Kuromame (Sweet Black Soy Beans) & Oshogatsu 2012 (Japanese New Year)

Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Blog, Japanese Celebrations, Special Occasions, Vegetables & Vegetarian | 9 comments



Akemashite Omedetou!

Translation: Happy New Year!

A few years ago, I vowed to learn how to make osechi ryori, or traditional Japanese New Year’s food. For as long as I can remember, every year, my Mom would make several different types of osechi ryori for our family to eat on New Year’s Day. Today, this is still true, to a certain extent, but recently I’ve been trying to help her by making a dish or two. Last year, I made one easy-peasy dish, koya dofu, and my Mom taught me how to make ozoni – a traditional New Year’s mochi (rice cake) soup. This year, I made two dishes, koya dofu and kuromame, or sweet black soy beans.

I never liked kuromame growing up.

I mentioned in my 2011 oshogatsu (New Year’s) post that I would, on a good day, force myself to eat maybe one or two beans, just to satisfy the oshogatsu (New Years) requirement that eating kuromame was good for your health and that eating a bean would promise good health for the year. (Never mind that I ate a bunch and started the New Year with a cold….)

2012 is Year of the Dragon

It turns out, that when you cook something, you’re more likely to eat it. This year, I ate a good handful of kuromame, with a bean count close to 15. Crazy, isn’t it? I tried to feed Bebe E a bean and she put it in her mouth but she spit it out. I think it was likely the texture of the kuromame since she seems to have a sweet tooth. Perhaps one day, like me, she will actually eat a handful of kuromame and enjoy the sweet and slightly savory soy bean. Perhaps if she cooked some herself one day, she will change her mind, as I did.

As usual, our oshogatsu celebration was one filled with lots of family, good laughs, and of course, delicious food. In my 2011 oshogatsu post, I listed the traditional food that we eat, along with the meaning behind each type of food. Therefore, I’ll limit my 2012 oshogatsu post by simply sharing some photos.


Our oshogatsu spread on our main dining table. There is a second 6′ table with food, as well as a small table for dessert and snacks. :0)
Lots of mouths to feed = lots of food. Love it!!! 


This year, my Mom made two types of sushi rice – gomoku sushi rice (large photo on left) and inari sushi (top right photo). We ordered are usual sushi platters from our local Japanese market.

My Mom and Auntie Sumiko usually make a new dish each year so that our oshogatsu spread is slightly different each year. One of my new favorites was the konbu (seaweed) and surume  (dried squid) featured in the large photo on the left. I also really enjoyed the teriyaki flavored ika (squid) featured in the upper right corner. Finally, because my Mom couldn’t find kabu, or Japanese turnips, at any of the local markets she couldn’t’ make her traditional kabu and ninjin (carrot) sunomono. So instead, she made her shredded diakon and ninjin sunonomo. However, she spoils me because she made kabu sunomono for me last week when we stayed at my parent’s house while Bebe Dada travelled! Love my Mommy. ♥


Even more food: My Dad makes tamagoyaki and BBQ’s two types of chicken for us: teriyaki and salt & pepper flavors – always grilled to perfection. My Auntie Sumiko made a HUGE pot of oden for us and it was SO good! We also had stone crab claws, tsukemono, our regular nimono, kazunoko, koya dofu, and we also had my favorite charsiu pork buns. In the upper left hand corner there is a roll that I really enjoyed: pickled daikon radish wrapped around a piece of cucumber and salmon.


Judy’s 2012 Oshogatsu Plate.
Last year, I ended-up with the small plate. This year, I sought out the BIG plate and Mom had them on the back table where most people weren’t looking! I snagged my BIG plate and loaded up!  As you can see from my plate, there are several yummy items that my photos above didn’t capture.  I must say, I’ve definitely grown to appreciate osechi ryori with age.

* * * * * * * * 

It turns out that cooking between Christmas and New Year’s is a lot more challenging than I expected, primarily because we were so busy and I barely had time to prep. In a nutshell:

  • we celebrated one special birthday;
  • ate a delicious dim sum meal with family,
  • saw the Rose Parade Floats being decorated in Pasadena;
  • dined with good friends;
  • enjoyed a private movie screening of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with just 6 of my dear friends in a room all to ourselves thanks to N & N;
  • danced at Club Ni-San-Ni (aka Pepe’s house) with all the little kids (Bebe E claims she loves parties now);
  • saw extended family from Down Under;
  • I burned a whole pot of zenzai because I fell asleep – lucky the smoke alarm didn’t go off & lucky that Bebe Dada has a better nose than I do, even when he’s asleep!
  • made kuromame for the first time and almost burned the kuromame too but luckily didn’t have to start over on that dish;
  • added over 400 miles on our car driving back and forth within a 55 mile radius of our home;
  • loved every minute of our holidays –  it was a fabulous holiday season!!!

Then Big Onechan caught a cold. Then Bebe E caught a cold. Then I caught a cold. Then Bebe Dada caught a cold. Everyone is better now with the exception that Bebe E and I are still recovering after a few minor relapses. Thanks, Mom & Dad for looking after me and watching your grand daughter while I was sick and recuperating at your house while hubby was traveling. ♥

Kuromame: Black Soy Beans

Why did I offer to make kuromame this year?

I’m not really sure. I think it’s because I was at Marukai a few months ago and I came across a pack of black soy beans on sale and bought them. Until then, I believed that kuromame was simply black beans, not black SOY beans. I thought it would be interesting to try and cook them, especially since it’s one of my Mom’s favorite dishes. Never mind the fact that I didn’t like them! I’m a good sport.  When I told my Mom I would like to help her by making kuromame, she was SO grateful. Now I know why.

Making kuromame requires one to keep an eye on the stove, stirring the beans occasionally, and simmering them for 3 to 4 hours.

What I learned from a friend: use a crock pot! Next year, I’ll try crock pot kuromame.

Even before the black soy beans go into the pot to simmer, they need to be rinsed and then soaked for 24 hours! The beans require a lot of attention – they are high maintenance.


I set the timer for every 30 minutes to stir the beans and check on the water level in the pot. At the same time, I was making homemade zenzai so it was important to keep an eye on those beans too. Unfortunately, with our busy schedule, I didn’t start making the beans until 9 PM on the 30th, knowing we had plans to be out on the 31st. Well, I was so exhausted that I missed the 11 PM alarm – completely slept through it – and an hour later Bebe Dada (who also fell asleep), jumped off the sofa yelling, “I SMELL SOMETHING BURNING!!!” Sadly, I was so tired, I didn’t even smell the burnt beans. Thanks goodness for my husband else we would have had a fire on our hands! Homemade zenzai #1 – went in the trash. On the way to our New Year’s Eve party I bought another pack of azuki beans and soaked them at the party. Then I went home and boiled them. Luckily, the kuromame pot had more water and was unscathed and obediently simmering away as it should.

NOTE: I learned from a friend that kuromame can be cooked in a slow cooker. Why didn’t I think of that!?! Next year, kuromame will be a breeze to make! If you have a slow cooker – use it, rather than attempting to cook the beans on the stove. I admit, making kuromame is a lot of work because it needs constant attention.



My Mom and Auntie Sumiko praised my hard work and success on my first attempt at making kuromame… Arigatou! I am SO relieved I didn’t burn it! I told them about the slow cooker technique and offered to make kuromame using this method next year. My Mom especially was extremely happy that I took these beans off of her hands.

At the end of this post you will find the kuromame recipe my Mom swears by, shared by a friend of hers in Japan, Matsumoto-san.

* * * * * * * *

Aside from enjoying really great food on Oshogatsu, we had a lot of fun too. The photos below are compliments of my bro-inlaw, Hideki Ueha Photography. His talent is showcased on Flickr. Follow this link to view some of his amazing photography of nature, birds, Rose Parade floats, and more!

Photo compliments of Hideki Ueha.
I don’t know what kids love about balloons but Bebe E really enjoys them. For her entertainment, we had the guys blow-up balloons while they were watching football.

I created a collage of what was the highlight of our Oshogatsu entertainment using my bro-inlaw’s photos.
All photos compliments of Hideki Ueha.

Hideki brought over a gift that he bought for my nephew – a Rocket Launcher, for ages 16 and up. My nephew is by no means close to being 16! While we chided Hideki for getting such an age-inapproriate and seemingly dangerous toy… we were all eager to try it. :) You’d be surprised that I actually had a pretty decent score. It’s all in the form, baby – look at those bent knees!  That’s my brother in the center photo – he had the flying eagle arm technique. I’m certain he got the most air off the ground but by no means did he have the highest score. Even Bebe E and my nephew had great form. By far, my favorite facial expression was that of Masanobu’s. Oops. Hope you don’t mind that you’re featured on my blog! ♥ If you’re wondering, my husband timed each of our rocket launches from take-off to landing on his iPhone stopwatch. I know… we’re clearly a little bit too competitive!

Happy New Year!




Kuromame (Sweet Black Soy Beans)
Recipe type: Side Dish
A traditional osechi ryori (Japanese New Year's food) side dish.
  • 2 cups
  • kuromame (dried black soy beans)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon
  • shoyu (soy sauce)
  • Water
  1. Wash beans four (4) times - rinse and drain.
  2. Soak beans in 10 cups of water for 24 hours. To soak beans, the ratio of water to beans is 1:5. While my Mom suggested that I boil the beans in the water in which they were soaking, I drained the beans and added 10 cups of fresh water to a large stock pot.
  3. On high heat, bring beans to boil. Then reduce heat to low and skim residue removing any "aku" or frothy residue.
  4. Add ½ cup of cold water.
  5. Cook kuromame for 3 to 4 hours on low heat until beans are tender. At all times there should be 3 centimeters of water above the surface of the beans. Continue to add cold water to the beans as needed.
  6. When beans are tender, add ½ cup of sugar and cook for 7 to 8 minutes.
  7. Next, add remaining sugar and cook for another 5 minutes. Add
  8. shoyu (soy sauce), then turn off heat. Kuromame is now done!


  1. avatar

    Judy, I look at your pictures and I can still taste all the wonderful food. Just this past weekend, good friends of ours hosted a late Japanese New Year party and I was able to enjoy a lot of the traditional Japanese dishes. Everything was so good but one of the dishes that stood out was the beans. My husband raved about them and I loved them, too. Our friend said that you can’t just use any beans and that you have to buy the Japanese black beans. She even offered to get me some so I could try her recipe. Well, thanks to your post I know what they are! I bet yours tasted just as good! I’m hungry just looking at these pictures! Happy New Year!

    • avatar

      Hi Jean – Happy New Year! That’s so wonderful that you were able to taste so many different types of osechi ryori. I am so surprised that both you and your husband were impressed with the kuromame! Someone else recently shared with me that this is their favorite New Year’s food! It’s baffling. LOL. :) Have fun making your batch of kuromame. I’m sure yours will turn out fabulous!

  2. avatar

    OMG!!! It is a small world. I recently stumbled onto your blog looking for mochi recipes…
    Then I find Hideki? I went to school with his older sister, dear Hiromi. I’m not sure if he’ll remember be but it’s great to see how he’s doing! Send him my regards and thanks for the fun reading!

    • avatar

      Wow! It is indeed a very small world!!! I passed along your comment to Hideki… Thank you for visiting and for leaving a comment for me.

  3. avatar

    I stumbled on your blog when searching on line for a possible reason why my “kuromame’ came out NOT ‘kuroi’. Last year I bought the inexpensive dried kuromame. I made it for the first time and they were gorgeous (black, shiny) This year I ‘splurged’ and got the much higher priced huge dried beans. I just spent all morning cooking them and they look more like ginormous ‘azuki’ beans (a reddish brown) Any thoughts?

    I saw a web article that recommended cooking it with a clean, rusty nail (to make the beans black) Have you ever tried that??

    ps; Your photos are beautiful. The food all looks so good.

    • avatar


      So glad to have you stop by and thanks for your kind words regarding the photos! I have a feeling your kuromame turned reddish-brown because of the quality of the dried kuromame. I think something similar happened to me as well, but last year my Mom gave me a pack of Japanese brand high quality dried black soy beans, and these turned out fine, and “kuroi”. I believe my mom purchased her beans at Nijiya Japanese market. This might be less accessible, but I know that in the past my Aunt has sent us dried black soy beans from Japan as well.

      As for incorporating a clean, yet rusty nail to make the beans black, it’s not something that I’ve ever heard of or tried, but I would never encourage the addition of rust in food. Health concerns aside, I’d be more worried about the taste of the rust affecting the taste of the cooked beans.

      Keep trying different brands of black soy beans. I’m certain it’s because of the quality of the dried bean that affected the color more than anything else. :)

      Sorry, my input might not have been much help, but good luck with your kuromame. Let me know how yours turn out this year and have a Happy New Year! :)

  4. avatar

    Where can you find koya dofu

    • avatar

      Hi Brian,
      Koya dofu can be found at any Japanese supermarket. It might also be available at other Asian supermarkets, but I have always found it at Japanese markets (Nijiya, Mitsuwa and Marukai are available to us here in So. Cal.) There is a post on my blog regarding koya dofu where you can see a sample of the box in which it comes, as well as a photo of the food in it’s freeze-dried state.Please follow this link to see the post.


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