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Zuoxing Zheng Kalidas Shetty University of Massachusetts Amherst, Massachusetts


Fermented soy foods are an important part of the human diet in Asia. The fermented soy foods that originated many thousands of years ago in the Asian countries are often referred to as indigenous fermented foods (1,2). Some of the fermented soy foods are now popular in the West (3). The increased palatability of fermented soy foods is due to desirable changes in soybean properties, including texture and organoleptic characteristics (flavor, aroma, and appearance or consistency). Elimination of beany flavors, improvement in digestibility, enhanced keeping quality of the product, improved safety (absence of toxins and partial and/or complete elimination of antinutritional factors), improved nutrition, and reduced cooking time (3) are results of fermentation of soybeans. Fermentation makes the organoleptic characteristics of soybean more attractive to the consumer than the raw soybean.

Of the great number of fermented soybeans consumed in Asia, only a few have been studied in the West; these are described in Table 1 (3,4). Some of these products are used primarily as flavoring agents that add some protein or amino acid to generally bland and low-protein diets. Others, such as tempe and natto, are served as staples. The origin of some fermented and nonfermented soy foods is presented in Table 2. The majority of soy foods, such as soy milk, soybean sprout, tofu, fermented tofu, soy sauce, and miso, originated in China. Natto is a soy food of Japanese origin, whereas tempeh originated in Indonesia (5).


The recorded use of soy sauce dates back 2,700 years in China. The prototypes of soy sauce are believed to have been introduced from China to Japan more than 1,300

Table 1. Asian Fermented Soyfoods
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