What is Kinako and How to Use It

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Kinako is a delicate flour made from roasted soybeans. Literally translated as “yellow powder,” kinako is a Japanese condiment with a toasty golden hue used to garnish desserts. Known in Japan as a superfood, kinako has a warm, nutty flavor similar to that of peanuts!

Kinako in a pile on a grey background

Ai Willis of Ai made it for you is here to share the ins and outs of kinako with us!

Hi everyone! I’m Ai Willis, an ex-kindergarten teacher, now stay at home mama, and owner of Ai made it for you!

Having a Japanese mother and an American father (and a major sweet tooth), I have a strong love for both Japanese and American desserts. I occasionally try to post savory recipes but I always come back to the sweets. I can’t help it!

I love adding Japanese twists to American desserts (Yuzu cheesecakes, anyone?), and kinako is a new favorite of mine.

What is Kinako?

Kanako next to soybeans

Kinako is a powder made by finely milling deskinned roasted soybeans.

It is most commonly used to garnish mochi, either on its own or sweetened with sugar. However, it is also a very popular flavor for chocolates and ice cream!

Kinako dusted mochi drizzled with maple syrup.

Kinako-dusted mochi drizzled with maple syrup.

Japanese families will buy mochi or pound their own for New Year celebrations, and will often combine kinako and sugar as a coating. Many people enjoy drizzling kuromitsu, black sugar syrup, over the kinako to add both sweetness and a deeper flavor. I’ve also done this without adding sugar to the kinako and using honey and maple syrup.

Kinako has all of the many health benefits of soybeans, most notably its protein content. Soybeans are known in Japan as hatake no niku, or “meat of the fields.” They have a higher protein content than chicken breast!

Kinako is also high in dietary fiber, soy isoflavones, vitamin B, and minerals like magnesium, which is why kinako is so popular among Japanese women.

Where to Buy Kinako

bag of Kinako

Photo from Amazon

You can find kinako at Japanese or international grocery stores or you can buy kinako online [paid link]. It is not the same thing as other soybean flours that you might find because the beans have been roasted before milling into kinako.

You can also make your own kinako using a coffee grinder. But, it’ll require some patience. You see, kinako is all about the fine delicate texture so you need to get the skin off the soybeans. I tried making my own with the skin on, but the texture was less fine and slightly mealy compared to store-bought kinako.

Unique Uses for Kinako

Kinako is a popular flavoring, so you can often see kinako-flavored products in Japanese bakeries and grocery stores:

  • kinako cookies
  • kinako chocolates
  • kinako ice creams
  • even kinako donuts!

I generally add a heaping spoonful of kinako to my oatmeal for breakfast along with cinnamon and maple syrup. It’s delicious and the boost of protein keeps me full until lunch – a difficulty for a breastfeeding mom.

I asked my friends what their favorite way to use kinako was, and I was surprised by the many different uses I had yet to try! Many used kinako in beverages, kinako lattes and milkshakes being the most popular.

It pairs incredibly well with milk, both cow and nut milk. Many people sprinkle kinako on their yogurt with some granola, on vanilla ice cream, or buttered toast. I’m thinking buttered french toast topped with sliced bananas and kinako with a drizzling of maple syrup… yum!

Can You Use Kinako In Place of All-Purpose Flour?

A kinako muffin on a grey background

Kinako is gluten-free and a good low-carb alternative to flour.

When baking, you can replace up to a quarter of the total amount of flour with kinako without compromising the texture.

Kinako has a distinct flavor that you’ll taste in the final product, but it’ll be mild once baked.

If you want a stronger kinako taste profile, I suggest adding kinako as a garnish. Mixing it into vanilla frosting would be the perfect frosting for some matcha cupcakes!

If you are looking for a recipe to try with Kinako, I suggest my kinako muffins. They feature kinako in the muffin batter, the filling, and the streusel topping!

I also recommend that you take a look at other Japanese treats like kashiwa mochi, a traditional Japanese treat for kids.

How have you used kinako? Let us know in the comments!

Ai sitting with her baby on her lap

Ai Willis lives in a small, cozy apartment in Japan with her husband/taste tester and her son. She is on a mission to create delicious treats all during her son’s naps, as quietly as possible trying not to wake him up.