Kinako Chronicles: A Tale of Soybeans and Sweets

  • 3 min read

Kinako Chronicles: A Tale of Soybeans and Sweets

Of the many ingredients used in wagashi, Japanese sweets, one of the most indispensable is kinako. Whether used as a topping, binder, or toasty addition to ice creams and drinks, kinako’s place in Japanese cuisine proves its versatility in the kitchen.

Kinako Chronicles: A Tale of Soybeans and Sweets

Made from dried, milled, and toasted soybean flour, kinako has a golden color. In its raw form, it has a toasted, nutty flavor and aroma often compared to peanuts. It is often added to both sweet and savory dishes including dressings and the flour of cakes and donuts. A sweetened version is used as a powdery topping for various Japanese confections—particularly mochi—such as daifuku, warabi mochi, dango, and ohagi.

Kinako Chronicles: A Tale of Soybeans and Sweets

With a history dating back to the 8th century during the Nara period, soybean flour has been used as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine for centuries. That being said, it only became more widespread during the 17th and 18th centuries in Edo Japan as production methods developed and wagashi began to grow in popularity. In fact, the tradition of topping mochi with kinako is thought to have been started by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu sometime in the late 16th or early 17th century.

Kinako Chronicles: A Tale of Soybeans and Sweets

Those traditions stand strong to this day! Most often, when shopping at small stalls and shops specializing in wagashi, you’ll find a healthy layer of kinako powdered atop your treats. In recent times, however, people have begun experimenting with new ways to use kinako in the kitchen. When looking for recipes, you’ll find kinako even added to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal for a boost of protein and fiber! There are also other forms of kinako, including a version made from black beans—which is said to have more protein and nutritional value.

Despite the popularity of kinako, domestic production of kinako in Japan mainly utilizes soybeans sourced from outside Japan. This has put a strain on domestic producers, as nearly 90% of all soybeans used in Japan are imported. As such, heirloom varieties of soybeans have become rare in Japan, one of which—tsukui soybeans—has gained the nickname “phantom soybeans.” There are still soybean producers in Japan working hard to keep the tradition and industry alive, working alongside craftspeople and other producers to create local kinako and other products.

So, when shopping for kinako, try to find domestic producers in Japan to help keep their traditions alive! And experiment with new ways to add a toasty, nutty flavor to your recipes. A world of cookies, cakes, breads, dressings, and toppings awaits!


About the Author:

Kevin KilcoyneKevin Kilcoyne
The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!

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