Kuromame (black soy beans)

Growing up in a mixed ethnicity household in California, we tended to observe more western holidays than ones from the homeland, but o-shougatsu (Japanese New Year’s) was one notable exception. Perhaps it was because my mother and I were both motivated by food, or maybe it was the opportunity to bond over something that neither my sister or step-father could quite appreciate.

After all the wrapping paper had been recycled and the tinsel and lights of Christmas were taken down, New Year’s Day gave me something to look forward to. In the days leading up to the new year, the kitchen would be filled with sights and smells I only got to experience once a year, and nothing brings back memories of those final days of the year like the sweet sugary smell of kuromame simmering on the stove.

Kuromame (黒豆) which literally translates to “black bean”, is a type of soy bean and is not related to the black beans we get here in the US. They are two to three times the size of normal soy beans, round when dried, and have a deep ebony hue. The best ones are purportedly cultivated in the Tanba region of Japan, but with a 200 gram bag costing nearly $20, it’s hard to justify the expense when there are beans of similar quality coming from Hokkaido at a fraction of the price.

Kuromame is traditionally eaten as part of Osechi Ryori and represents a wish for good health and hard work. Symbolic meanings aside, these beans are actually extremely rich in anti-oxidants and iron. The former is naturally occurring, while the later is a result of the cooking process.

Despite being more sweet than savoury, kuromame is usually eaten with rice. It makes a nice counterpoint to some of the more salty dishes served in a New Year spread, but personally I like eating it as a snack, glistening with its own glossy juices. Unlike regular soy beans, they don’t have a strong “tofu” taste and the sugar and soy sauce imparts an earthy brown flavor that’s mildly reminiscent of sweet Medajool dates and caramelized soy sauce. The beans have a firm, almost chewy texture and the midnight sheen has to be seen to be believed.

The colour is entirely natural, but cooking it with iron punctuates the darkness, while boosting its nutritional content. Traditional recipes call for adding some rusty iron nails wrapped in gauze, but lacking a supply of antique nails, and being a little reticent to add construction supplies into my food, I worked around this by cooking it in a cast iron skillet. I can’t give you a scientific explanation for the color, but it has something to do with the reaction of the iron with the tannins in the beans. I worried a little that this might impart a metallic taste, but thankfully it didn’t, and it makes a big difference in colour.

If you do use a case iron skillet, be sure you scrub the seasoning (a.k.a. grease) off the skillet with soap and water to avoid affecting the flavour of the beans. Make sure you re-season the pan after you’re done, to keep it from rusting. These beans turned out a little wrinkly because I made the mistake of pre-soaking them, but if you follow the adjusted recipe below, you should end up with a bowl full of beautifully portly, lacquered, black beans.

This post is part of an ongoing series of dishes traditionally prepared for a Japanese New Years Osechi spread. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Kuromame

200 g black soy beans
1.5 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 C brown sugar
2/3 C sugar
6 C water

Rinse the beans under cold water, then add all the ingredients to a clean cast iron pot. Bring to a boil, then transfer to a bowl, cover and let it sit overnight.

Put the beans back in the cast iron pot. Cover with a round piece of parchment paper to ensure the beans are submerged, then simmer for 4-5 hours or until the beans are tender. If the amount of liquid starts looking low, you may need to add some water.

Strain the beans out and boil the syrup until thick, glossy and very black. Pour the liquid over the beans and refrigerate overnight.

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com/ Peter G

    Marc, I nearly mistook them for blueberries. I love how you’ve prepared them and I especially love the gloss!

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    Marc, I nearly mistook them for blueberries. I love how you’ve prepared them and I especially love the gloss!

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Those glistening beans look gorgeous. My mom makes something similar that I love, but without the soy and with the addition of some star anise. The result is a chewy, salt-dusted batch of beans but your glossy ones look equally delicious!

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com Melody Fury

    Those glistening beans look gorgeous. My mom makes something similar that I love, but without the soy and with the addition of some star anise. The result is a chewy, salt-dusted batch of beans but your glossy ones look equally delicious!

  • http://trissalicious.com/ Trissa

    I’m with Peter – the second picture – looks like blueberries. Sounds like a great side dish to have – I would love to try it with rice as you suggest!

  • http://trissalicious.com Trissa

    I’m with Peter – the second picture – looks like blueberries. Sounds like a great side dish to have – I would love to try it with rice as you suggest!

  • http://thelittleteochew.blogspot.com/ The Little Teochew

    Wow, they are black and beautiful! I am trying to imagine the taste. First time I am seeing these, and I wonder if they are similar to the black beans I am used to eating (in my black bean soup, for example).

  • http://thelittleteochew.blogspot.com The Little Teochew

    Wow, they are black and beautiful! I am trying to imagine the taste. First time I am seeing these, and I wonder if they are similar to the black beans I am used to eating (in my black bean soup, for example).

  • http://blog.lemonpi.net/ Y

    The colour is just mesmerising. How do you eat it as a snack? Just as is, in a bowl with a small spoon?

    • http://norecipes.com/ Marc @ NoRecipes

      Yep, kind of like eating sweet read bean, but with more texture and just a hint of savouriness.

  • http://blog.lemonpi.net Y

    The colour is just mesmerising. How do you eat it as a snack? Just as is, in a bowl with a small spoon?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc @ NoRecipes

      Yep, kind of like eating sweet read bean, but with more texture and just a hint of savouriness.

  • http://www.pigpigscorner.com/ pigpigscorner

    I usually buy preserved ones. Great for fried rice and stews! Those are way to salty for a snack.

  • http://www.pigpigscorner.com pigpigscorner

    I usually buy preserved ones. Great for fried rice and stews! Those are way to salty for a snack.

  • http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com/ maybelles mom

    NEw years day festivities are my favorite time in Japan. But, I didn’t realize you were not wholy Japanese American; I think the food is best in a mixed ethnicity household. No rules; plenty of flavor.

  • http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com maybelles mom

    NEw years day festivities are my favorite time in Japan. But, I didn’t realize you were not wholy Japanese American; I think the food is best in a mixed ethnicity household. No rules; plenty of flavor.

  • http://foodalogue.com/ Joan Nova

    we learn something new every day…that was very interesting.

  • http://foodalogue.com Joan Nova

    we learn something new every day…that was very interesting.

  • http://www.humblebeanblog.com/ Azusa

    I love New Year’s in Japan and the kuromame you made here looks simply gorgeous! I had no idea rusty nails were traditionally used—but I love, love, love these beans.

  • http://www.humblebeanblog.com/ Azusa

    I love New Year’s in Japan and the kuromame you made here looks simply gorgeous! I had no idea rusty nails were traditionally used—but I love, love, love these beans.

  • http://zencancook.com/ zenchef

    Wow.. that first picture looks stunning, Marc! There’s only you to make little black things on a white dish look incredible. Are those similar to the kind of (preserved) black soy beans used in Chinese cooking?

    • http://norecipes.com/ Marc @ NoRecipes

      They’re similar in that they’re both soy beans, but that’s about all they have in common. These aren’t salted or fermented and they are probably 4-5 times the size.

  • http://zencancook.com zenchef

    Wow.. that first picture looks stunning, Marc! There’s only you to make little black things on a white dish look incredible. Are those similar to the kind of (preserved) black soy beans used in Chinese cooking?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc @ NoRecipes

      They’re similar in that they’re both soy beans, but that’s about all they have in common. These aren’t salted or fermented and they are probably 4-5 times the size.

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com/ we are never full

    rusty nails, huh? lol… sounds delish! i think i’d prob. keep those out too. where can you buy these soy beans? is there a mail-order place you’d recommend? just curious!

    and happy new year! you’ve reminded me that i still need to take down all my christmas stuff.

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com we are never full

    rusty nails, huh? lol… sounds delish! i think i’d prob. keep those out too. where can you buy these soy beans? is there a mail-order place you’d recommend? just curious!

    and happy new year! you’ve reminded me that i still need to take down all my christmas stuff.

  • http://www.tamakikat.blogspot.com/ Katey B

    Hi there.

    I’ve come your way via the ‘Kyoto Foodie’ blog.

    Like the look of your ‘kuromame’ (-personally I like them wrinkled.)

    I usually buy mine at a store near Shimogamo Shrine here in Kyoto but I’d like to try making them some time.

    I had a look at your kitchen tools and like what you have. I’m sure cooking is a lot of fun with those implements.

    If I was to live overseas again I’d definitely look into getting some of the same.

    Will continue reading.

    TK/KB

  • http://www.tamakikat.blogspot.com Katey B

    Hi there.

    I’ve come your way via the ‘Kyoto Foodie’ blog.

    Like the look of your ‘kuromame’ (-personally I like them wrinkled.)

    I usually buy mine at a store near Shimogamo Shrine here in Kyoto but I’d like to try making them some time.

    I had a look at your kitchen tools and like what you have. I’m sure cooking is a lot of fun with those implements.

    If I was to live overseas again I’d definitely look into getting some of the same.

    Will continue reading.

    TK/KB

  • http://devourtheworld.blogspot.com/ jenjenk

    i know i said this before, but seriously, marc – you are some kind of genius! it never would’ve dawned on me to put it in a cast iron pot!

    This kuromame looks fantastically derishous. I wish I could’ve tried your $20 a pound beans, though! Nice & shiny!! well done!

  • http://devourtheworld.blogspot.com jenjenk

    i know i said this before, but seriously, marc – you are some kind of genius! it never would’ve dawned on me to put it in a cast iron pot!

    This kuromame looks fantastically derishous. I wish I could’ve tried your $20 a pound beans, though! Nice & shiny!! well done!

  • http://www.offthemeathook.com/ offthemeathook

    Rusty nails wrapped in gauze! I love hearing that’s an “ingredient” in the recipe. And people nowadays think they’re so adventurous with their molecular gastronomy. Rusty nails tops it all. :)

    Lovely photo as well.

  • http://www.offthemeathook.com offthemeathook

    Rusty nails wrapped in gauze! I love hearing that’s an “ingredient” in the recipe. And people nowadays think they’re so adventurous with their molecular gastronomy. Rusty nails tops it all. :)

    Lovely photo as well.

  • http://cookappeal.blogspot.com/ Chef E

    My New Years resolution is too make more trips to the Asian market and try more recipes like you make! This intrigues me…

  • http://cookappeal.blogspot.com/ Chef E

    My New Years resolution is too make more trips to the Asian market and try more recipes like you make! This intrigues me…

  • http://kitchen-em.blogspot.com/ Kitchen M

    I actually like the wrinkly ones. They are firmer and it reminds me of the one that my mom used to make. It turned out so beautifully without the rusty nails! I want some! ;)

  • http://kitchen-em.blogspot.com Kitchen M

    I actually like the wrinkly ones. They are firmer and it reminds me of the one that my mom used to make. It turned out so beautifully without the rusty nails! I want some! ;)

  • http://www.lafujimama.com/ Fuji Mama

    The rusty nail bit is new to me! I love kuromame and can’t wait to try my hand at making my own next year!

  • http://www.lafujimama.com Fuji Mama

    The rusty nail bit is new to me! I love kuromame and can’t wait to try my hand at making my own next year!

  • http://www.ambitiousdeliciousness.com/ Esther

    I believe Koreans prepare this as well; it’s called Kong Jang.

    Growing up, I did not like this at all! But my mom used to make me eat it :-). I’m sure I will like it now though!

  • http://www.ambitiousdeliciousness.com Esther

    I believe Koreans prepare this as well; it’s called Kong Jang.

    Growing up, I did not like this at all! But my mom used to make me eat it :-). I’m sure I will like it now though!

  • http://www.sugarbar.org/ diva

    i am addicted to kuromame! especially if can get them roasted in a packet; sometimes if i’m lucky I find them miso-seasoned which is just heaven and i’ll finish it all in a sitting in front of the telly. thanks for the recipe – now i just need to find kuromame beans. x

  • http://www.sugarbar.org diva

    i am addicted to kuromame! especially if can get them roasted in a packet; sometimes if i’m lucky I find them miso-seasoned which is just heaven and i’ll finish it all in a sitting in front of the telly. thanks for the recipe – now i just need to find kuromame beans. x

  • http://www.phamfatale.com/ Jackie at PhamFatale.com

    At first glance, I thought there were frozen blueberries. I’ve already tried this before, it’s very thick; I never knew how to make it. Wow it really takes a long time to simmer!

  • http://www.phamfatale.com/ Jackie at PhamFatale.com

    At first glance, I thought there were frozen blueberries. I’ve already tried this before, it’s very thick; I never knew how to make it. Wow it really takes a long time to simmer!

  • http://pixieate.blogspot.com/ pixen

    It’s one of my favourite beans and back home, there are soya bean milk sellers by the road side that also sell Black soy bean milk. For those who are not used to it, the milk looks greyish :-D It’s considered better in health property than the common yellow soy beans.

  • http://pixieate.blogspot.com pixen

    It’s one of my favourite beans and back home, there are soya bean milk sellers by the road side that also sell Black soy bean milk. For those who are not used to it, the milk looks greyish :-D It’s considered better in health property than the common yellow soy beans.

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  • Tetsuji

    My grandmother who was born in Mihara, Hiroshima-ken, made kuromame with kuri (chestnut).  Otherwise, nearly identical.  In fact, my wife, an Edokko (3 generations+ born in Tokyo-to) is making kuromame right now.  The only thing about Kanto (eastern Honshu) cuisine that causes me to wince is the strange way they make ozoni (mochi soup) for Shogatsu. 

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I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!