then comes out when squeezing it using a cloth. 

When a coagulant called bittern is added to soy milk, it hardens and turns into tofu.

Various Other Soybean Products

Natto is another soybean product that has garnered attention for being a healthy food option and has also captivated food-loving and health-conscious New Yorkers. 

Natto is made by steaming soybeans, adding natto bacteria, and fermenting it in a warm place. Although many Japanese people do not like it because of its distinct flavor and sticky, stringy texture, its scientifically proven health benefits make it intriguing for some.

Kinako, which is frequently used in Japanese sweets, is used to coat dango – a Japanese dumpling and sweet, and sprinkled on anmitsu – a Japanese jelly dessert that dates to the Meiji area. It is produced by grinding roasted soybeans into a powder.

In addition, irimame, which involves eating roasted soybeans as is, and nimame, or sweet simmered soybeans, have connections with traditional Japanese events.

Yuba (tofu skin), okara (tofu dregs), and moyashi (soybean sprouts) are also popular soybean products.

Soybeans as an Ingredient for Condiments

The well-known Japanese seasonings miso and soy sauce are also made from soybeans. We Japanese usually forget that they are made of soybeans, but we consume them on a daily basis.

Soybeans as a Superfood

Soybeans have high nutritional value as they contain many vitamins and amino acids. They have high protein and fat levels compared to other beans and are labeled as the “meat from the field.”

Since they contain lysine, an essential amino acid lacking in grains, all of the essential amino acids can be ingested by combining rice and soybean products. 

In addition, isoflavones, which are constituents found in soybeans, are known to be similar in function to female hormones. They are said to fight menopause and osteoporosis and even prevent cancer.

Soybeans can be enjoyed in various forms. By all means, include them in your diet and let it do its wonders!


“Shapeshifting Soybeans (printed in the Japanese textbook for the 3rd grade)” Makie Kokubun, Mitsumura Tosho

“Bean Encyclopedia” Japan Bean Association

“Pictorial Book of Medicinal Plants” Kazuo Masuda, Kashiwa Shobo


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