Traditional method of preparation

Microbiology and Nutritive value

Similar product


Kinema is one of the important components of diverse food culture of the ethnic communities in the Eastern Himalayan regions of Nepal, the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim of India, northeastern hills of India and Bhutan. Kinema is a whole-soybean fermented food with sticky texture, gray tan coloured and flavouresome. It is similar to Japanese natto. The word kinema has been derived from ‘kinambaa’ of the Limboo dialect (Limboo, being one of the major ethnic Nepali communities), “ki” means fermented and “nambaa” means flavour (Tamang, 2001). A kingdom of ‘Limbuwan’ (presently the eastern Nepal  districts of Therathum, Taplejung, Panchthar, Dhankuta, Ilam) had been established by the Limboo earlier than 7th century and they ruled independently till unification of Nepal in the 17th century. Though there is no historical document on origin of kinema, yet it is certain that among the Nepalis, the Limboo started production and consumption of this unique fermented flavoursome soybean food. Unification of Nepal, existence of mixed society of multiethnic communities and migration of people from one place to another might have resulted in diversification of kinema making and eating to other related Nepali communities such as Rai, Tamang, Gurung, Mangar, etc. However, kinema is still not popular among the Brahmin Nepalis. Other mountain ethnic communities in the Eastern Himalayas now share the delicacy of kinema. The Lepcha calls it satlyangser and the Bhutia, bari in Sikkim.


In the Sikkim Himalayas, during preparation of kinema (Fig 1-3), small-sized (~ 6 mm) yellow coated seeds of local cultivars of soybeans are soaked in spring water overnight and cooked by boiling until they can be pressed easily. Excess water is drained off and seeds are cracked lightly by a wooden pestle (locally called muslo) in a wooden mortar (locally called okhli) to split the cotyledons, probably to accelerate the fermentation and increase the surface area for aerobic spore-forming bacteria. Grits are placed in a bamboo basket lined with locally grown fresh fern {Glaphylopteriopsis erubescens (Well ex. Hook.) Ching} fronds, covered with a jute-bag and left to ferment naturally at ambient temperatures (25-400 C) for 2-3 days above earthen-oven kitchen. In some villages, about 1 % of fresh firewood ash is added in the cooked soybeans during production. In eastern Nepal, dark brown coated seeds of soybean are used to make kinema. Instead of fern leaves, Ficus and banana eaves are used as wrapping materials. The rest of the method remain the same. Completion of fermentation is indicated by the appearance of a white viscous mass and typical kinema flavour with slight ammoniacal odour. Shelf life of fresh kinema is 2-3 days during summer and a maximum of one week in winter without refrigeration. Sun-dried kinema is stored for several months at room temperature. Preparation of kinema varies from place to place and is still restricted to household level. It is interesting to note that the mountain women using their indigenous knowledge of food production exclusively prepare kinema. This unique indigenous knowledge of kinema-making has been protected as hereditary right and passes from mother to daughter.

Fig. Flow sheet of traditional method of Kinema production practiced in Sikkim


Kinema is eaten as a side-dish curry with boiled rice. Delicacy of kinema can be perceived by its appealing flavour and sticky texture. The most common traditional recipe of kinema curry is cited in figure. Heat vegetable oil in a fry pan and add chopped onions and fry till it becomes tender. Add tomatoes and turmeric powder and fry for 2 min and fry fresh kinema, add salt, sliced green chilies and fry for 3-5 min. A little water is poured to make a thick curry, and cook for 5-7 min. Kinema curry is ready to serve with boiled rice. Sun-dried kinema is sometimes mixed with leafy vegetable to make mixed curry as side dish.

Kinema production is an income generation means for some families. Kinema is sold in all local periodical markets, called ‘haats’, of these regions by rural women. Usually, it is sold by volume taking in a small silver mug containing 150-200 g of kinema, and packed in the leaves of Ficus hookeriana, and then tied loosely by straw. Polybags are not used to pack kinema. One kg of kinema costs about Rs. 30/-. On an average, 5 kg of kinema is sold by each seller in a local market with about 40 % of profit. This little profit they spend on children’s education and on domestic expenses. This trade has been protected as hereditary right and passes from mother to daughter. Though there is a good market for kinema, and moreover some rural women are involved in this income generation, kinema processing is still restricted to individual households; there is no organized processing unit or factory. Inexpensive and ready-to-use pulverized starter culture of Bacillus subtilis has been developed for kinema production, which can be adopted to suit local conditions for more income generation and is cost-effective (Tamang, 2000b).

Picture: Kinema is sold at Lal market in Gangtok



Heat resistant spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtilis, lactic acid bacteria such as Enterococcus faecium, and few types of yeast like Candida parapsilosis and Geotrichum candidum have been recovered from kinema. However, Bacillus subtilis is the dominant microflora in kinema fermentation, followed by Enterococcus faecium. It is observed that rich microbial diversity in various sources, particularly soybean, equipment and leaves as wrapping materials harness indigenous microbiota for spontaneous fermentation of kinema. Practice of not cleaning up the mortar and pestle, and using fresh leaves as wrapping materials by rural people, significantly correlate their indigenous knowledge of ‘microbiology’ to preserve and supplement microorganisms for spontaneous fermentation of kinema without using starter cultures.

On a protein-cost-per-kilogram basis, kinema is the cheapest source of plant protein compared to animal and dairy products. During kinema production, soya proteins, which have been denatured by cooking process, are hydrolyzed by proteolytic enzymes produced by Bacillus subtilis into peptides and amino acids enhancing digestibility. Remarkable increase in water-soluble nitrogen, trichloroacetic acid-soluble nitrogen contents, total amino acids, free amino acids and mineral contents was observed during kinema fermentation, and subsequently enriched the nutritional value of the product. Kinema contains (per 100 g dry matter) 48 g Protein, 17 g Fat, 28 g Carbohydrate and 2 MJ Calorie  (Sarkar et al., 1994; Tamang and Nikkuni, 1996; Tamang, 2000c).


Kinema is similar to natto of Japan, chungkok-jang of Korea, thua-nao of Thialand, Pe-poke of Myanmar, turangbai of Meghalaya, aakhuni of Nagaland, hawaijar of Manipur and bekanthu of Mizoram.

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