You may have already known that soybeans are used in many Japanese dishes. Soybeans are very nutritious and versatile to cook. Japanese people have benefitted from the very important nutrients to maintain their good health for centuries by eating the beans in many different ways. Japanese people do not eat meat as much as Western people. Instead for generations Japanese people’s main source of protein is beans and fish.
Soy beans in Japanese
Soybeans are called ‘daizu’ in Japanese. Daizu means big bean in Japanese. Daizu is rich in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E and essential minerals to support people’s good health.
They are rich in protein so that they are a perfect substitute for meat.
Soy sauce, Miso soup and tofu are the most famous Japanese soy products.
Soy sauce is the most famous Japanese soy product in the world thanks to Kikkoman, which is one of the Japanese leading soy sauce brands in the market. Today the company has its own factories overseas to meet the soaring worldwide demand for soy sauce. Kikkoman first built their own overseas factories forty years ago to produce and distribute soy sauce abroad, followed by Yamasa, which is another big name soy sauce company in Japan, in 1994.
Thanks to those companies’ promoting efforts soy sauce has become popular all over the world. As the result even if you live on the opposite side of the earth from Japan, you are still quite likely to find soy sauce on the shelf of your local store in your country.
Soy sauce is made with soybeans, water, flour, salt and koji mould (Aspergillus oryzae). These are the main and basic ingredients to make soy sauce. However you see soy sauce with added ingredients – both natural ingredients, like vinegar and alcohol, and artificial ingredients, like preservatives and flavorings etc. If you would like to buy one without artificial chemicals you should choose an organic one which will also be free from GM ingredients and MSG.
You can also buy quite a few different types of soy sauce with different flavors. What make them different is the method of production, the length of fermentation, the ingredients and the region in which it is made. If you are interested, you taste all the different types and find the best for you.
If you are looking for a high quality soy sauce then you should look for one one with fewer ingredients. Ideally the only ingredients should be soybeans, water, flour, salt and koji mould.
Miso is another famous Japanese food. Miso is most famously cooked in a soup with some vegetables and sea vegetables. Miso is made with soybeans, rice, water and koji.
Koji is one of the key ingredients to produce miso. Miso takes six months to a year to be produced because it has to be fermented. Many different types of miso are available. Normal soybean miso, barley miso, red miso and white miso are the major ones.
Tofu is made with soy milk, water and nigari. The secret ingredient of tofu is nigari. Nigari is bittern/ tofu coagulant extracted from sea water. Nigari makes soy milk curdle.
If you would like to try making your own tofu, you can get nigari from a local tofu shop or a supermarket but make sure that you seek nigari especially for tofu making. You also need a tofu making container box and special muslin towel which is included in a tofu making starter kit together with soybeans, nigari coagulant, instructions and recipe.
I myself make tofu from scratch at home sometimes but the taste is distinctively different. The homemade one tastes fresher, more succulent and much more flavorsome compared with tofu bought from a store. Factory made tofu often contains chemicals and often some chemical binder is used instead of natural nigari.
If you live in Japan, you can get a fresh tofu from a local tofu shop or a supermarket. The fresh ones taste better than their vacuum packed counterparts. You can find the fresh tofu in a plastic container soaked in water and displayed on a fridge shelf in supermarkets.
There are many more things made with soybeans.
There are two soy products with young soy beans which are sold in the vegetable section of supermarkets. The first one is moyashi (sometimes called bean sprouts) and the other one is edamame.
Moyashi is germinated soybean sprout. It is often served in stir fry dishes. It is usually seasoned with soy sauce in Japanese food. It is normally only lightly fried to keep the crunchy texture. Moyashi is very easy to grow indoors with only clean water needed. The average price of one pack of moyashi is about 40yen which is very cheap compared to other vegetables. It has not got a strong taste so it is more for enjoying the texture. Moyashi is very popular in Japan, so you can buy them in any supermarket or convenience store.
Edamame is a young soy bean. The color is still green and they come in a green bean pod. They are harvested when they are not fully grown. People eat edamame as a starter or as nibbles along with beer, especially in the summer. You can buy them fresh or frozen. Frozen ones are easy to prepare and you don’t need to worry about when they will go off. Edamame are easy to prepare. You just put under running water for 3 minutes then eat raw. You could boil afterwards if you prefer but the taste is better without boiling.
More soybean products
Another soy product is roasted soy bean powder called kinako in Japanese. People eat kinako as paste with mochi sweet rice. You mix the kinako with sugar first then sprinkle the mixture on mochi sticky rice. Then eat the sweets as a desert or a snack.
Atsuage and ganmodoki are further example of popular soy bean products. Atsuage is deep-fried tofu. It is served as a side dish. Ganmodoki is made with tofu mixed with small cut vegetables. It is often included in a Japanese winter soup called oden as one of the main ingredients.
It would be a really good opportunity for you to taste these unique Japanese soy bean products during your stay in Japan because they are so tasty!