Chinese character for beans is “豆”. This character has its origin in the form of a sacred container used to dedicate agricultural products to gods.?It’s pronounced as “Ma-mé”. Did you notice that rice (Ko-mé) and beans (Ma-mé ) have similar pronunciation?
Chinese character for soybean is 大豆, which literally means “great bean”. The character 大 has its origin in the form of a person spreading his arms and legs.
大豆 is pronounced as “daizu” (“daiji” means “important” in Japanese). 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 the Japanese food culture. Three essential nutrients for human life are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Regarding protein, the Japanese have taken much from soy products such as Tofu (pate de soja) / fried tofu, Nattô, Miso (fermented soybean paste).
They did not give importance to animals. The custom of eating animals with four limbs had not been widely accepted until the late 19th century when Westernization became a big movement in Japanese culture.
We can easily find soybeans in traditional festivals.
– Osechi (kuro-mamé).
Osechi is a representative Japanese cuisine which is eaten at the New Year. In this dish, you can find black soybeans cooked with soy sauce, sugar etc. called “kuro-mamé (black beans)”. The word “mamé” also means “health” and “assiduity” in Japanese. So we eat kuro-mamé, hoping that we can stay healthy and work assiduously throughout the year.
On 3 February, the day called “Setsu-bun”, soybeans are thrown from inside to outside of the house to chase sickness and unhappiness. This day is also considered as the first day of spring. After this ceremony, we eat the same number of soybeans as our age, believing that soybean has special power to keep us healthy and happy.
– Soybeans dedicated to the moon
On September 13, soybeans which are not yet ripen called “eda-mame” are offered to the moon. “Eda” means the branch. “Eda-mame” is often sold with branches to keep its freshness. It is popular in Japan because it goes quite well with beer. Vitamin B1 and methionine contained in soybeans help to break down alcohol. Potato and chestnut are also offered to the moon to thank for a good harvest.
Red bean 小豆 (azuki)
Chinese character for red bean is 小豆, which literally means “small bean”. The character 小 has its origin in the form of three small grains. As the character shows, its grain is smaller than that of soybeans. It is pronounced as “azuki”.
Red is a symbol of the the Sun, life and something vigorous. Since antiquity, it is believed that red has the mythical power to drive away misfortune. In the 17th century, we began to eat rice cooked with red bean called “seki-han” (literally “red rice”) in the celebration and this custom still exists even today.
Although red bean is small, it is enormously nutritious. It contains not only protein but also vitamin B1 and B2, potassium, dietary fiber, mineral. We cannot forget anthocyanin (a kind of polyphenol) which is the origin of the red color.
Red bean reminds us immediately of “An”, sweet red paste widely used in Japanese sweets. This “An” paste is an ideal food to activate the brain which consumes only glucose as energy. To decompose sugar to glucose, vitamin B1 is inevitable and it is abundantly contained in red bean. The “An” offers these two at the same time and it can make us vigorous in a few moments.