What Is Kinako? A Surprisingly Healthy Japanese Delicacy


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If you have ever wondered about that yellow powder that covers some of your favorite Japanese snacks, then chances are that you have just wandered into kinako territory. Let’s learn all about it and its the health benefits.

What is Kinako?

Kinako is a yellow flour made by grinding roasted soybeans. It is a low-carb alternative to all-purpose flour, which is used in several baked goods. Heating soybeans reduces toxic substances, removes the unique odor of soybeans, and adds fragrance making it easier to eat. However, its taste is different to the more savory taste of soybeans. The taste can be considered similar to roasted peanuts and has a mild sweetness. Soybean powder made by crushing soybeans with the skin on is very nutritious, while versions made from peeled soybeans is soft and pleasant. It is not only popular in Japan, but also in Korea, China, and Indonesia.

A bowl of kinako next to a bowl of roasted soybeans.
Savory soybeans create a sweet flour when roasted and crushed. Image via Shutterstock

History of Kinako

Kinako is widely used in Japanese cuisines, though in small quantities. The first documented version of the soybean powder (previously called Mame No Ko) was around the 1540s when it first appeared in Nyōbō Shitsukegaki (the Women’s Book of Manners). As per the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (Shogagukan Japanese Dictionary), it was present in Japan before sugar arrived in the 16th Century. Therefore, it has always been used as a natural sweetener in Japanese dishes. Due to it being less sweet than refined sugar, it also provides additional health benefits over foods with high sugar contents. Many sweets lovers still use it today in their favorite desserts. To learn how to use kinako, check out this article.

How is Kinako Made?

The process of creating this sugar alternative is actually not very complicated. It just requires roasting and then grinding the soybeans to a fine powder. In most cases, the skin of the soybean is removed before pulverizing the beans, but some varieties retain the roasted skin. Yellow soybeans produce a yellow powder, and green soybeans produce a light-green product.

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Different Types Of Kinako

Although the regular yellow kind is most popular among people, there are two other types as well.

Black Soybean Kinako

The variety made from black soybeans is yellowish-black in color and has fine black spots within the powder. It also comes with the nice fragrance of black soybean. It has more health benefits than the yellow version, but is also more costly. 

Green Soybean Kinako

This version made from green soybeans is greenish-yellow in color. The green soybean version is mostly used to make Uguisu Mochi 

A small bowl of kinako-covered mochi next to a cup of tea.
Mochi and soybean powder are an iconic combo for Japanese tea time. Image via Shutterstock

How is Kinako Used?

Amongst the various dishes which use Kinako and are popular in Japan, the following are a few:

Warabimochi:  This dish is made by dipping or coating mochi made of starch in kinako and brown sugar syrup.

Kinako Mochi: This mochi is basically a rice cake. It is made by coating soft rice cakes with sugar and the titular yellow powder.

Dango: Dango is a type of mochi skewered on a stick, and also tastes great coated in the soybean powder, especially mitarashi dango.

Kinako Wagashi: Azuki beans (sweet red beans) are boiled, beaten to a paste, and then sweetened with sugar to create a smooth anko (red bean paste). These are then covered with the yellow powder for added sweetness.

Kinako on Japanese Shaved Ice:  If you want an easy-to-make sweet dish, ice can be shaved and topped with sweet soybean powder.

Kinako smeared on a table between a glass of milk and cookies.
Soybean flour has been used for centuries to sweeten our favorite Japanese snacks. Image via Shutterstock

Kinako Candies: Of course, the nutty sweet flavor of soybean powder does find its way into the confectionaries for kids.

Kinako Ice cream: The nutty taste of kinako gels well with vanilla ice cream and provides a unique twist when used as a topping. But it can also be used directly as a flavor to create a kinako-flavored ice cream.

Kinako Flour Bread:  Freshly-baked bread can be dusted with this sugar alternative. The sweetened coating makes bread excellent for kids as well as health-conscious people who avoid sugar but still want to taste something sweet.

Kinako Yokan: The Mizu Yokan, one of Japan’s delicacies, tastes extremely good when they are coated with this soybean flour.

Health Benefits Of Kinako

The advantages of soybeans are all available in our favorite Japanese sweet powder, like essential amino acids, higher fiber, omega acids, and good amounts of vitamins and minerals including iron and potassium. Other health benefits include:

Improved skin health: Kinako contains high isoflavones. Isoflavones help reduce acne and improve the metabolism of the skin. Thus keeping the skin healthy.

Helps reduce fat: Our favorite soybean powder helps by absorbing fat. It helps the body break down fat more easily and faster. 

Reduces swelling: It also has components that are good for a diuretic effect which helps in water retention. Thus helping the body reduce swelling or inflammation of any kind.

Helps reduce constipation: Soybean flour has a high content of dietary fiber which helps in improving intestinal health. Thus, helping reduce constipation in patients. 

Improves texture of hair: This sugar alternative has several vitamin contents which helps improve hair health making the hair smoother and more beautiful. 

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