Kuromame are Japanese black beans cooked in sweet syrup. It is a part of Osechi Ryori, the traditional Japanese new year feast. There are a lot of kinds of dishes for Osechi, but Kuromame is one of the big three celebration dishes, along with Tazukuri (candied dried anchovies) and Kazunoko (herring roe). Sweet Kuromame is a nice complement to a lot of the other saltier dishes in Osechi.
Each part of Osechi Ryori has a meaning to it, and Kuromame symbolizes hard working and healthy living from the word “mame” (beans) sounding like another Japanese word for working diligently. Japanese black beans are actually a kind of soy bean, and it looks like very … black. Kyoto (Tanba) is a famous region for this black bean, and their specialty product is known as very high quality for its color and size.
To cook the black beans to keep a dark color and smooth surface, there are a couple of tricks. Cook in or with iron. You can use a cast iron pot to cook in like we did in this recipe. Or throw in a bunch of rusty nails as they did in the old days in Japan (we don’t really recommend this). Anthocyanin in the skin of black beans makes a chemical reaction with iron, and that gives the cooked beans a nice dark color. And cook down the water so the beans can be pigmented well in the concentrated dark water (Step 2). Avoid temperature gaps to keep the surface of the beans smooth. When you wash the beans, cool beans first and use lukewarm water (Step 4). If you wash hot beans under cold running water, that may cause the skin to wrinkle. Same thing for the syrup – put cool beans into cool syrup (Step 5). Don’t put cool beans in hot syrup. And be sure that beans are always under the liquid or covered with parchment paper. These extra steps can make a big difference in the end.
Kuromame is not hard to make, but there are a lot of steps over several days and a few things to keep in mind. However, nicely cooked Kuromame is delicious and beautiful. We think it is worthwhile to make it, especially for a new year. We’re sure that you will find this shiny Kuromame the jewel in the box of whole Osechi Ryori.
- 250g Japanese black beans
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 300g sugar
- 200ml water
- 1st DAY: Wash black beans and put in a large cast iron pot. Add baking soda and 1.5L (6-7cups) boiling water to the beans, and let it sit overnight.
- 2nd DAY: Next day, cook the beans at high heat until water boils, and skim bubbly scum. Turn down to low heat and cook for 5-6 hours. Add water as you need. The beans need to be submerged all the time. Crush a bean and see if it's squished easily. Reduce water to just barely covering the beans so the water gets a darker color. Cool.
- In a different pot, cook sugar and water until sugar completely dissolves, and cool.
- Under running warm water, gently clean beans, and strain. Be careful not to damage cooked beans.
- Add strained beans to the syrup. Cover the surface with parchment paper, and heat to just below boiling (about 5 minutes). Let it sit overnight at room temperature.
- 3rd DAY: Cook further until just before boiling and let cool.