History of Yuba - The Film That Forms atop Heated Soymilk (1587-2012)
William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-50-0
Publication Date: 2012 Nov. 1
Number of References in Bibliography: 733
Earliest Reference: 1587
If you have ever simmered a pot of milk over very low heat or set a bowl of hot milk aside to cool, you have no doubt noticed the thin, delicate film that soon forms on the milk's surface. The longer it is allowed to set, the firmer and thicker it becomes. And if you have ever tried lifting this film off and tasting it, you may well have found it to be soft, warm, and delicious. In the same way, if fairly thick soymilk is gently heated in flat and open pans at about 80-90°C, a thin cream-yellow, water-insoluble film soon covers its surface. In Japan this film is called yuba, and since ancient times it has been considered a true delicacy. Removing the first film from the soymilk surface (by carefully inserting a long skewer or shaft beneath it, then hanging it up to dry) makes way for the rapid formation of the next film. Many films can be removed from the surface and hung up to dry. The first is generally considered to be the highest quality and the last the lowest. It is also nutritious, containing 55% protein and 25% vegetable oil on a dry weight basis.
Yuba is easily prepared at home, and since it is best when fresh and warm, yuba made in your own kitchen and served as an hors d'oeuvre or as part of a meal will have a tenderness and fragrant richness that can far surpass that of the yuba ordered from even the finest traditional shops.
In what countries is yuba widely used?
Yuba is used throughout East and Southeast Asia but it is made and used most widely in China, where it is relatively inexpensive.
One traditional and very popular form of yuba, especially in China, is dried yuba sticks. The dried sticks have long had the great advantage that they can be kept or stored for months at air temperature with little or no loss in quality or flavor. Their name in pinyin is fuzhu and in Wade-Giles fu chu. The first Chinese character is the fu in tofu. The second means "bamboo," because the shape and color of this dried yuba reminds one of a tan bamboo shoot. Dried yuba sticks are made only in areas of Chinese culture – not in Japan.
In Japan, yuba is more of a specialty, elite, expensive food; the center of yuba culture is Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Yuba is also fairly well known in Vietnam, etc.
Why do we call it “yuba” instead of “bean curd skin”?
In China, where it probably originated and is still most widely used, yuba is typically called doufu pi (“bean curd skin") although it is also occasionally called doufu-yi ("bean curd robes / lingerie"). On the English-language menus of Chinese restaurants in the United States, yuba is generally called "bean curd skin" – an extremely unappetizing and inaccurate term. Yuba is not the skin of tofu. It no longer has anything to do with tofu, except that both are made from soymilk.
In Japan today the word “yuba” is written either with two Japanese hiragana characters or with the two Chinese (kanji) characters that mean “hot water” + “leaf.” It is not clear when and in what document these characters started to be used. The twin facts that (1) the word "yuba" is written in Japanese hiragana script, and that (2) the Japanese do not presently use the traditional Chinese characters ("bean curd" + "skin") suggest that the Japanese may have developed yuba before they learned about it from China.
Why not call it “tofu skin”? First, yuba no longer has anything to do with tofu. Second, the word “skin” is not appealing or appetizing in English. Third, “tofu skin” can be confused with “pressed tofu sheets.” Fourth, as of Oct. 2012, the term “tofu skin” has almost never been used historically. It appears only once in the body of this book.
Our philosophy of naming foreign foods: Our main purpose in giving English-language names to Asian soyfoods is to try to help them become part of the English language and English-speaking foodways. We look for a name that is appealing, descriptive (green vegetable soybeans, fermented black soybeans) or short (where there is no good English counterpart - tofu, miso, tempeh, yuba), and easy to remember. In addition to being short, we believe that the Japanese name "yuba" is elegant and easy to remember - as in Yuba City, Yuba County, and the Yuba River in California. Because the word "Yuba" already exists in English, the application of "yuba" to a food, invites curiosity.
Brief chronology / timeline of yuba.
1587 Jan. 24 – The earliest known reference to yuba, worldwide, appears in Japan in the Matsuya Hisamatsu chakai-ki [Three-generation diary of the Matsuya family's tea ceremonies]. The writer at this time, Matsuya Hisamasa, states simply that yuba is the film that forms atop soymilk when it is heated.
1596 – The second earliest known reference to yuba, worldwide, appears in China in the Bencao Gangmu [The great pharmacopoeia] by Li Shizen. This classic work was completed in 1578, but not published until 1596. So it could reasonably be argued that yuba was first mentioned in Chinese in this book. Chapter 25 states: If a film should form on the surface of soymilk when it is heated in the process of making tofu, it should be lifted off and dried to give doufu pi (literally “bean curd skin” [yuba]) which is itself a delicious food ingredient (First cited by Huang 2000, p. 303, 323).
Since the process for making yuba today apparently has nothing to do with the process for making tofu, we naturally ask: Why does the Chinese word for “yuba” mean bean curd skin? The earliest known answer appears in this book.
1695 – The third earliest known reference to yuba appears in Japan in the Ben Zhao Shi Jian (Wade-Giles: Pen Chao Shih Chien) [A Mirror of Food in This Dynasty, 12 volumes]. The book is written by a Japanese man (Hitomi Hitsudai) in Japan, yet it is entirely in Chinese. When Japanese read the Chinese characters for yuba, doufu-lao, they pronounce them tôfu no uba. Lao or uba means "old woman" or "wet nurse."
1711 – The fourth earliest know reference to yuba appears in Japan in the Wakan Sansai Zue [Collection of Japanese and Chinese Diagrams and Drawings of All Things], by Terajima Ryōan [40 books]. This is Japan’s oldest encyclopedia. The section on yuba states: "Tofu film is made on the surface while making tofu. It looks like yellow paper. If you stir too much, the film will not form properly. If you wish to obtain the film, add coagulant and boil the milk. The wrinkled look of the film resembles (the skin of) an old woman. If you remove too much film, the yield of tofu decreases and the tofu becomes hard to eat." Yuba is referred to as doufu-pi, the present Chinese term. When the text notes that yuba "resembles (the skin of) an old woman," it seems to imply that the earlier term lao or uba was used because of the similarity of yuba and an old woman's face.
Once again we see expression of the deep and ancient connection between making bean curd (tofu) and making bean curd skin (yuba).
1790 – Yuan Mei, the famous Chinese gourmand, poet, and man of letters, in his classic book Suiyuan Shidan [Recipes from the Sui Garden] includes a recipe (apparently vegetarian) for “Mock roast goose made with yam wrapped in doufu pi”[yuba].
1813 – The Kyōnan rubetsu-shi (Japan) is the earliest document seen that contains the word yuba. The first character, yu, written the same as it is today, means “hot water.” The second character ba meaning “old woman, is different from the character used today.
1819 Feb. – Yuba is first mentioned in an English-language document – The Port Folio, a periodical published in Philadelphia and London. It states: “The Chinese make great use of beans, not only to feed their sheep and cattle, but also as food for themselves, in what they call,… foo chack… [dried yuba sticks].
1858 April – Dried yuba sticks are now being exported from Hong Kong to Australia – where they are advertised and sold as “Beanstick.” This is the earliest known document showing yuba in international trade.
1866 Oct. –Yuba is first mentioned in French in an article by Paul Champion titled “On the production of tofu in China and Japan.” He says (in translation): In the process of making tofu, the hot soymilk is poured into a second tub and allowed to cool before the coagulant is added. The foam is removed using a copper scoop. After several minutes, a skin / film (une peau) [yuba] forms on the surface of this liquid. It can be lifted off by passing a stick (baguette) underneath it and hung up to dry by inserting one end of the stick into one of many holes that have been deliberately created in the wall. This film, by the way, has a rather agreeable taste, and is eaten either fresh or dried; a second film is often formed and is lifted off in the same manner.
Champion is yet another writer to point out the deep, traditional connection between bean curd (tofu) and bean curd skin (yuba).
At least 8 other writers, worldwide, would repeat this basic idea of how yuba is made in future.
1870 Jan. 2 – The New York Times, in an article titled “The Chinese,” explains how about 250 Chinamen have arrived to work on a railroad in Texas. It was found necessary to establish a store in the vicinity of the place of labor. As a result of negotiation, the following goods were bought in Texas: "foo chuck, or bean curd sticks [dried yuba sticks], 10 boxes, or 400 pounds;... 10 boxes soy [sauce], 10 jars catsup,..." "The men are to receive $30 coin per month.”
1874 – Yuba is first mentioned in a German-language document – in an article by H. Ritter in which he refers to it as Das Uba.
1918 March – Arao Itano, in an article on “Soy beans (Glycine hispida) as human food,” gives the earliest known description of how to make yuba at home – published in English in Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 182. Unfortunately his description is too vague to be practical.
1923 – In their classic, The Soybean, Piper and Morse publish the earliest known photograph of yuba being made commercially.
They also give the earliest known practical and useful description of how yuba is made on a commercial scale (p. 246).
1926 April 3 – The earliest known article about how to make dried yuba sticks (fu chu) is published in the Chinese Economic Bulletin (p. 179-80).
1965 – William Brandemuhl, who studies soybean utilization in Japan for two years after World War II, gives the earliest known industry and market statistics for yuba in any country worldwide, in his unpublished book Soybean Utilization in Japan.
1970 – The earliest known scientific study of yuba (in any country) is conducted by Mr. L.C. Wu of the Department of Food Science at the University of Florida (Gainesville). He wrote his MS thesis on yuba: Lipid-Protein Films for Human Consumption.
Wu (1972a,b, 1973), and Bates and Wu (1975), both in the same department, published subsequent detailed studies of methods for increasing the yield and quality of yuba, and of the basic endothermic polymerization involved in yuba formation.
1975 Dec. – In The Book of Tofu, in a long chapter about Yuba in Japan, Shurtleff & Aoyagi give: (1) The earliest known useful and detailed description of how to make yuba at home. (2) The earliest known description in English of the many types and varieties of yuba in Japan. (3) A detailed description of yuba in China.
1979 July – In the book Tofu & Soymilk Production, in a long chapter about Yuba, Shurtleff & Aoyagi give the most detailed and complete description seen to date of how to make yuba on a commercial scale.
1980 spring – The Soy Plant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the first company in America to make ready-to-eat yuba delicacies. Jura McDowell, a black member of the group, developed Yuba Rolls, using yuba made on a kitchen scale. It was cut into 3½ by 5-inch rectangles, filled with seeds, sauteed vegetables, and seasonings, then rolled tightly.
1982 Feb. – Soyfoods of America, in Duarte, California (near Los Angeles), opens the first yuba manufacturing company in the Western world. The owner, Mr. Ken Lee and his technical director, Lawrence Wu, both Chinese Americans, build a very modern, semi-mechanized plant, drawing on Wu's research in modernizing yuba production. Their main market is Chinese restaurants nationwide.
1982 April – Shurtleff and Aoyagi finish writing “History of Yuba” (15 pages, unpublished). Worldwide in scope and the first English-language history of yuba, it now appears on their website.
2004 May – Basic Soy Beanery (renamed Hodo Soy Beanery in Sept. 2005) starts making yuba and tofu in San Jose, California. Their first three yuba products are: Yuba (Tofu Skin), Soy Omelette (with Yuba), and Poached Yuba Loaf. In 2009 they moved into a new plant in Oakland, California, and in August began to make yuba there. Min Tsai, the founder, has been a pioneer in introducing yuba to Bay Area restaurants and consumers. He likes to call it “the lingerie of tofu.”
Alphabetical list of names of yuba (useful for searching digital / electronic text):
Ama-yuba or ama yuba
Bean curd sheet(s)
Bean curd robes
Bean curd sticks
Bean milk cream
Com tam tau hu ki suon bi
Dou fu bao
Dried bean curd stick(s)
Dried bean milk cream
Dried bean milk cream in tight rolls
Dried bean milk cream rolls
Dried Chinese beanstick
Dried rolls of bean milk cream
Dried skin of bean milk
Dried soybean milk skin
Dried soymilk film
Dried tofu skin
Dried tofu stick(s)
Fleshy skim from soymilk
Foo chuk or foo chuck
Fresh tofu skin packets
Fu chu or fu-chu
Fu jook pei
Fu pi chi
Kiyuba or ki-yuba
Nama yuba or nama-yuba
Skim from soymilk
Skin of bean curd
Skin of bean milk
Skin of bean milk cream
Soybean milk clot
Soybean milk skin
Tau hu ky
Tau hu ky kho
Tau hu ki tuoi
Tender fleshy skim from soymilk
Tightly rolled skin of bean milk cream
Tofu skin packet(s)
Tom tau hu ky
Toufu p’i or Tou-fu p’I or tou fu p’i
Wet soybean film
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