PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: Toyokuniya - Family-Farmed "Phantom" Soybeans
Soy can be found in almost every Japanese meal as well as snacks and drinks. It's versatility has made it indispensable in Japanese cuisine, with a wide range of tastes and textures depending on how it’s prepared. You can find it as tofu, from silky soft to firm, boiled in its pods with a pinch of salt as edamame, or fermented into soy sauce, miso or everyone’s favorite: natto!
Unfortunately, Japanese farmers have been unable to compete with foreign-grown soybeans and now almost 90% are imported. There are very few domestic producers left in Japan, but Toyokuniya is one of the remaining Japanese soy farmers who continue to harvest soybeans using their own hands while producing and seeding offspring to support continued growth in the future.
Toyokuniya, located in Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, cultivates an heirloom variety of Japanese soybeans called “Tsukui soybean” - a once common soybean variety that has become so rare in Japan that it’s been called the “phantom soybean”. These beans are larger than regular soybeans, have a richer flavor, make the color of miso look brighter and have a higher natural sweetness which increases when roasted. Some even compare the sweet nutty flavor to roasted chestnuts!
Using this special soybean, Toyokuniya creates natural, pesticide-free products including soy dressings, soy sauce, miso, steamed soybean snacks, soy coffee and delicious sweet soybean treats including the savory miso cookies with almonds and sesame that we included in our March Nourishing Essentials Care Package. They also offer a wide-range of fermented products unique to their company including dried natto, soybean tempe and delicious natto dipping sauces.
The owner, Masahiro Okamoto, took a varied path before finding his life's work at Toyokuniya. He originally worked in IT companies after graduating with a bachelor's degree in computer science, in addition to having worked in his family's fishing store while he opened up his own clothing store. But his true passion began when he married Kayoko and became involved in Toyokuniya, her family's soybean business.
Masahiro and Kayoko have three children and were always looking for creative and delicious foods to feed them. Many of their unique products stemmed from this endeavor and are now available in stores throughout Japan. They also provide food education and hosted a family miso workshop which showcased how their special soybeans go from seed to harvest. They hope to inspire children who have never been on farms to see the beauty in these beans.
Learn more about Toyokuniya at https://www.toyokuniya.com/