Soya Beans

There are three different soya beans which are used in Japanese cuisine distinguished by their respective colours; white, green and black.

The white beans, called “miso mame” meaning “miso beans”, can be eaten boiled, but they are also the main ingredient of miso, shoyu (soya sauce), tofu (bean curd), natto (fermented soya beans), yuba (tofu skin) and kinako (soya bean flour).

The green beans are eaten in their unripened form as edamame, mashed and added to soup, or boiled and sweetened (uguisu mame).

The black beans are eaten boiled as kuromame and are served as part of the New Year cuisine, osechi ryori.

Did you know?

Soya beans have a very high nutritional value consisting of protein (35%), carbohydrate (24%) and fat (19%). They also contain linoleic acid, one of the essential fatty acids, vitamin B1 (Thiamin) and vitamin B2 (Riboflavin).

The Japanese have been farming soya beans for the past 4-5,000 years and it is one of the five important grains in the Japanese diet; the others being kome (rice), mugi (wheat), awa (foxtail millet) and hie (barnyard millet).

Soya Bean Products in Japanese Cuisine



Tofu is soya bean curd which was introduced to Japan from China 2,000 years ago. It is formed by extracting the soya milk by boiling white soya beans and straining them. There are two main types of tofu which result from this, momen, which is strained through cotton, and kinu, which is strained through a finer material. The momen being firmer tofu as there is more sediment from the beans remaining than in the kinu. The soya milk is then set by the use of a coagulant such as calcium sulphate, in the same way that cheese is made from milk. It is then stored in water to maintain its freshness and shape.


Yaki-dofu is grilled tofu on a skewer. As tofu does not keep for long (around three days) this is a way to preserve it for up to a week.


Abura-age is thinly sliced tofu cooked in oil and will last for about a week. This is used to make inari-zushi, forming the pockets for the sushi rice.


Nama-age is thickly sliced tofu fried in oil. This is served grilled, topped with miso, or in oden, a Japanese stew.


Yuba is the skin resulting from boiling the beans in the tofu making process.



Soya beans are boiled and then fermented with natto-kin, a bacteria, to produce natto. The fermentation needs to take place between 37° and 39° Centigrade. A rich source of protein, natto and the soybean paste miso are a popular breakfast food in Japan.



Salt and water are mixed into steamed soya beans. Rice kouji, a fungus used as a catalyst for fermentation, is then added to the mixture. The combined ingredients are then left to mature in the dark in much the same way as cheese.



Shoyu (soya sauce), is the most commonly found soya product in Japanese cuisine. It was first introduced to Japan 2,000 years ago. It is formed by boiling soya beans, mashing them up, adding salted water and rice kouji . This mixture is then boiled again and pressed to extract the liquid which is the soya sauce.

Soya Bean Recipe

Nimame (Boiled beans)

  1. Soak the dried beans overnight in water.
  2. Boil the beans with carrot, daikon (Japanese white radish), onion, shiitake mushrooms and konnyaku (solid gel made from the devil’s tongue plant).
  3. Wash some chicken briefly in boiling water to remove some of the grease and add to the other ingredients.
  4. Boil until the beans become soft. Add sugar and soya sauce to taste, and serve.