Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento filler)


There are many recipes for stewed or simmered beans in Japanese cooking, but this is one of the simplest, and I’m fairly sure, one of the oldest recipes in existence. It traditionally only uses three ingredients — soy beans, sugar and soy sauce — but I’ve added a little salt too since I like the saltiness to be a bit more assertive to balance the sweetness. The beans have a unique, chewy texture that is unlike any other bean dish I’ve ever had. The soy beans become almost caramelized, yet are not cloyingly sweet.

The name budo mame means ‘grape beans’. I’m not totally sure what it means, but it probably means that the beans take on a shiny appearance rather like grapes. They do indeed look like black grapes when made with black soy beans (kuromame), but here I’ve made them with regular white or light brown soy beans, which are a lot easier to get for most people.

Just a spoonful or so tucked into the corner of your bento box makes a nice change of pace, even a mini-dessert of sorts (see “chopstick rest” below). And of course, it’s packed with protein.

A pressure cooker is highly recommended to make this, but you can cook it without one too.

Recipe: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame


Makes about 3 cups cooked

  • 2 cups dry soy beans
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

If using a pressure cooker: Rinse the soy beans. Put in the pressure cooker and add enough water so that it comes up to about 2 inches / 5cm above the beans.

Put a small, heatproof plate or the steamer rack that came with your cooker on top of the beans. This prevents any loose soybean skins from flying up to the underside of lid and clogging up the steam vents (this can lead to a lot of liquid bubbling out from the top, which gets rather messy).

Put the lid on, lock and bring up the pressure, following your pressure cooker’s instructions. Lower the heat, and cook under pressure for 20 to 25 minutes. Release the pressure and open the lid. Skim off any loose skins.

If using a conventional pot: Rinse the soy beans, and soak in enough water to cover for at least 12 hours. Drain the soaking water, and put the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot, with enough fresh water added to come up to about 2 inches / 5cm above the beans.

Bring the pot up to a boil, and lower the heat so that it’s just simmering. Cook for 4-5 hours or until the beans are soft, and smush easily when you take one between your thumb and forefinger and press. Skim off any loose skins.

For both methods: After the soy beans have been cooked, scoop out some of the cooking liquid if needed, so that the beans are only covered with about an inch / 2.5cm of liquid. Add the sugar, and simmer slowly for about an hour to 90 minutes. At some point the beans will start to shrink and turn quite dark and caramelized looking. When this happens, add the soy sauce and salt, stir, and simmer for 15-20 minutes more. If the liquid boils away too much, add some of the reserved cooking liquid.

Leave to cook in the cooking liquid. The beans improve in flavor and texture when they are cooled.

The beans will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.


Lucky beans

Beans are considered to be very lucky in Japanese foodlore, so the black kind of budo mame often make an appearance as part of osechi, the New Year’s feast foods.

Chopstick rest dishes

Japanese meals usually do not have a sweet or dessert course per se (sweet things are reserved for in-between snack time, or to eat with tea). However, many meals, especially bentos, have a little side dish with a contrasting flavor or texture from the main dishes. This contrasting side dish is called a hashi yasume (箸休め) or “chopstick rest”. (This is not the same as a hashi oki (箸置き)), the the little object usually made of ceramic that chopsticks are rested on during a meal.) These sweet-salty beans are a perfect example of a “chopstick rest”; sweet enough to almost be a dessert, yet still salty enough to eat with rice.

Pressure cooker in my luggage

I actually hauled a pressure cooker all the way from Switzerland to Japan in my luggage for this visit. As I’ve written about previously, pressure cookers are ubiquitous in Switzerland, and well made to boot by manufacturers like Kuhn Rikon. While pressure cookers have really been gaining in popularity in Japan (they are all over the shopping channels on TV), they seem to be much more expensive for similar quality.

I’ve been telling my mother that she needs pressure cooker for years, since she loves to cook beans so much. She’s been a bit afraid of them, as many people are, but after trying it out to make these classic sweet-salty soy beans, she is convinced. With a pressure cooker, it cooked up in about 2 hours. Without, it would have taken all day. Pressure cookers are well suited for many traditional Japanese dishes, so I think my mother is really going to enjoy hers!

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Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I loved the nimame recipe (http://justbento.com/handbook/johbisai/nimame-stewed-sweet-beans) so this looks right up my street - will get on it as soon as I can get some soybeans in! Btw, I know these aren't haricot, and that it most certainly isn't a tomato sauce, but that yummy photo looks for all the world like baked beans on first look!

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Lucky beans indeed! I bought a bag of dried soybeans at HMart yesterday for no particular reason, was going to search on what to do with them, came here to Just Bento first and BAM - they are the featured item. This is so lucky and a little bit spooky.

Thanks Maki,

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

This recipe intrigued me, and I had some soy bean I did not know what to do with.
So I tried your recipe. Next time, I'll put a plate as you said, I confirm it can be messy otherwise :-)
Anyway, they are cooked and taste yummy. Thank you!

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Maki could you make these beans in a crock pot? At least the soaking and 4-5 hour cooking part? If they cooked in the crockpot all day or over night, couldn't you then dump them in a pan and do the sugar/soy sauce, cooking liquid part?

I want to try these but wouldn't ever use a pressure cooker for anything else I fear. And I don't have that amount of time except on weekends to cook something that long. But I'm thinking a crockpot might work well for the first part, conventional pot for the 2nd part?

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

A crockpot should work fine. Just soak the beans as in the directions, and be prepared to cook them for a long time until they get soft enough (keep adding water if it dries out).

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

You know what? I think I'm going to try this recipe right now. I've developed an unstoppable urge for budo mame by looking at this picture. I have a Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker with which I'm very satisfied so this is going to be a piece of cake :-)
I've heard of hashi yasume for the first time and I like the idea. I think cooking isn't only about combining dishes that go well together. "If I take a bite of that, which flavour am I going to crave next?" is also a question that one should ask himself when preparing meals. Contrasting dishes enhance cravings and upgrade the eating experience I believe :-D
Are there other common examples for hashi yasume dishes?

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Any food that is a contrasting flavor and texture to the main dishes can be a hashi yasume - Pickles of any kind, and beans (which in Japanese cooking are almost always a little bit sweet) are the most frequently used hashi yasume.

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Could you use other types of beans for this dish? Maybe something like navy beans? Just curious if you can use this same method for other beans, too. They look delicious, and I am definately a fan of hahsi yasume! I always have cravings for opposite tastes/textures with my meals, so I think this will fit very nicely! Thanks for the recipe.

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Other beans wouldn't work in this recipe, because only soy beans will achieve the distinctive chewy-caramelized sort of texture.

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I tried these and I'm really pleased with the results. Was difficult to stop 'sampling' them as I was putting them in the fridge container.

Thanks Maki!

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Will adzuki bean be ok? can i use that insteadM

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

No, as I wrote before, I believe only soy beans will work here.

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I just discovered your site and is loving it (plus your sister site Just Hungry)! I'm a closeted bento lover I guess. :) Will come visiting more often. Thanks, Maki!

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I can't believe how simple this recipe is! O.O
I'm definitely going to try this one out.

Thanks Maki! ^_^

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

That's a lot of sugar! Is there any way I can reduce that? Would honey work?

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I've tried the recipe now twice and have a few questions. The first time they ended up too chewy, so I figured I didn't cook them long enough. The second time, I hedged my bets and cooked them the better part of the day in a crock pot. They were done perfectly and tasted great when they were freshly made, but as soon as they cooled they were hard and downright crunchy. Did I still not cook them long enough, or is this a quality of the soy beans?

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Are you sure that the beans are cooked thoroughly and soft (you should be able to smush one easily between your thumb and finger) before you add the sugar? If not you are not cooking the soy beans for long enough, or the beans are very old. It's critical that the beans get soft first BEFORE adding sugar, since sugar actually makes the beans toughen up.

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I'm a looong time lurking reader of your blogs JB and JH. I've been reading loyally for the last 2 and a half years. Your blogs have helped me realize that I want to cook for a living, and that my favorite cuisine is Japanese. :) I'm starting school for Culinary Arts this Fall.

I have never commented on any posts before, but I hope to rectify that starting now.

I spent all day making this amazing dish, and it was so incredibly worth it! Unfortunately, I didn't have a pressure cooker, hence why it took from 9AM to almost 3PM, but this dish definitely gives me one more reason to buy a pressure cooker, for sure.

Following your instructions, everything came out perfectly. After you add the sugar, it's just a waiting game until the water evaporates and the beans become coated in a thin layer of sticky, sweet goodness! I didn't add any salt, because I've always been a fan of sweet (but not cloyingly so,) beans, such as baked beans. I can't get over what a nice chewy texture these beans have! It's something I've never experienced in a bean dish, either. This will definitely be something I will make as often as I can!

Thank you Maki, for this lovely recipe and for all the information and help you have put out there online for so many people!

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

These look so tasty! Could they be frozen in bento-sized proportions?

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

I love these beans; the only problem is I mainly use a small amount in a bento, and find that even if I halve the recipe I can't finish them before they go bad. I've tried freezing with mixed results. My current idea is pressure canning half-pint jars of plain dry soybeans, and then opening them as needed and doing the finishing steps here. It remains to be seen if the distinctive chewy texture can be accomplished this way, but if it works I'll report back with notes.

Re: Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento ...

Made this recipe over the weekend. The beans are very unusual in texture and the taste kind of reminds me of molasses. Or perhaps a rich salty caramel. Very interesting taste and texture. Next time I make them I'll try to halve or even third the recipe; I don't think I'll be able to get through this batch in a few days, as I wouldn't want more than a spoonful in my bento as a sweet!

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