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Kinema on a traditional leaf wrapping
Alternative namesChembihik, Hokuma , Goyang, Ghogima,
TypeFermented food
Place of originLimbuwan present day Eastern Nepal
Region or stateEastern Nepal, India (Sikkim, Darjeeling),
Created byLimbu people
Main ingredientsSoybean fermented by Bacillus subtilis[1]

Kinema (Nepali: किनेमा) is a fermented soybean food, prepared by the Nepali communities of the Eastern Himalayas region: Eastern Nepal, and Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim regions of India.[2] Kinema also known as Kinama, which is a traditional food of the Kirati people.

Etymology and history

The word kinema is believed to be derived from the Limbu language kinama, where ki means fermented and nama means to smell.[3] It is a traditional food of the Limbu people .[4]

According to Indian microbiologist Jyoti Prakash Tamang, kinema is estimated to have originated around 600 BC to 100 AD during Kirat dynasty rule, introduced by Limbu people.[5]

Tale on Origin of Kinema

An ancient adage has been passed down Kirat people describing the origin of this popular dish.

Hetchhakuppa and Wahilungma were living happily by hunting and eating Dioscorea bulbifera from the forest to sustain themselves. A dreary drought had hit the place and their lives had become difficult. One day, Hetchhakuppa hunted down a pair of pigeons for food using "satbiu" (a mixture of seven types of local grains) . After eating the meat, the remaining "satbiu" is disposed of in the open.

As time passed by, the grains started to grow, bloom, and even began to bear fruit. Because of a scarcity, of food, Hetchhakuppa and Walilungma started eating the grown grains. To their surprise, their health gradually began to degrade when they ate them, and they remembered that they should eat only after worshipping and offering a portion of it to their ancestors first. It is said that the Chachhuwa Puja started along the lines of this tradition. During the Chachhuwa Puja, freshly prepared dried, flattened rice (phengkuwa in Kirati, chiura in Nepali) is always required to be offered to the Gods and ancestors alike

Soon, Hetchhakuppa and Wahilungma got stronger, as well as wealthy. Meanwhile, Momihang from the neighbouring village started growing envious of Hetchhakuppa. One day Momihang asked Hetchhakuppa, " How have you grown so strong when you neither go hunting nor go looking for yam in the country?" Hetchhakuppa innocently revealed the miraculous benefits of consuming the fruit. Momihang couldn't help but ask him for some seeds. Remembering Momihang's atrocities, Hetchhakuppa roasted all the seeds in secrecy and gave them to Momihang.

Momihang took the seeds there and scattered them all over the fields, but the seeds did not grow. Momihang grew very angry when he realised that Hetchhakuppa had completely outwitted him by giving him the roasted grains instead. Momihang then gathered his comrades and attacked Hetchhakuppa. Hetchhakuppa and Wahilungma fled to save their lives, leaving some soybeans that were boiling in the pot.

After 3-4 days when Hetchhakuppa and Wahilungma returned, they noticed that Momihang had already looted their place. There was nothing but the burning soybeans. When they open it, a pungent, acidic smell came from it.


The first step of kinema production is soaking soybeans overnight. The soaked beans are boiled until soft (2–3 hours). Water is drained off and beans are lightly cracked with a mortar. 1% of firewood ash is added and mixed thoroughly. The grits are put in a bamboo bucket lined with local fern (Glaphylopteriolopsis erubescens). The bucket is covered with a jute bag and left to ferment naturally at ambient temperatures for 1–3 days.[2]

No bacterial culture is intentionally added to kinema. Successful fermentation relies on natural bacteria, mainly Bacillus subtilis.[1]


The slimy, odorous product of fermentation is traditionally prepared into a soup that is consumed with rice, but can also be turned into a savoury dip or a pungent side dish to be consumed along with rice or bread. Kinema is traditionally prepared at home, but now it is sold in local markets and even retailed online as a dried product.

Nutritional value

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy2,000 kJ (480 kcal)
Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[7] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[8]

Kinema is considered a healthy food because fermentation breaks down complex proteins into easily digestible amino acids.[9] The product is alkaline with pH of 7.89, unlike soyabean which has a pH of 6.75. It has 62% moisture content. 48 g of protein, 28 g of carbohydrate, 17 g of fat and 7 g of ash is found in every 100 g of dry kinema. The energy value of Kinema is 2 MJ per 100 grams. Free fatty acidity in kinema is found to be about 33 times higher than raw soybeans.[10]

Similar foods

KNT (Kinema-Natto-Thua Nao) triangle
KNT (Kinema-Natto-Thua Nao) triangle

Many other Asian countries have Bacillus-fermented soyabean dishes, such as shuǐdòuchǐ of China, cheonggukjang of Korea, nattō of Japan, thua nao of Thailand, tungrymbai of Meghalaya, hawaijaar of Manipur, bekangum of Mizoram, akhuni of Nagaland, and piak of Arunachal Pradesh, India.[11]

Kinema forms one of the vertices of the "natto triangle" proposed by the Japanese ethnobiologist Sasuke Nakao. Jyoti Prakash Tamang proposed a extended ‘KNT (Kinema-Natto-Thua Nao) triangle', connecting the fermented soyabeans across Asia.[2] Nakao hypothesized Yunnan region of China to be the origin place of fermented soyabean technique, as the center of the triangle falls in that region.[12] Jyoti Prakash Tamang shows evidence that fermented soybean styles in India all derive from kinema.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b Kharnaior, P; Tamang, JP (2022). "Metagenomic-Metabolomic Mining of Kinema, a Naturally Fermented Soybean Food of the Eastern Himalayas". Frontiers in Microbiology. 13: 868383. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2022.868383. PMC 9106393. PMID 35572705.
  2. ^ a b c d Tamang, Jyoti Prakash (March 2015). "Naturally fermented ethnic soybean foods of India". Journal of Ethnic Foods. 2 (1): 8–17. doi:10.1016/j.jef.2015.02.003.
  3. ^ "Kinema—fermented flavours of Kirats and its history". Retrieved 2022-02-14.
  4. ^ Tamang, Prescilla (2020-07-08). "Axone: The Problematic Representation Of The Nepali Community In The Film". Feminism In India. Retrieved 2022-02-14.
  5. ^ "Kinema—fermented flavours of Kirats and its history". Retrieved 2022-02-14.
  7. ^ United States Food and Drug Administration (2024). "Daily Value on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels". Retrieved 2024-03-28.
  8. ^ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium (2019). Oria, Maria; Harrison, Meghan; Stallings, Virginia A. (eds.). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. The National Academies Collection: Reports funded by National Institutes of Health. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). ISBN 978-0-309-48834-1. PMID 30844154.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ KARKI, ANSUHA (2021-07-05). "Traditional food". The Himalayan Times. Retrieved 2022-02-14.
  10. ^ Sarkar, P. K.; Tamang, J. P.; Cook, P. E.; Owens, J. D. (1994-02-01). "Kinema — a traditional soybean fermented food: proximate composition and microflora". Food Microbiology. 11 (1): 47–55. doi:10.1006/fmic.1994.1007. ISSN 0740-0020.
  11. ^ "History of Natto and Its Relatives (1405-2012) - SoyInfo Center". Retrieved 2022-02-14.
  12. ^ Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (December 2010). History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in South Asia / Indian Subcontinent (1656-2010): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook. Soyinfo Center. ISBN 978-1-928914-31-0.