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Macrobiotics: Yin and Yang

In the final part of this three part series, Helen Best-Shaw discovers Macrobiotics

Written by . Published on October 6th 2011.

Macrobiotics: Yin and Yang

ALTHOUGH not solely a Japanese idea, macrobiotics has been heavily influenced by both Japanese food and teachers. At it’s most basic, a macrobiotic diet is grain and vegetable based, including naturally fermented foods, avoiding refined and processed foods and most animal products. Foods such as brown rice, vegetables, miso, soy and sea vegetables are the staples of a Japanese macrobiotic diet, as well as local and seasonal foods. 

Another aspect of macrobiotics is the concept of a balance of yin and yang in food.  George Ohsawa, a Japanese macrobiotic teacher, believed that yin and yang are relative in food, most products contain both properties. Yin foods are considered light, cold and diffuse. Yang foods are dense, heavy and hot.

Macrobiotic devotees believe in the considerable health benefits of the diet, and many celebrities are followers of the diet.


Soy Beans And TofuSoy Beans And Tofu

Tofu is soy bean curd, or even more simply soy bean cheese, made by coagulating soy milk, straining the curds from the whey and then pressing them. Soy milk is made by grinding soaked soy beans and then boiling and straining them.   

Japanese tofu is usually made by adding nigari to the warm milk. Nigari contains magnesium chloride, obtained from seawater, which the salt (sodium chloride) has been removed from. Silken tofu is far softer, with a custard-like consistency and a higher water content. 

Tofu suffers from a poor reputation, but treated properly is delicious and a good source of low fat protein. Tofu so fresh it is still warm is utterly delicious. 

Noodles & Rice

Noodles And RiceNoodles And Rice

Traditional Japanese noodles differ from pasta in several ways; firstly wheat noodles are made from softer flour, whereas pasta is usually made from the harder durum wheat.  Japanese noodles will be softer, with a silkier texture than pasta, which is firmer and takes longer to cook.  

The noodle dough is rolled into long thin sheets and then cut into strips, making noodles with a square cross section.   These are then cut into two metre long sections and air dried for around 30 hours. 

Soba noodles are made using buckwheat, which, despite its name, contains no wheat and is gluten free. Buckwheat noodles are a darker brown and have a nutty taste. High in protein buckwheat also contains the micronutrient choline, reported to help cleanse alcohol from an overburdened liver. Consequently, soba noodles are often served at the end of a big party or a night of drinking in Japan!

Sushi rice needs to both short grain and sticky, so it will stay clumped together.  Rice containing high amounts of amylopectin, a complex starch, will generally be sticky and the japonica variety is the most common type of sushi rice in Japan.



Sencha accounts for 80 percent of the tea produced in Japan. After harvesting, it is briefly steamed and then dried, which gives it is characteristic colour and grassy, fresh taste.    Matcha is a powdered tea, made from stone ground Tencha. For several weeks before harvesting the tea bushes are covered, slowing growth and causing raised levels of amino acids in the tea, providing the characteristic vivid green colour and sweetness. Much prized matcha is used in tea ceremonies and in all manner of sweets and desserts.   Steenbergs Organics told me that Japanese tea is becoming increasingly popular, with their best sellers being matcha, sencha, genmaicha then bancha. 

Three brief articles are not nearly enough to cover the subject properly, but hopefully this has been a good overview.  For more information there is an excellent glossary on Eat Japan.

To buy great Japanese ingredients I recommend Clearspring, whose whole range (apart from sea vegetables) is organic and largely sourced from small artisan Japanese Producers. 

The Japan Centre (http://www.japancentre.com/) on London's Regent Street has a comprehensive Japanese supermarket, and Steenbergs have a wide range of organic Japanese teas, including matcha.

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