History of Fermented Black Soybeans (formerly Soy Nuggets) (Shih or Chi, Douchi or Doushi, Dow See, Hamanatto, Daitokuji Natto, etc) - Page 1

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s


©Copyright 2004 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

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What are Fermented Black Soybeans (Soy Nuggets)? We have coined the term "fermented black soybeans"" to refer to a family of usually salty, fermented-and-aged whole soybean seasonings or condiments that have been made and used throughout East Asia under a variety of names since ancient times. Ironically, this oldest of all fermented soyfoods is, today, the least widely known worldwide.

The various types of soy nuggets are all made in basically the same way. In China, large soybeans, either black or yellow, are used; in Japan, only yellow are used. The soybeans are soaked and steamed until soft, drained, cooled, and inoculated with spores of the koji mold Aspergillus oryzae , which is also used to make miso and shoyu; species of Rhizopus mold (used to make tempeh) are also reported to be used occasionally. The mold is usually mixed with roasted wheat- or glutinous-rice flour, then used to enrobe the beans. After several days of incubation, the resultant soybean koji is packed in kegs with salt water and various spices, seeds, and/or slivered gingerroot (and occasionally rice wine), then aged, usually under a pressing lid, for several months. The soy nuggets made in China and Japan are then sun dried to give them a dark color; they look something like chocolate brown to grayish-black plump raisins and have a deep, rich, savory flavor, somewhat salty and chocolate-like, resembling that of Hatcho miso.

The soy nugget sauces made in the Philippines and Malaysia consist of the soy nuggets sold in their brining liquor. Regardless of their consistency, soy nuggets are used as a seasoning with rice, rice porridge, sauteed or stir-fried dishes, and a wide variety of sauces.

Etymology . From the first or second centuries BC, soy nuggets were known in Chinese as shih . The right hand side of the character for soy nuggets ( shih ) was identical to the right side of the character for soybeans ( shu ), indicating the close link between the two. By the sixth century, both salted and salt-free soy nuggets were being produced. This distinction was made by using the terms tan??shih ("mild shih" ) and yen??shih ("salt shih" ). The original shih were probably the salted type. Even in ancient times, it is thought that shih were occasionally made from seeds other than soybeans. By the seventh century, to specify clearly the soybean-based product, the term douchi ("bean chi") had been developed. By the late 1500s the term dadou-chi ("soybean chi") was used occasionally, as in materia medica such as the Pen-ts'ao Kang-mu , to specify exactly what type of "bean chi." At some unknown date, prior to the late 1800s, tou-shih also came to be pronounced tou-ch'ih , which is today the most common pronunciation in standard Chinese (Mandarin). In pinyin, the term is written douchi . In Cantonese tou-shih evolved into the present dow-si , also called sa dow-si , where sa means "??"

As early as the fifth century in China, soy nuggets came to be fermented with (lightly salted??) water, then the liquid was filtered off to make shih-yu ?? ( char?? chiyou in pinyin and si-yao in Cantonese, which we will call "soy nugget sauce." This savory seasoning was probably quite similar to today's tamari shoyu. By 1711 an apparently related product shih-?? ( ) had started to be made. We will call this "soy nugget liquid." Ref??

As soy nuggets spread throughout Southeast Asia, the pronunciation of their name generally resembled the dow-si of Canton. Thus in the Philippines we find tau-si or tao-si (Philippine soy nugget sauce) and in Malaysia tao-si (Malaysia soy nugget sauce). Close relatives of these products were the various soybean pastes that evolved from Chinese doujiang . These included Indonesian taucho (spelled tauco in Indonesia and formerly spelled tao-tjo ) and Malaysian tau-cheo or tau-chio . We will discuss these latter products in Chapter 33: Miso and Soybean Jiang.

When the Chinese character first entered Japan in the eighth century, it was pronounced kuki . It is not known where this pronunciation came from. By the 11th century, the term natto had evolved and it gradually replaced the term kuki . By the Edo period (1600-1868) the character for kuki had also come to be pronounced miso , as in the Daisansho Osadame Gaki . And by the Meiji period (1868-1912) the character for kuki had disappeared from the list of standard Japanese characters ( toyo-kanji ).

The word "natto" was eventually used to refer to two very different types of fermented soyfoods: stringy natto fermented with bacteria and salty natto fermented with molds. To designate the latter, the descendants of the Chinese chi or salty soy nuggets, the following terms evolved sequentially: shiokara natto and kara natto ("salty natto"), tera natto ("temple natto"), and miso natto . Details on the significance of these terms will be given later. The modern term Daitokuji natto originated in the early 1400s and Hamana-natto, when was shortened to Hamanatto, in about 1730. (Which??)

In English, the earliest references to Chinese soy nuggets were as "bean relish," "salted beans," or "tou-shih" (Stuart 1911; Shih 1918). The first reference to the Japanese product was as Hamanatto, by Piper and Morse (1923). Hesseltine (1965), a microbiologist, has referred to the product as "fermented soybeans" or "Chinese black beans." From the 1950s on, the imported Chinese product sold in America was most widely labeled "salted black beans," but was also labeled "fermented black beans." Neither term indicated that the food was made from soybeans. The term soy nuggets was first used by Shurtleff and Aoyagi in The Book of Miso (1981). A short (two-word) and appealing term was desired that contained the word "soy" and could be used to refer to all the closely related mold-fermented whole soybean products made throughout East Asia. An adjective could then be added to the beginning to indicate the specific type of product, such as "Daitokuji soy nuggets," or "savory soy nuggets" (Hamanatto). The only limitation with this terminology (aside from the fact that it is new) is that the term "nugget" implies that the individual soybeans are hard, whereas in fact they are as soft as raisins. No better two-word term has yet been suggested. "Salted soybeans" won't work since some types of soy nuggets are unsalted and since the term suggests a product resembling salted peanuts. The word "natto" was deliberately omitted from the term to avoid confusion with regular natto (see Chapter 38).

The only European reference to the Chinese product was in the 1800s in France; it was called Chi or Teou-che , clearly derived from tou-ch'ih .


Early Developments, Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) . Soy nuggets have the distinction of being one of the earliest known soyfoods for which we have firm evidence. Recent excavations in China found soy nuggets (in either a woven bamboo packet or a crock) in the famous Western Han Dynasty Tomb No. 1 at Ma-wang-tui, located at Ch'ang-shu, Hunan. The tomb, containing the body of the wealthy wife of a Han dynasty ruler, was sealed in about 168 BC and uncovered in 1972, a sensational event. In the tomb, in addition to many beautiful art and craft objects, was a food container on which were written characters tou-shih-kyo (Chinese??), meaning "soy nuggets with gingerroot." This food was in the container, along with hemp seeds, dates, and gingerroot. Also found in the tomb were samples of soybeans (the earliest archaeological remains of beans from China) and 312 inscribed bamboo slips, which described various other foods and seasonings, including varieties of chiang made from meat (Shinoda 1974; Chang 1977; Sakaguchi 1979).

The first mention of soy nuggets (or of any soyfood??) appears in the Historical Records (Chinese: Shih chi ; Japanese: Shiki ), by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, the great historian, who died in about 85 BC. Watson (1961) translated "The Biographies of the Money-makers" chapter as stating: "Any one who in the market town of the great cities manages in the course of a year to sell . . . a thousand jars of leaven or salted soy nuggets (yen shih) . . . may live as well as the master of an estate of a thousand chariots." C-C Wu/Hagerty rendered the Huo Chih or "Political Economy" chapter as stating: "In the big centers and capital cities, at the harvest time, Nieh ch'u yen shih (salted soy nuggets) were on sale in the markets, and the quantity which was sold in one year amounted to one thousand ta ." Also in the Shih chi (1,2:364) soy nuggets were found on a very short list of food supplies that Prince Liu Ch'ang received from the government after his plot of revolution had been discovered. Soy nuggets ( shih ) were even mentioned in an elementary Han dynasty textbook, the Chi-chiu p'ien , of the first century BC: "Soy nuggets ( shih ) are made from black soybeans . . . chiang is made from soybeans and wheat flour." Actually there is an even earlier allusion to soy nuggets in The Elegies of Ch'u (Ch'u tzu) in the third or fourth century BC. In a poem by Ch'u Yuan called "Summoning of Spirits," mention was made of a preparation called ta ku hsien suan hsin kan hsing (translate??). A later commentator said that ta ku ("great bitterness") referred to soy nuggets ( shih ). Wu (1848) noted that this description would seem to refer to soy nugget sauce, a mixture obtained by mixing salt, pepper, ginger, and honey with the soybeans. These ingredients make a substance which has an acrid-sweet taste and is used in preparing congee ( chou ). All of the above facts seem to indicate that soy nuggets were well known and widely used during the early Han dynasty, and probably existed before the Han.

The Han Shu (AD 90) stated at about the beginning of the Christian era a famous rich man in the capital at Chang-an engaged in the business of making and selling soy nuggets (Wu 1848). The Shuo-wen chieh-tzu , one of China's earliest dictionaries written by Hsu Shen in about AD 121, defined soy nuggets (shih) as being made by fermenting soybeans with salt. The author also stated that "The term shu (soybeans) is used to denote the salted (black) bean" (Wu 1848). A supplement to the Shuo-wen , the Shuo-wen hsi chuan , also discussed the close link between soybeans and shih : "When prepared with salt, the beans are called shu ?? ( ) or more commonly shih ( ). Another early dictionary, the Shih ming , written by Liu Hsi in about AD 200 stated that "Soy nuggets ( shih ) have an excellent taste, having all the five flavors harmonized together. They can be sweet. They are necessary in order to complete the flavor of the food and make it taste good." According to Ying Shao of the second century AD (Ref??), soy nuggets were served as a seasoning for dried fish or meat during the Han dynasty.

Developments from the Third to the 16th Century. In the late third and early fourth centuries the writer Shu Hsi mentioned that soy nuggets were the most popular seasoning for noodle dishes (Chang 1977). Wang Hsi-chih (321-379) in "The Record of Shih Wine" wrote "When I was young, I drank shih wine ( shih chiu ). It was very good." Tao Hung-ching (fifth century) wrote that Puchou in Shansi and Shenchou in Honan were places noted for making excellent soy nuggets. At Shenchou a soy nugget sauce ( chiyou ??) was made which would keep for 10 years but was not as good for medicinal purposes as other kinds, as no salt was used in its manufacture (Stuart 1911). This is the earliest known reference to a salt-free soy nugget product. The Shih ching ( The Classic of Food or The Catering Guide ), written prior to AD 535, gave the first instructions for making soy nuggets (translated in full by Shih 1962), and for making "thousand year bitter soy wine." The soy nuggets, usually made in the fifth to eighth month of the ancient lunar calendar, were prepared as follows. Take 22 liters of soybeans, sour them well (meaning??), and soak overnight. Steam well, then spread to a depth of 6 cm on the ground or a mat and allow to cool. Cover with rushes 5-6 cm thick and leave for 3 days, or until yellowed. Remove the rushes and spread to form a thinner layer. Stir and re-spread 3 times a day for 3 more days. Cook another portion of beans to get a thick, syrupy decoction. Take 0.22 liters each of glutinous-rice based koji starter and salt, mix into the beans, then sprinkle on the syrup. Knead well, then place into a pottery jar until full, but do not press. Pack any empty space on top with wild mulberry leaves. Tightly seal the jar with mud, and place in the courtyard for 27 days. Then pour out, spread, and dry in the sunshine. Steam well again, sprinkle with a decoction of mulberry leaves, then spread and sun-dry again. After steaming and sunning three times the product is ready.

The Ming i pieh lu , a materia medica written by T'ao Hung-ching (452-536) says (according to Wu 1848):

Soy nuggets (shih) have an acrid, bitter taste and a cold effect upon the system, but they are not poisonous. They are used as a remedy for injury from cold, headaches, chills and fever, malaria, serious poisoning, and other diseases. T'ao Yin-chu says that soy nuggets can be made a constant article of diet. But in the spring and summer, when the weather is disagreeable, they should be boiled or fried, and only those which have been steeped in wine should be used. These are extremely good.

The earliest?? existing description of the process for making soy nuggets (and "barley nuggets") is found in the Ch'i-min yao-shu ("the essential writings of the people of Ch'i;" Saimin Yojutsu in Japanese), the world's first encyclopedia of agriculture, in 10 fascicles, written by Chia Ssu-hsie circa AD 535. It gave four recipes for making soy nuggets, including the one from the Shih ching given above. A detailed summary of the processes in the Ch'i-min yao-shu was given by C.P. Li (1948):

(Shih) was better prepared in the fourth month of the lunar calendar. Rooms were built by excavating the earth to the depth of from two to four feet. Straw was best for making the roof, tiles being inferior. The windows were tightly sealed with mud in order to guard them against the wind, insects, and mice, and only a small door protected by a thick straw screen was provided for exit and inlet.

The soybeans were boiled in a large pan with pure water. After softening and draining, the mass was spread out on the ground to cool. Then it was heaped up in the room for about one day. Heat gradually developed mounting nearly to body temperature. Having been tested with the hands by stretching them into the middle of the heap, the bean was turned over by means of a rake in order to make the temperature uniform outside and inside and the heap was again made up as before. This operation was repeated after another day. If a proper temperature was maintained, the growing of the mold, which showed a faint white color, took place after four or five turnings. After the second turning, the apex of the heap was leveled down leaving a flat circular mass more than two and a half feet thick. This was further reduced to a thickness of from one and a half feet to one foot after the third and the fourth turning. During this time the white molds were produced all over the bean and gradually assumed a yellow color. The depth of the bean layer was then diminished to about five inches, and the door was kept shut for 3 days. The material was raked every other day into elevated rows having the depth of about four inches like furrows in the field. When the yellow mold covered the whole of it, the mass was taken out of the room for winnowing.

The moldy bean mass after being winnowed was soaked in water and beaten with a paddle so as to remove impurities and render it properly soft. It was then put into a basket and washed by pouring water over it. After draining, it was mixed with common salt and spread over a piece of matting.

A large quantity of cereal stalk which had been previously collected was now spread to the depth of from more than two and a half to four feet on the floor of a cellar which was also lined with straw. The bean was then put on to the stalks and covered with matting, above which some cereal stalks were also spread as thick as at the bottom. In summer, it was allowed to ferment for 10 days; in spring or autumn, 12 or 13 days, and in winter, 15 days. The product ("shih") prepared in this way was of a dark color, of excellent taste and fragrance.

The Ch'i-min yao-shu also discussed the use of black soybeans in making soy nuggets and mentioned that the fragrance of wheat or barley nuggets is better than that of soy nuggets. It described the preparation of salt-free soy nuggets by omitting the initial salt, then drying after several days' fermentation. The product was said to be easier to make if salt were added, but the quality was considered lower. Sakaguchi (1979) has commented that the basic inoculum for soy nuggets, called "yellow robe" in Chinese, was a mold of the genus Aspergillus , and the unsalted koji was very similar to that used today to make Hatcho miso or tamari shoyu. The preparation of soy nuggets signified the appearance of a new method of making koji, using soybeans as the substrate. Formerly the koji molds had always been grown on grain. Sakaguchi also believed that Rhizopus molds ("white robe") were used to make soy nuggets, but the Rhizopus technique was never transmitted to Japan. Grain nuggets fermented with Rhizopus were called ku shu (transl??).

The Yao hsing lun a medical work by Chen Kuan who died in 627, stated that "Soy nuggets ( tou-shih ) are a sour condiment and a good remedy for the cure of poison contracted by any domestic animals. It has a bitter-sweet taste and is used as a remedy for painful dysentery accompanied by bloody passages." The medicinal preparation was made by simmering soy nuggets in water, straining off the concentrated broth, then drinking this (Wu 1848). The Shih-liao pen-ts'ao , a materia medica written by Meng Shen between 650

and 700, stated (according to Wu 1848; Stuart 1911):

The soy nugget sauce (chiyou??) from Shenchou in Honan is superior to ordinary soy nuggets. To make it, steam (fermented??) soybeans until yellow and soft. For every 2 gallons (1 tou) add 2 quarts (4 sheng) of salt and 4 ounces (liang) of Chinese pepper (char??). Let is stand for 3 days in spring, or 2 in summer or 5 in winter, until it is half ripe. Now add 5 ounces (liang) of fresh ginger and let it stand in order to clarify. The best method is to bury the fermenting vat in horse manure. When soybeans cannot be obtained, good quality soy nuggets can be used as a substitute. Use only the liquid part.

The Pen ts'ao shih i , a materia medica of the eighth century, discussed both the salted soy nuggets from Pu-chou in Shansi province and the soy nugget sauce from Shen-chou in Honan province. The latter salt-free product, which would keep for many years without spoiling, was not recommended for medicinal use.

Records show that in 754, the great T'ang dynasty blind Buddhist priest Chien-chen (Japanese: Ganjin) arrived in Japan by boat, bringing with him 1,428 gallons of salt-free soy nuggets ( kan-shih ). These are now widely considered to have been the progenitor of many of Japan's present fermented soyfoods (Kawamura 1958; Kawamura and Tatsumi 1972).

By the late T'ang dynasty, soy nuggets were apparently made by the government. In the T'ang shu (887-946), Liu Hsu noted in the "Records of the Hundred Officials" chapter that "In the department of the controller of fermented foods are 23 chiang craftsmen, 12 vinegar craftsmen, and 12 soy-nugget craftsmen ( shih chiang )." The T'u-ching pen-ts'ao , a materia from the late Sung dynasty (10th-12th centuries) repeated the earlier belief that "soy nuggets are very cooling to the system." The Ch'i tung yeh yu , written by Chou Mi in 1291, told an amusing story indicating that salted soy nuggets from Kiangsi province were famous (What story?? Famous for what??).

The Min shu , a description of Fukien province by Ho K'iao-yuan^ (late 1500s) stated that black soybeans ( hei tou ) were used for making soy nuggets.

The Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu (1578-97) . China's most famous materia medica, the Pen ts'ao kang mu , compiled in 1578 by Li Shih-chen and published in 1597, gave the most detailed descriptions to date of both salted soy nuggets ( hsien-shih ) and unsalted ( tan-shih ). Black soybeans were said to be used when making soy nuggets for medicinal purposes, and a liquid made from salt-free soy nuggets (called tan shih-yu ??) made from black soybeans was most widely used in treating diseases. To make salt-free soy nuggets (after Stuart 1911):

In the sixth month take 2 or 3 pecks of black soybeans, wash clean and soak in water over night. Drain off the water and steam soft. Spread out on matting and, after it has become slightly cool, cover with artemisia stalks. Examine it every 3 days to note the process of fermentation. The layer of Mycoderma (pellicle) which grows on top should not be allowed to become too thick. When sufficiently fermented, take out, dry in the sun, and sift clean. Mix in clean water to give a semi-moist consistency, just so the juice will exude between the fingers when the material is squeezed in the hand. Pack firmly into an earthenware jar, cover with a layer of mulberry leaves 3 inches thick, and seal with clay. Set the jar in the sun daily for 7 days. Then take out the contents and dry for a little while in the sun. Again moisten and repack in the jar. Do this seven times, then boil again, spread on matting, dry using a fire, pack again into jars, and seal for future use.

To make salted soy nuggets, take one peck (2 gallons) of soybeans and soak them in water for 3 days. Wash, steam, and spread out in a storeroom. When they have fermented, take them up, sift them clean and wash in water. For every 4 pounds, take 1 pound of salt, and half a pound of shredded gingerroot, and of peppers, orange peel, thyme, fennel, and apricot kernels, a sufficient quantity. Put all into an earthenware jar and cover with water to a depth of 1 inch. Cover with bamboo skin and seal the mouth of the jar. Place in the sun for one month; it will then be done.

To prepare soy nugget sauce or liquid (like soy sauce), between the tenth and the first months take 3 pecks of good salted soy nuggets. Boil fresh hempseed oil until it smokes, then add the beans and cook thoroughly. Spread the mixture on matting and dry in the sun. When it is dry, steam again. Repeat this process three times, then add a peck of refined salt and pack all well together. Pour on hot water and percolate three or four gallons. Put into a clean caldron and add pepper, gingerroot, onion, and shredded orange peel, and boil all together until one-third of the total has evaporated. Then put it into a vessel and let it stand; it will develop an exceedingly fine flavor.

Li then described the many ways that the various soy nuggets and soy nugget liquid were used medicinally. Medicinal uses of the Puchou soy nuggets (very salty and cooling) and the Shenchou soy nugget liquid were described (Stuart 1911).


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