After our first dinner at Kaiyu, the lovely eco-lodge at Cape Ashizuri on rural Shikokku Island, Japan, our host, Mistuhiro Okada, brewed us a delicious tea. It had a comforting, deep taste reminiscent of dark roast coffee but earthier tasting.
The tea turned out to be made from roasted black soybeans – 焙煎された黒大豆 in kanji (according to the Babylon English-to-Japanese online translation site).
Black soybeans are called kuromame in Japanese – so the tea brewed from the roasted beans is called kuromame cha. It’s caffeine free, provides a number of health benefits – and I highly recommend it to you as a satisfying and pleasant tasting beverage. You can even eat the beans after they plump up in the brewing process.
To make tea from roasted black soybeans, simply pour boiling water over 1-2 tablespoons of them in a mug and let them steep about 10 minutes. I put the beans in a tea strainer that fits into the top of a mug so I can easily remove the plumped up beans to eat as a snack or for another use.
Bags of roasted black soybeans can be found at Japanese and Asian food stores. This is an example of what a bag of them looks like:
If you’re unable to find roasted black soybeans available nearby, you could order them online. Here’s an organic version of them available on a site called Wawaza: Traditional Japanese Products.
The package looks like this:
The product description says:
100% organic Japanese roasted black soybean tea (“Kuromame cha”). Commonly consumed by Japanese for weight loss and for maintaining health.
Also, the beans become soft after brewing and make for a delicious, healthy snack after your cup of tea!
Black soybeans, a rare legume, are a known source of compounds calledisoflavone andanthocyanin. Scientific studies have linked their use to:
Promotion of lipid metabolism (breaking down fats)
Reducing risk of postmenopausal arteriosclerosis
Savory aroma of roasted beans with a mildly sweet taste.
100 grams (3.5 oz) in resealable, moisture-proof bag. Makes about 40 cups.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF KURAMAME (Oshima, 2002)
Black soybeans have traditionally been used in Chinese medicine to clear toxins from the body and promote urination. In Japanese folklore, the bean also cures a sore throat.
Preliminary studies suggest the black soybean offers a variety of useful health benefits.
Animal researchers at Shizuoka Prefectural University showed that the black soybean surpasses the yellow soybean in preventing menopausal symptoms. Rats who became menopausal when their ovaries were removed had a significantly higher decline in their blood-cholesterol levels when fed black soybeans vs yellow soybeans. At the end of four weeks, the blood cholesterol of the black soybean group was up to 31 percent lower than a group fed no soybeans. The yellow soybean group was only 16 percent lower at most.
The researchers suspect the substances responsible for this difference reside in the black soybean’s hull.
Black soybeans contain anthocyanin, a polyphenol found in high concentrations in blueberries and raspberries. Anthocyanin is an antioxidant which helps neutralize unstable oxygen molecules that are damaging to cells.
There is also anecdotal evidence that the black soybean’s seed coat contains something that decreases blood pressure among hypertensive patients, lowers blood-sugar levels among diabetics and even reverses graying hair.
Japanese folklore has it that black soybean tea is beneficial for chronic diseases such as hypertention, diabetes and osteoporosis
It has long been known that all varieties of soybeans are a good source of protein. They are now attracting medical interest worldwide for their potential to prevent serious diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
KURAMAME (BLACK SOYBEANS) IN JAPANESE CUISINE
Traditionally, kuromame, are eaten cooked with sugar and soy sauce as part of a celebratory New Year’s feast called osechi ryori. Osechi ryori consists of many colorful dishes presented together in special boxes called jubako and eaten communally to celebrate the New Year. Each dish in the feast serves as a symbol or wish for the coming year.
The kuromame dish represents the wish for good health in order to work hard. Now, because of the beans’ numerous health benefits, people have started eating them in a variety of ways to try to stay healthy all year round. (Dinh, 2013)
MITSU’S JAM MADE FROM ROASTED BLACK SOYBEANS
At Kaiyu, Mitsu used the roasted black soybeans plumped up in our evening tea to make a delicious jam he and his wife, Tae, served with breakfast the following morning. We didn’t get their recipe, but here’s my guess at what was in it:
Half cup of plumped up roasted black soybeans, ground or mashed
Maybe a tablespoon of organic, local honey
A little ground cinnamon, to taste
When I have enough plumped up beans (have to stop snacking on them after brewing the tea!) to make some jam, I think I’ll add a little grated orange or tangerine peel too. Mitsu’s version was spreadable and a little chewy.
ROASTED, SPICED BLACK SOYBEANS
This interesting preparation of dried black soybeans (not the roasted kind) appears on a recipes and health tips blog called kabochasandcoconutbutter – “about all things sweet, healthy + delicious”. The blog is by a Canadian fitness competitor living in Korea and the recipe is her creation.
She roasted regular (ie, unroasted) black soybeans (kuramame) with her favorite seasonings to produce a crispy, chewy, healthy and yummy snack.
500 g black soy beans (unroasted)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp chilli powder
1/2 tbsp natural sea salt
2 packets stevia (or sweetener of choice)
coconut oil (optional- I didn’t use it, but if you want a crispier result, I’d recommend tossing your beans with some kind of oil)
1. Rinse soy beans and soak overnight, changing the water a few times. 2. Combine seasonings and toss with rinsed beans. (If you are using oil, first toss beans with oil). 3. Bake in a single layer on parchment lined trays. I used 350 for 40 minutes, shaking once halfway. You may need to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
Please let me know if you too get hooked on black soybeans, roasted or otherwise, and come up with some tasty ways to prepare them.
Many thanks to Amanda McKee, fellow traveler in Japan, for her most helpful input to this post.
Gluten intolerance is no longer considered to be a fringe medical concept. Researchers around the world are fully aware that methods of modern wheat cultivation pose a serious health problem to humans, other animals and the environment. (Batalion, 2013)
Rates of gluten sensitivity, including gluten allergy and celiac disease, are on the rise around the world. And more people are becoming aware of the adverse, inflammatory and addictive effects of consuming modern wheat and wheat products so are eliminating gluten from their diets to protect their health. The global market for gluten free foods is expected to reach $4.3 billion USD by 2015. (Brown, 2012)
Knowing how much wheat is part of the modern Japanese diet, I took a lot of care to stay healthy and avoid gluten while in Japan recently. It wasn’t easy and I got ‘glutened’ a few times in spite of my best efforts.
My gluten allergy symptoms include: A body temperature spike about 20 minutes after consuming even a tiny amount of gluten, followed by the feeling of having been hit over the head with a shovel that renders me feeling exhausted and dumb for an hour or more – in addition to the longer term inflammation gluten produces in my body. Gluten affects the whole body, including the brain, skin, endocrine system, stomach, liver, blood vessels, smooth muscles and cell nuclei. These effects are serious and have long term adverse health consequences. (Kresser, 2014)
Many of you probably are also reacting adversely to gluten and are being treated by your doctors to suppress the various symptom it causes instead of addressing its underlying inflammatory response that’s responsible for your skin conditions, allergies, autoimmune diseases, etc.
ORDER GLUTEN FREE MEALS FOR YOUR FLIGHTS
I was flying on United and was able to request gluten free meals for all four of my long flights. While the meals I received were indeed GF, they were also completely tasteless. While people around me were eating things that looked somewhat interesting, I got plates of dried up chicken with no seasoning or sauce of any kind and unseasoned steamed veggies. Apparently the United chefs equate GF with boring or nearly inedible. I had almonds and dried fruits with me on the long San Francisco-Osaka flight and also some GF mochi cakes and Japanese chocolates on the return flight but there’s a limit to how much of these a person can consume during a trans-Pacific flight and snacks aren’t entirely nutritious.
ALLERGY FOOD CARDS
Part of my preparation for this trip was to order some food allergy cards in kanji and English from Select Wisely, a website offering translation cards for a wide variety of food and drug allergies, special diets and medical needs.
On one side, my cards say in English and Japanese kanji characters:
I am allergic to wheat, rye, barley, oats, soy sauce, malt, flour and gluten including sauces, gravies, breads, cereals and foods made with these ingredients.
On the reverse side, they say in both languages:
Please prepare a meal for me that does not contain these foods. Thank you.
I had the cards laminated in plastic at a local copy center so they would look official and also increase the chances of their being returned to me. What happened the few times I was ordering a meal somewhere I couldn’t make myself understood in English was that the chefs themselves came out of the kitchen to speak with me. The waitress and chef examined the card and conferred between themselves in Japanese, I spoke English to them since my Japanese is limited to simple words like arigato, a delicious meal arrived with something else substituted for the miso soup or other gluten-containing dish and it all turned out quite well.
I also took along many packets of gluten free organic tamari to use in lieu of soy sauce (soy sauce is traditionally brewed with wheat) for sushi and sashimi. Amazon sells it – 12 boxes of 20 individual packets each for around $40. Those 240 packets will last you a good long time. That the tamari contains no GMO anything in addition to being GF is a big plus. See http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Gluten-free-Non-GMO-Tamari-Packages/dp/B003FSX1X2
KANJI FOR GLUTEN-CONTAINING INGREDIENTS AND FOODS
It may also be helpful for you to be able to recognize the kanji characters for things you can’t eat if you’re avoiding gluten – translations thanks to an online English-to-Japanese translating site:
Wheat Flour: 麦粉
Soy Sauce: 醤油 , 正油 , むらさ
Miso: 味噌 (most probably contains gluten)
Tempura: 天婦羅 (most probably made with wheat flour)
MAKING JAPANESE FOOD GLUTEN FREE
While there, I became aware that I could have eaten much more broadly in Japan if a few easy substitutions had been made.
After some days on my own in Kyoto (during their spectacular cherry blossom time), I met up with my small group for a 12-day tour part of my Geographic Expeditions group for a 12-day tour called Journey Through Ancient Japan with Don George. We spent some days in and around Kyoto then continued on to rural Shikoku Island to the south.
Don George is a seasoned travel writer and everything you’d want in a traveling companion and guide – knowledgeable, smart, funny, generous, open to people and experiences, and fluent in spoken Japanese.
Akihiro Kasagi, who’s from Kobe and is a Government Certified Tour Guide based in Kyoto, was our excellent local guide for the whole trip.
When I signed up for the trip, I asked GeoEx if gluten free eating in Japan would be possible. They checked, said yes and I was well taken care of by Hiro. When we stopped for snacks along the road, he read the labels of numerous packages of mochi sweets to tell me which were wheat flour-free so were safe for me to eat. Mochi is made from sweet, glutinous rice so I’d never even thought they might contain gluten. He also arranged for excellent and interesting GF substitutions at our various hotels, ryokans and restaurants, sometimes sending a small dish back to the kitchen to be exchanged for another dish I could eat. I learned much about Japanese food from him.
One of the most enjoyable places we stayed was an informal, family-oriented eco-resort called Kaiyu on the semi-tropical south west side of Shikoku Island. It’s near scenic Cape Ashizuri and has its own onsen (hot springs bath) overlooking Ooki Beach on a lovely section of the Pacific Ocean.
Kaiyu-Inn is run by a charming couple, Mitsuhiro and Tae Okada. Mitsu builds the hotel’s furniture and stokes the onsen’s furnace with recycled wood. Tae is an inventive, natural cook who turns local organic produce and fish into gorgeous food for her family and the hotel’s guests.
There were a number of delicious-looking dishes Tae served that contained soy sauce or dashi so I couldn’t try them. As our GeoEx group was leaving, she asked me what I can eat. At the time, I couldn’t think of a short answer that would be relevant to her so said something vague – and have been thinking of a better, fuller answer ever since.
Here it is, geared for Tae’s Japanese cooking:
Use gluten free tamari in place of soy sauce (it’s readily available in Japan) and tastes just like soy sauce).
Substitute rice flour for wheat flour in dishes like tempura.
Use a gluten free miso (ie, a miso made with rice (kome or genmai), buckwheat (sobamugi), or millet (kibi) instead of one made with gluten-containing barley (mugi ortsubu), wheat (tsubu) or rye (hadakamugi).
Check the ingredients lists for other ready made sauces and products to make sure they don’t contain wheat, barley or rye.
I don’t think these changes would sacrifice any of the inventiveness and yummy taste of Tae’s – or anyone’s – delicious cooking.
Brown, A. (2012). Gluten Sensitivity: Problems of an Emerging Condition Separate from Celiac Disease. Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 6:1, 43-55. See MedScape: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/757916_5
During my recent trip to Japan, I noticed many people of all ages wearing surgical masks to screen out spring pollens and lower their chances of catching airborne viruses – and wondered if the heavy consumption of gluten in wheat and wheat-based products in the Japanese diet has been a significant factor in weakening people’s immune systems, making them more sensitive to pollens and contagious illnesses.
Japanese politeness and consideration of other people are traits foreigners are struck by when we visit there. This concern for others even extends to wearing a face mask to protect other people from catching one’s germs. Until 2003, the typical mask was cotton with a pouch the user could line with gauze. The gauze was discarded at the end of the day and the mask was washed between uses. These masks were worn only when people were ill and couldn’t take off from work or school.
In 2003 a Japanese medical supply company called Unicharm released a new kind of mask designed specifically for hay fever sufferers. The Unicharm mask is made of a non-woven material, is completely disposable, cheap to buy in bulk and more effective in blocking out pollens.
Sales of Unicharm masks more than tripled since their introduction in 2003. In 2009, Japanese fear that an H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak would spread there from elsewhere in Asia, worries about micro-particulate matter after earthquakes and the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in 2011 all produced large spikes in sales.
And now that the wearing of surgical masks is a common sight in Japan, young people have started wearing them for another reason: To make it less likely that people will try talking to them in public. (Baseel, 2014)
So back to the question of gluten intolerance among the Japanese: The answer seems to be yes, it’s on the rise.
A 2013 article presenting results from a Japanese study published in the Journal of Gastoenterology concludes: “Despite the increased incidence of IBD and high positivity for serum celiac antibody in Japanese IBD patients, no true-positive celiac disease was noted, suggesting the presence of gluten intolerance in these populations.” (Watanabe, 2013)
In the early 1900’s the Japanese consumed small quantities of wheat in udon noodle dishes and in Western-style cafes serving pastries and cakes.
Japanese civilians began consuming a bit more wheat out of necessity during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). And during World War II in the Pacific, rice crops went to feed Japanese troops while Japanese civilians resorted to eating even more wheat in the form of breads, dumplings and udon noodles just to fill their stomachs.
The postwar period in Japan saw the population on the edge of mass starvation. American emergency aid delivered large amounts of wheat flour and lard. Breads became popular along with cheap, stomach-filling Chinese-style foods made from wheat.
In the mid-1950’s, the U.S. signed a series of deals with Japan to provide surplus American wheat to the Japanese. In return, we loaned money to the Japanese weapons industry. That was followed by greatly intensified American efforts to get the Japanese to trade their rice for bread. American scientists told Japanese citizens that not only was a rice-based diet nutritionally incomplete, but that it actually led to brain damage!
Then the coup de grace in the wheat-for-rice conversion was a school lunch program the U.S. initiated during our post-war occupation of Japan from 1945-1952. We provided their school children a daily lunch that included bread made from America’s surplus wheat, powdered milk and a meat-based stew. (Arumugam, 2013)
And now you see all sorts of mostly insipid-looking wheat breads, cookies and snacks for sale all over Japan.
AND MODERN WHEAT IS EVEN WORSE
Modern wheat is now being made even more problematic for human and animal consumption by a Monsanto-produced wheat seed that has been genetically modified to be glyphosate-resistant (often called Roundup Ready – ie, a seed that has been genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s popular herbicide, Roundup) – like their widely used genetically modified corn, soybean, canola, cotton, sugar beet and alfalfa seeds. Even organic wheat fields have become contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds that have spread from other farmers’ fields. Japan is very concerned about the health dangers posed by genetically modified wheat so has taken the step of canceling its contract with American wheat farmers to avoid this additional threat to its population. (Connealy, 2013)
It was recently brought to my attention that something went awry after 2/22/2014 and comments sent via the Leave a Reply box stopped getting delivered to me. I think I’ve fixed the problem now. So if you submitted a comment and wondered why it never appeared, perhaps you’d be willing to resubmit it for moderation.
Having recently returned from Japan, I thought it fitting to write about a set of quintessential Japanese foods that packs huge health benefits: umeboshi vinegar (also called ume plum vinegar), umeboshi plums and umeboshi plum paste.
Although labeled as vinegar, umeboshi plum vinegar is actually the liquid left after Japanese nanko plums (they’re called plums in Japan but are technically more like little apricots) are preserved by brining with sea salt and red or purple shiso leaves. The mixture is allowed to ferment in barrels for a year. The sea salt draws the liquid from the plums and the shiso leaves give the brined fruits and liquid their natural pink tint. This is what the sour little fruits look like before they’re brined:
Soaking the harvested fruits to remove bitterness:
The red or purple shiso leaves that provide umeboshi plums and vinegar their pink color:
Umeboshi brining with red shiso leaves and sea salt:
After brining, the fruits look like this and are frequently served as a salty pickle during a Japanese meal:
The salty little brined fruits are an acquired taste, but umeboshi vinegar is mild, somewhat salty and an excellent condiment with many uses.
Umeboshi plums are considered the king of alkaline foods, highly respected in Japan for their remarkable medicinal properties in balancing the body and helping with indigestion. Even sucking on an umeboshi plum pit can settle a queasy stomach. (Minifie, 2013)
Because they are high in citric acid, which has a powerful, paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body, umeboshi plums are the Far Eastern equivalent of both aspirin and apple, a potent hangover remedy and one of the best preventive medicines available. An umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away.
A 1000 year old Japanese medical text discussed the use of umeboshi to prevent fatigue, purify water, rid the body of toxins and cure specific diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and food poisoning.
During the samurai period in Japan, which lasted through most of the Middle Ages, this fermented plum was the soldier’s most important field ration. It was used to flavor foods such as rice and vegetables. Its high acidity made it an excellent water and food purifier as well as an effective antidote for battle fatigue. (Mitoku, no date)
In China the dried plums are use medicinally to reduce fevers, treat nausea and control coughs. (Weil, 2010)
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in refined sugars and red meat, both of which severely acidify the body, producing inflammation – the gateway to many serious ailments. An overly acidic diet is at the core of many symptoms such as fatigue, digestive imbalances, emotional imbalances and anxiety. Adding foods to our daily diet that alkalinize the blood, urine and saliva can help restore balance and health again.
See INFLAMMATION to read more about its adverse affects on our health.
Umeboshi plums, paste and vinegar are such super foods. They have been consumed in Japan, China and Korea for centuries for this medicinal purpose.
Umeboshi foods are created via a lactic fermentation process using only Japanese plums, shiso leaves and sea salt. Shiso leaves have many medicinal health benefits themselves that contribute to the antimicrobial and infection fighting components of umeboshi.
General nausea (including pregnancy and motion sickness)
Diarrhea and dysentery
Oxidation of cells
The addition of an umeboshi plum in rice dishes adds a pleasant salty and sour taste and also combats the bacterial growth in rice known as Bacillus cereus. A popular Japanese dish often found in Japanese and Korean markets is called onigiri – sticky rice wrapped in either nori (seaweed) or on its own with an umeboshi plum in the center.
Traditionally, these plums are said to have been used by the samurai to keep up their stamina, stave off fatigue and help heal between battles. They were a staple in their daily diets. In more recent times, they are enjoyed with green tea, as the opposing flavors juxtapose each other nicely. Eating an umeboshi plum before breakfast helps stimulate digestion for the day.
They are also high in iron (important for hemoglobin production, stress reduction and immune function), thiamin (important for healthy nervous system, metabolism and digestion), and riboflavin (helpful for the formation of antibodies, healthy metabolism and cortisol production).
Try eating a few umeboshi plums the morning after a party or after a lengthy flight to combat jet lag, nausea and exhaustion. (Smythe, 2012)