Updated: August 28, 2016
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8 Ways To Use Soybeans - The Spice Of Life In Japan

Soybeans have been manipulated by Japanese to perfect their cuisine for a long time. Soy sauce, miso, tofu, and etc...

In Japan, Soybeans Are The Spice Of Life!

The use of soybeans in Japanese cooking is a lot more varied than most people realize – in fact, in traditional cooking, it is hard to find anything that doesn't use soybeans in some way!

Historically, soybeans have been used in Japan as a plentiful source of meatless protein, so they have been eaten for centuries by the poor as a cheap and plentiful meat substitute.
Because Buddhism encourages vegetarianism, the use of soybeans as an alternative to meat, and the proliferation of its many traditional forms has also become a part of the cultural and religious practices in Japan.

The earliest Japanese reference soybeans can be found in the classic Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) which dates to around 700 AC, so Japanese people have had a long time to make thousands of dishes using soybeans. Here are just some of the ways you can find them in Japanese cooking.

#1 醤油 / Soy Sauce

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Soy sauce, shoyu in Japanese, has been famous for many years even in the West, but visitors to Japan are often surprised and confused about all the different kinds of soy sauce there are.

It is made by fermenting boiled, salted soybeans.
Koikuchi is the dark brown soy sauce that most people know.
Usukuchi is a light coloured soy sauce, but it is much saltier than kiokuchi.
Tamari is a more crude kind of soy sauce that is either made with different ingredients added, or is the leftover from the manufacture of koikuchi and usukuchi.

#2 豆乳 / Soy milk

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Soy milk, tonyu in Japanese, has become familiar to people all over the world, especially as many people, either because of food intolerance, personal beliefs, or a desire to eliminate unnecessary fat in their diets, have looked for convenient non-dairy substitutes for ordinary cow's milk.

Soy milk is made by soaking and then grinding raw soybeans in water.
The resulting mixture is then pressed through a cloth to obtain raw soy milk.
The milk can then be cooked, flavored, and then enjoyed in a variety of ways.

It is easy to make at home, but in Japan it is so easy to find many different flavors of soy milk or soy yogurt drinks to enjoy, not many people bother to make it from scratch.

#3 豆腐 / Tofu

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When soy milk is curdled (using a coagulating agent) and pressed, it becomes tofu.

In the way that it is processed, it is literally a kind of soy milk cheese, and it can also easily be made at home. Although the variety of tofu you can find in Japanese markets is so extensive, it is always worth buying different kinds to try out.

In general, however, tofu can be found in regular (called momen) forms, either soft, medium, firm or extra-firm (depending on how mush water has been pressed out of it, "silk" tofu (kinu) has a wetter and finer texture, and is not pressed, and grilled tofu (yakidofu) is regular tofu that has been grilled after pressing to give it a much harder surface.

#4 湯葉 / Yuba

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Probably everybody knows that if you let milk sit (especially after boiling), it forms a skin on the top.
Well, soy milk is no exception, and yuba is sometimes called “tofu skin” because it is made from the dried film of soy milk.

It is sold fresh or dried, but the fresh variety tends to spoil easily.
Dried yuba can be deep-fried just as it is, but it needs to be soaked before it is used in other dishes.

Often, it is deep-fried first, and then simmered and cut into strips for use in soups or mixed vegetable dishes.
“Vegetarian duck” and “vegetarian chicken” are made from folded yuba.

#5 味噌 / Miso

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Miso is another soybean preparation that has become well known in the West recently, because of the popularity of the soup stocks that are made with it.
It is made from soybean paste, either on its own or with other ingredients (barley is common), using a special kind of mold starter.

Miso comes in three main categories: sweet, medium salty, and salty.
Sweet miso, also called white miso or shiro miso, tends to be the lightest in color, and does not keep as well as the more salty kinds. Medium-salty miso is also called yellow miso, or shinsu miso, it is fermented for a longer time, and is probably the most useful. It tends to be yellow or light brown, and goes into a variety of light soups and sauces.

Salty miso is sometimes known as Red miso or aka miso.
It is fermented the longest, and has the most salty and pungent flavor of all the misos.
It is used in rich soups and hearty stewed dishes, and can overpower a dish if it's not used sparingly, although some people can enjoy it spread on rice crackers!

#6 おから / Okara

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Okara is the dried matter that is left after soy milk has been made.
Because it is prone to spoiling, not much of it is used in everyday cooking, although the famous Japanese dish called unohana is made from it.

Most of the okara produced in the world today is used to feed cows and pigs, or to fertilize land (it has a very high nitrogen content, which makes the leaves of plants grow more quickly).
Outside of Japan, you are unlikely to encounter okara.

#7 枝豆 / Edamame

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Edamame are fresh, immature green soybeans, usually served in the pods while they are still tender and very green-tasting.
Their name in Japanese means "stem beans", because they are usually sold with their stems.
In Japan, edamame usually means a dish of green soybeans on its own, but they can also be used in stir-fried dishes.

#8 納豆 / Natto

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People either love natto or hate it – the only way you will know is if you try it!
It has a very strong smell that scares many people away, however, so be prepared for it!

Natto is made from soybeans that have been fermented with a special bacteria, and is generally eaten with rice, since it is so pungent.
It is especially popular in Eastern Japan – a lot of people even eat it for breakfast!

And more...

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Soybean flour is made just like any other flour, except from soybeans!
It has found a wide use even outside of Japan because the addition of soy flour to traditional baked goods tends to lower their overall fat content, raise the amount of protein, and keep baked goods moist.

Soy noodles are made from soy flour, and are popular either boiled or crispy-fried.
In Japan, roasted soybean flour (kinako 黄粉) is used as a coating for various sweets, including dango (団子), warabimochi (蕨餅), and wagashi (和菓子).

Now that you know more about Japanese soybean foods, you can start cooking a thousand dishes!
Japanese food!!!!

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