Soy Flour: A Protein-Rich Chinese Flour

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The history of soybeans in China is well documented going back to before 1024 BCE; however, the use of soybeans for making soy flour is not mentioned until about 3 BCE. The 1024 BCE date is significant in that bronze vessels from this period have been found with the character for soybean. This suggests that soybeans were already an important food item by that time. In 509 BCE, a frost that killed the soybean crop was documented and indicated that soybeans were most likely being cultivated. In this era, soybeans were one of the staple Chinese grains along with different forms of millet. Rice, wheat, and barley were the others.

Soy flour is mentioned medical books from the 4th and 5th centuries AD where it is considered a remedy for various health conditions. In the 18th century, soy flour was being used to make confections in China. By 1927, soy coffee had become one of the items made with soy flour and soy flour was also being used to make popular Chinese sweets. Early Chinese soy flour confections ranged from soybean candy to soybean cakes.

In Japan, soy flour is referred to as kinako. There is no documentation of when roasted soy flour made its way to Japan from China but it may have been introduced there by Buddhist monks. The earliest historical references to it in Japan are from around 1050 AD. The Japanese use two versions of soy flour: yellow and green. Early on, it was used to make hyorogan by combining it with buckwheat and hemp seeds. The ingredients were formed into small balls that were lightweight and portable. Hyorogan was used as military rations and were believed to make up a part of the ninjas’ diet. Like the Chinese, the Japanese combined roasted soy flour with sugar to make a variety of sweets modeled after Chinese sweets. That is still its main use today.

In late 19th century Japan, soy flour would shift from being a homemade product to being commercially available.

In Indonesia and Korea, soy flour is used mainly in savory preparations rather than in sweets.

Soy flour flavor profile

Unroasted soy flour is considered the least pleasant-tasting of the different soy flour options. Some find its bean flavor bitter and generally unpleasant. Defatted roasted soy flour has a sweeter and milder flavor with nutty notes.

Health benefits of soy flour

Like the soybeans from which it is made, soy flour is packed with nutrients that make it an extremely healthy ingredient. Among soy flour’s nutrients are essentials like:

  • B vitamins: Soy flour is a great source of several B vitamins including niacin, folate and thiamin.
  • Minerals: Soy flour can provide significant quantities of phosphorus, potassium and manganese per serving.
  • Fiber: Soy flour is loaded with dietary fiber.

The compounds above make soy flour useful for combating or preventing health conditions like:

  • Heart disease: Studies have shown a connection between a lower risk of heart disease and soy consumption.
  • Celiac disease: As a gluten-free flour, soy flour will not trigger the symptoms associated with gluten consumption and is thus a safe food for people with celiac disease.

Common uses

Traditional uses for soy flour in China include the Chinese steamed bread known as wotou and ton su tang, a bean candy. In Japan, it used to dust rice cakes called abekawa mochi.