Soybeans in Japan

Soybeans are a versatile food and one of the central ingredients of Japanese cuisine. They constitute the basis of many distinct Japanese flavors, such as soy sauce, miso and tofu, and are processed into countless culinary products. Some of the most important soy products in Japanese cooking include:

Soybeans
Soybeans may be processed and eaten in several different ways. Boiled soybeans still in the pod are called edamame and are a popular snack or appetizer, often as an accompaniment to beer. Soybeans are also roasted or used whole as an ingredient in rice crackers. Roasted soybeans are also eaten during the Setsubun festival to drive out evil spirits and welcome luck into the home.

Natto
Natto are fermented soybeans. Its sticky texture and strong, unique flavor make Natto an acquired taste and give it a reputation for being unpopular among foreigners (and many Japanese people too). Natto is very healthy and a popular breakfast food where it is commonly mixed with a bit of dashi and mustard and eaten with cooked white rice. Natto is also used as a filling in sushi rolls or as a topping for pasta.

Soy Sauce (Shoyu)
Soy sauce is the most important Japanese condiment and is used to flavor all types of Japanese dishes. Made of fermented, roasted soy beans, there are countless varieties and regional soy sauces that vary in flavor and color.
Some of the typical types of soy sauce that you may encounter are regular all-purpose soy sauce, sashimi soy sauce with a lighter flavor and color so as not to overpower the subtle flavors of sashimi, and low sodium soy sauce for the more health conscious.

Miso
Miso is fermented soybean paste used as a soup base and condiment in many Japanese dishes. Like soy sauce, miso comes in a wide variety of colors (from light to dark) and flavors (from salty to sweet) and with various regional differences. Miso is used in many popular dishes such as miso soup and miso ramen.

Tofu (more info)
Tofu is soybean curd pressed into blocks in a process much like making cheese. It is a staple ingredient of Japanese cuisine and the basis of a large variety of dishes. Tofu is used fresh or boiled or fried in soups and stews such as miso soup or hot pot dishes.

Soy Milk (Tonyu)
Soy milk is a white, milky liquid made of ground soybeans and water. Similar to cow's milk, it can be drunk plain or flavored and may be used as an ingredient in other dishes. Soy milk is used to made tofu.

Yuba
Yuba (or tofu skin) is the skin that forms when boiling soy milk. It is often served fresh (nama-yuba), but can also be dried into sheets and used in other types of dishes.

Okara
Okara is a pulpy byproduct that is filtered out of soy milk. On its own it is relatively flavorless, but it is often cooked with carrots, burdock root, shiitake mushrooms and other vegetables to make a side dish called unohana (as shown in the picture to the left).

Soybean Flour (Kinako)
Soybean flour is a light brown powder made of ground up roasted soybeans. It is used in various ways in Japanese cooking, especially as a coating for Japanese sweets.

Bean Sprouts (Moyashi)
Bean sprouts are a common ingredient in Japanese cooking where they are usually served cooked, stir fried or as a topping for ramen. Bean sprouts are made from a variety of beans. While those made of mung beans are most commonly used today, bean sprouts made of soybeans are also popular.

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Page last updated: January 22, 2016