History of Azuki Beans Worldwide (300 BCE to 2021)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-54-0

Publication Date: 2018 Oct. 18

Number of References in Bibliography: 1219

Earliest Reference: 300 BCE

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Brief Chronology of Azuki Beans

Azuki beans and soybeans are usually paired in China and Japan. The soybean is called the “big bean” (dadou in Chinese; daizu in Japanese) and the azuki bean is called the “small bean” (xiaodou in Chinese; shozu or azuki in Japanese).

325 BCE – The azuki bean may have been mentioned in the Guanzi [The Book of Master Kuan] under the name xishu. However, both the date and the name are uncertain.

300 BCE – The azuki bean may well have been mentioned in the Zhouli [Rites of the Zhou dynasty] under the name daxiaodou, which means “large and small bean.” In China, from this point on, the azuki bean is referred to as the “small bean.”

270 BCE – The azuki bean is clearly mentioned in the Shennong Shu [The Book of Shennong, the Heavenly Husbandman]. It is called xiaodou (“small bean”).

40 BCE – The azuki bean is again referred to as xiaodou in the Jijiu Pian [Handy Primer, or Dictionary for Urgent use], by Shi You.

544 CE – In the famous Chinese manuscript Quimin Yaoshu [Important Arts for the People’s Welfare], Jia Sixie refers to azuki beans once as baixiaodou (white azuki beans).

712 CE – The azuki bean is first mentioned outside of China in Japan, in the Kojiki [Record of Ancient Matters]. In this, Japan’s oldest chronicle and the mythical story of Japan’s origin, it is said that red beans [probably azuki beans] grew in the nose of the slain deity.

1200 – Azuki beans appear in a cookbook, Wushi Zhongguilu [Madam Wu’s Recipe Book]. One sweet recipe, a dumpling made to celebrate the Double Fifth Festival (see p. 56) calls for a rich stuffing that includes red beans [azuki].

1603 – Azuki beans are called Azzuqi in the famous Vocabulario da Lingoa de Iapam, compiled and published in Japan, in Portuguese and Japanese, by the Companhia de Iesus [Society of Jesus (Jesuit)].

1712 – Englebert Kaempfer, writing in Latin in his Amoenitatum Exoticarum Politico-Physico-Medicarum, Fasculi V [Exotic Novelties, Political, Physical, Medical. Vol. 5] refers to azuki beans variously as sjodsu, adsuki, and atsuki.

1727 – Azuki beans are first mentioned in an English language document by Englebert Kaempfer. In his History of Japan… he calls them Adsuki or Sodsu.

1736 – Azuki beans are first mentioned in a French language document by Pierre Charlevoix. In his Histoire et description generale du Japon he calls them Atsuki.

1742 – The earliest known image appears in China in the Shoushi Tongkao (Compendium of Works and Days. Imperial Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Related Topics).

1804 – An early color illustration of the azuki bean appears in Japan in the Seikei-Zusetsu [Agricultural Encyclopedia (Illustrated) 30 vols. (See Adzuki bean at Wikipedia).

1854 – Azuki is believed to have been first introduced into the United States by the Perry expedition (Admiral Commodore Perry). Browne (1855) wrote that the expedition brought back two varieties of “Soja bean,” the 'White' and the 'Red-seeded,' both of which are employed by the Japanese for making soy [sauce], a kind of black sauce...” Almost all later writers (e.g., Piper & Morse 1914) stated that the ‘Red seeded’ bean was probably an adzuki bean.

1859 – Azuki beans are first referred to as “red beans” in an English language document, Japan and Her People, by Andrew Steinmetz.

1867 – In the first (but slightly unpolished) edition of his famous dictionary, A Japanese and English Dictionary, James C. Hepburn introduces many new words related to azuki: “An,” “Sekihan,” “Shiruko,” “small red bean,” “Yayenari” and “Yokan.”

1872 – The word “Adzuki” is first used in an English language document by James C. Hepburn in his Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary. 2nd ed. This spelling is very popular thereafter, appearing in at least 262 English language documents.

1872 – Azuki beans are first mentioned in a German language document by S. Syrski. In a book chapter titled Landwirthschaft in Japan [Agriculture in Japan] he calls them Adsuki.

1879 – Edward Kinch, living in Japan, writes a remarkable 65-page work titled Japan: A Classified and Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Agricultural Products Exhibited in the Sydney International Exhibition. This is the earliest English-language document seen that uses the word Shodzu (or shôdzu or shôzu or shodzu or shozu) to refer to the azuki bean, or that gives its scientific name as Phaseolus radiatus, or that reports the existence of large and small varieties, or that uses the word Bundo to refer to a type of azuki bean.

1880 – Edward Kinch writes a long article titled “Contributions to the agricultural chemistry of Japan” in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan. In one section (p. 401), “Adzuki or Shôdzu, Phaseolus radiatus,” he is the first to mention a large variety called Dai-na-gon [later generally spelled Dainagon] and a white kind, Shiro-adzuki [white adzuki]. Dainagon (spelled without hyphens) was first used in 1895.

1886 – The word “azuki,” so widely used today, is first used by James C. Hepburn in the 3rd edition of A Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary.

1890 Dec. – The earliest known reference to the “adzuki” bean in the United States appears in Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 18, in an article titled “Experiment with forage plants,” by C.C. Georgeson, H.M. Cottrell and W. Shelton. Page 188 states: "We also obtained from Japan two varieties of Dolichos radiatus. The Japanese name for this class of beans is Adzuki. The two varieties grown here are known only by their native names, viz. Shiro Saya Shozo [red seeds, white pods] and Kuro Saya Shozo” [red seeds, black pods].

Thus, C.C. Georgeson appears to have been the second person, after Commodore Perry, to have introduced the adzuki bean to the United States.

1892 June 15 – The earliest known reference to the azuki bean in an American newspaper appears in an article in the Kansas Farmer (Topeka, Kansas) titled “Agricultural matters: Test of some Japanese beans,” by C.C. Georgeson. The text begins: “Two species of Japanese beans have been grown here at the station for two years past. These are the soy bean and the adzuki...”

This is a reprint of information that first appeared in Bulletin No. 32 of the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

1894 March 1– McCarthy and Emery write “Some leguminous crops and their economic value,” published in North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 98. They state (p. 143): “Japanese Beans –Phaseolus radiatus [azuki beans] – Japanese Bean No. 5. – A low and slender-growing plant bearing numerous pods well filled with a small red bean which makes excellent soup.”

1895 – In Useful Plants of Japan: Described and Illustrated. Vol. 1, the Agricultural Society of Japan discusses five varieties of Phaseolus radiatus, including Tsuru adsuki (a climbing subspecies), a “Red-fruited dwarf bean” whose seeds are boiled with glutinous rice to make Kowameshi (also called sekihan), etc.

1897 June – Osborne & Campbell write “Proteid of the white podded adzuki bean (Phaseolus Radiatus)” in the J. of the American Chemical Society (p. 509-13). They write: “This is a small red bean cultivated in Japan. The seeds used in this investigation were grown in Kansas and sent to us by Prof. C.C. Georgeson.”

The authors found in the Japanese adzuki bean a globulin (protein) which was so like phaseolin, both in properties and composition, that it was stated to be that protein.

1910 – The terms “jam,” “bean jam” and “red bean jam” are first used in English to refer to sweet azuki bean paste (an) by Jukichi Inouye in his Home Life in Tokyo.

1915 – The word Kintoki is first used to refer to azuki beans in Japan and her exhibits: At the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, 1915. Production of Kintoki in Japan is 2,050,000 kin. Note: 1 kin = 600 grams.

1931 – Azuki-related words found in Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary. 2nd ed.

akameshi (see sekihan)

amanatto: sugared red beans [a very popular snack of cooked azuki beans coated with sugar].

an: bean jam [red bean paste].

anko: bean-jam = an.

azuki: a red bean

azuki meshi = sekihan.

sekihan: rice boiled together with red beans [azuki beans].

shiruko: red-bean soup with rice cake [mochi].

1960 – Many Americans (especially young people) start to eat azuki beans thanks to the influence of the macrobiotic movement and George Ohsawa (a Japanese teacher). Starting in March 1960 with his book Zen Macrobiotics, Ohsawa and other macrobiotics usually write “aduki” bean. Two recipes (No. 121 and 122) in this initial book call for “aduki” beans.

Since the 1960s, macrobiotics and Japanese- and Chinese-Americans have done by far the most to introduce azuki beans to the Western world.

1963 – The terms “sweetened red bean paste” and “strained red bean paste” are first used by Tanaka and Nicholas in The Pleasures of Japanese Cooking.

1969 – The azuki bean is reclassified from the genus Phaseolus into the genus Vigna by Ohwi and Ohashi then confirmed in 1970 by Verdcourt in Kew Bulletin 24:507-09.

1974 – The term “sweet red-bean paste” is first used to refer to an (sweet azuki bean paste) by Cecelia Chiang, in her book The Mandarin Way (p. 164). She refers to azuki beans as xiao hong dou. Cecelia, a great lady and restaurateur, was founder and owner of The Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco.

1994 Dec.Azuki Bean: Botany, Production and Uses, by Thomas A. Lumpkin and D.C. McClary, is published by CAB International (xv, 268 p.). This is a superb book, the first comprehensive work ever written on azuki. It contains hundreds of illustrations and photos, plus a 67-page bibliography containing 1,009 references – many of them from East Asian sources, which are hard for many researchers to obtain and to understand. Dr. Lumpkin speaks Japanese and Chinese. Hu Jia, who was a librarian in China's National Agricultural Library, is working in Tom's program; she has been able to locate most of the early Chinese literature on the azuki beans, which is now cited in the bibliography of this book.

2021 – Wikipedia calls this bean “Adzuki bean.” There are also separate entries (with English names) for most of its uses, such as “Red bean paste.” “Red bean rice,” etc. Thus, it is now well represented on the Web, with many commercial products for sale.

Click here to download the full text to open and read book History of Azuki Beans Worldwide (300 BCE to 2021)