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No one doubts that soybean is one of the most important crops in the world.
However, I believe that its importance in Japanese foods can easily outstrip that of other countries.
Because we’ve produced most of the important seasonings such as (Miso and Soy sauce) from soybeans since ancient times. 
With the help of bacteria (this is fermentation), huge amounts of soybeans turn into seasonings in Japan.
Let’s have a look around the profound world of soybean in Japan. 

1. Soybean (daizu)


Soybeans were introduced into Japan about 2000 years ago and its cultivation began in the early 13th century.
Since then, soybeans have penetrated deep into Japanese food culture.
The word for soybean in Japanese is 大豆 and we pronounce it as “daizu (ダイズ)”.
Incidentally, “daiji (ダイジ)” means “important” in Japanese.

For the stories about soy in Japanese traditional festivals, visit here
Soy in Japanese festivals

Kanji – soybean (daizu)

To learn Kanji (Chinese characters) is always interesting and beneficial to understand what the word means.
Through Kanji, we can virtually grasp not only the meaning of the word, but also the background it was born in.
Therefore I’m going to introduce Kanji as often as possible.
Kanji for daizu is 大豆 which literally means “big bean”. 大 means big and 豆 means beans.

soybeans dai-big-kanji

Firstly, I’d like to explain about Kanji 大.
It has a relatively simple appearance, doesn’t it?
According to the most supported theory, 大 indicates a person with arms and legs outstretched.
In the word大豆, we pronounce 大 as “dai(ダイ)”.

soybeans mame-kanji

Next is 豆.
According to the most supported theory, 豆 indicates a sacred container used to dedicate agricultural products to gods.
In the word大豆, we pronounce 豆 as “zu(ズ)”.

However, we generally pronounce 豆 as “Ma-mé.
In the Japanese Kanji world, each character has multiple pronunciations.
For example, 大 has two pronunciations : 1) dai and 2)ō.
No doubt, this system makes the Japanese extraordinarily difficult.
Anyway, can you notice that rice (Ko-mé) and beans (Ma-mé ) have similar pronunciations?
Not only the pronunciation. They have another common point, that is to say, both of them are indispensable in Japanese daily life.

If you are interested in the Kanji of Red bean (小豆), visit here
Kanji -Red beans

2. Protein source

soybean soy-related-products

Three essential nutrients for human life are carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Regarding protein, Japanese people have taken much from soy products such as Nattō, Miso (fermented soybean paste), Soy sauce (Shōyu), Tofu (soybean curd) / fried tofu.
In the past, we did not give importance to animals.
The custom of eating four-footed animals had not been widely accepted until the late 19th century when Westernization became a big movement in Japanese culture.

Nutrition value 

Soy protein is lower in calories than meat protein.
By taking protein from soy, you get far less fat than by taking it from meat.

In addition, soy contains not only protein but also

– lecithin which is indispensable for cell composition.
– saponin which has an antioxidant effect.
– oligosaccharide which makes food for good bacteria.
– isoflavones  which support the health of  women.

3. Tofu made from Soybean

As for Miso, Soy sauce and Nattō,  I’ve prepared independent pages.
Therefore, here I’d like to introduce Tofu which is also called soybean curd. 


General pronunciation for 豆 is ma-mé, whereas for 大豆, we pronounce 豆 as “zu”.
And now, I proudly introduce another pronunciation for 豆.
That is “to (u)”.
To sum up, there are three pronunciations for 豆: 1) ma-mé, 2) zu, 3) to(u).
As you have wisely guessed, 豆腐 adopts the pronunciation 3) to(u).
Furthermore, we can not forget that Nattō 納豆 also uses this pronunciation.


How to make Tofu

Next I’d like to introduce a simple recipe to make Tofu.
To make Tofu, first we have to prepare soy milk
< Making soy milk>
1)  Soak soybeans in water to soften
2) Grind the above 1) to make puree
3) Put the raw puree in a cotton bag and squeeze it in a pot. The squeezed liquid is soy milk.  

Next, by solidifying the soy milk, we make Tofu.
<Making Tofu>
1)  Pour the soy milk in a pot
2) Place the pot on the heat and mix it lightly from the bottom
3) Add coagulating agent in the pot
4) Cover it and leave it for a while
5) Spread cotton in a wet wooden box and gently put the above 4) in it
6) Place the lid and weight stones to drain the water.

If you are interested in making Tofu by yourself in Japan , visit here
Let’s make Japanese foods

soybean related product Tofu-oboro in summer style

Fried Tofu

Fried Tofu called Atsuage is also very popular in Japan. 
Grilling, stir-frying, stewing with other ingredients. 
We cook them in various ways.  

soy-related-products atsuage