Chronology of Tofu Worldwide
965 A.D. to 1929

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

©Copyright 2001 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, California


965 A.D. - Tofu is first mentioned in China in a document, the Ch'ing I Lu [Anecdotes, simple and exotic], by T'ao Ku. It states: "In the daily market were several catties of doufu. People of the region called doufu the 'vice mayor's mutton." It goes on to tell the story of a vice mayor named Jishu, who was so poor that he couldn't afford to buy mutton. Instead he bought a few pieces of tofu every day and ate them as a side dish with rice. Soon people in the area came to call tofu the "vice mayor's mutton." The story implies that tofu was widely consumed in China in those days and that it was less expensive than mutton.

1183 A.D. - Tofu is first mentioned in Japan in the diary of Hiroshige NAKAOMI, a Shinto priest of the shrine at Nara; the tofu was used as an offering at the shrine's altar.

1489 - The word "tofu" is first written in Japan with the characters used today.

1603 - The word "tofu" is first mentioned in a European-language document, Vocabulario da lingoa de Iapam... [Vocabulary of the language of Japan], the earliest dictionary of the Japanese language compiled by Europeans (Jesuits living in Nagasaki, Japan). Tofu is referred to as Cabe, Tôfu, or Taufu.

1613 - The word tofu is first referred to (though indirectly) for the second time by a Westerner, Captain John Saris, in the log of his trip to Japan. He wrote "Of Cheese [probably tofu] they haue plentie. Butter they make none, neither will they eate any Milke, because they hold it to bee as bloud [blood], nor tame beasts." This is the earliest English-language document that mentions tofu in connection with Japan.

1665 - Tofu is first mentioned specifically by a Westerner, Domingo Fernández de Navarrete, in his book A Collection of Voyages and Travels. Navarrete, who served as a Dominican missionary in China, wrote: "Before I proceed to the next chapter, because I forgot it in the first book, I will here briefly mention the most usual, common and cheap sort of food all China abounds in, and which all men in that empire eat, from the emperor to the meanest Chinese, the emperor and great men as a dainty, the common sort as necessary sustenance. It is call'd teu fu, that is, paste of kidney-beans. I did not see how they made it. They draw the milk out of the kidney-beans, and turning it, make great cakes of it like cheeses, as big as a large sieve, and five or six fingers thick. All the mass is as white as the very snow, to look to nothing can be finer. It is eaten raw, but generally boil'd and dressed with herbs, fish, and other things. Alone it is insipid, but very good so dressed and excellent fry'd in butter. They have it also dry'd and smok'd, and mix'd with caraway-seeds, which is best of all. It is incredible what vast quantities of it are consum'd in China, and very hard to conceive there should be such abundance of kidney-beans. That Chinese who has teu fu, herbs and rice, needs no other sustenance to work; and I think there is no body but has it, because they may have a pound (which is above twenty ounces) of it any where for a half-penny. It is a great help in case of want, and is good for carriage. It has one good quality, which is, that it causes the different airs and seasons, which in that vast region vary much, to make no alteration in the body, and therefore they that travel from one province to another make use of it. Teu fu is one of the most remarkable things in China, there are many will leave pullets for it. If I am not deceiv'd, the Chineses of Manila [Philippines] make it, but no àEuropeanÎ eats it, which is perhaps because they have not tasted it, no more than they do fritters fry'd in oil of Ajonjoli ([sesame seed] a very small seed they have in Spain and India, which we have not) which the Chineses make in that city and is an extraordinary dainty."

1704 - Friar Domingo Navarrete's book is published in English. This is the earliest English-language document that mentions tofu in connection with China.

1700 Jan. 3 - James Flint in Capringe writes Benjamin Franklin in London (in response to an inquiry from Franklin) a detailed description of how the "Chinese convert Callivances into Towfu" (soybeans into tofu).

1770 Jan. 11 - The earliest document seen in which an American mentions tofu is a letter written by the famous Benjamin Franklin 
(who was in London) to John Bartram in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He sent Bartram some soybeans (which he called "Chinese caravances") and with them he sent "Father Navarrete's account of the universal use of a cheese made of them in China, which so excited my curiosity, that I caused enquiry to be made of Mr. [James] Flint, who lived many years there, in what manner the cheese was made, and I send you his answer. I have since learned that some runnings of salt (I suppose runnet) is put into water, when the meal is in it, to turn it to curds."

1821 - The second earliest reference seen to tofu in America, and the first to be published in the USA, appeared when A.F.M. Willich of Philadelphia mentioned it in The Domestic Encyclopedia. Speaking of soybeans (which he called "the seeds of the Chinese plant Dolichos soja"), he wrote: These seeds are used in China and Japan as food; they are made into a kind of jelly or curd, which is esteemed very nutritious, and which is rendered palatable by seasonings of different kinds."

1870 Dec. - The term "Bean curd" is first used by Emil V. Bretschneider, writing in English in the Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (Foochow, p. 173). He said: "Bean-curd is one of the most important articles of food in China." Then he gave an accurate description of how it was made.

1880 - Tofu is first made in Europe by Paillieux, in France, for the Society for Acclimatization (but not on a commercial scale).

1878 - The earliest tofu company in the USA, Wo Sing & Co., is in business at 708½ Dupont St. in San Francisco, making both fermented and regular tofu.

1895 - Hirata & Co. in Sacramento, California, the earliest known Japanese-American company in the USA, starts making tofu.

1896 June - Tofu first appears in print in an American scientific journal (American Journal of Pharmacy), in an article by Henry Trimble, a pharmacist, titled "Recent Literature on the Soja Bean."

1906 - Quong Hop & Co., the oldest existing tofu maker in America today, starts making tofu in San Francisco, California.



1910 - Europe's first commercial soyfoods manufacturer, named Caséo-Sojaïne, is founded by Li Yu-ying, a Chinese citizen, biologist and engineer, at 46-48 Rue Denis Papin, Les Valées, Colombes (near Asnières), a few miles northwest of Paris. By May 1911 he was making and selling tofu, and by August 1911 he had added smoked tofu, pressed tofu sheets, fermented tofu cheese (in Gruyere, Roquefort, and Camembert flavors), and soymilk.

1923 - The two oldest existing Japanese-American tofu companies (House Foods & Yamauchi Inc. of Los Angeles and Aala Tofu Co. of Honolulu) are founded in Hawaii. They both began as H. Iwanaga Daufu at 1031 Aala St. in Honolulu. In 1926 the company was renamed Shoshiro Kanehori Tofu, and in 1937 Haruko Uyeda Tofu, still at the same address. In about 1939 the company was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Shokin Yamauchi, who later renamed it Aala Tofu Co. Their son, Shoan Yamauchi, made tofu at the family company until 1946, when he went to Los Angeles, purchased the Hinode Tofu Co., and began making tofu there in 1947. After becoming Matsuda-Hinode Tofu Co. in 1963, the company was renamed House Foods & Yamauchi Inc. in 1983.

1929 Nov. - T.A. Van Gundy, a Seventh-day Adventist and founder of La Sierra Industries in Arlington, California (near Riverside), becomes the first Westerner to make tofu commercially when he introduces La Sierra Soya Cheese. This tofu was canned and pimiento was added to prevent graying after canning.

1930s early - Azumaya Tofu Seizo-sho (later renamed Azumaya Co.) starts making tofu, yaki-dofu (grilled tofu), and ganmodoki (fried tofu patties) in San Francisco at 1636 Post St. between Buchanan and Laguna streets. The company is owned by Mr. Teranishi, who may have started it as early as the early 1920s. In Feb. 1937 it was sold to George and Jack Mizono, and their mother and father (Saichi Mizono).

1932, Dec. - Madison Foods, part of Madison College in Madison, Tennessee, was making Soy Cheese, then by 1939 they had launched Cheze-O-Soy (seasoned tofu), and by 1940 they were making a canned tofu bologna named Yum.

1934 - By this year Loma Linda Food Co. (Adventist) in Loma Linda, California, was making Loma Linda Vege-Cheese (canned tofu with pimiento).

1942 Sept. - Dr. Harry Miller, a Seventh-day Adventist doctor who had worked for many years in China as a medical missionary, begins making Miller's Soya Cheese (tofu) at Mt. Vernon, Ohio.

1944 Sept. - Butler Food Co. in Cedar Lake, Michigan, introduces Butler's Soynut Cheese. Note that the first five Caucasian-run tofu companies in the Western World were all founded and run by Seventh-day Adventists. Note also that each of these five Seventh-day Adventist tofu products used the word "cheese" in the name and that each was canned. 1957 Aug. - Shizuka Hayashi, head of the Japanese-American Soybean Institute in Tokyo, publishes (in Soybean Digest) the earliest English-language statistics on tofu in Japan. "There are approximately 45,000 tofu manufacturers in Japan, of which about 23,000 are members of the Tofu Association. There is one large factory in Osaka, the largest in Japan, which consumes 2 tons of soybeans a day." In 1957 Japan will use somewhere between 160,000 and 308,000 tons of soybeans to make tofu.

1958 - The world's first packaged tofu is sold in Los Angeles, California, by Matsuda Hinode Tofu Co. Mr. Shoan Yamauchi, owner, conceived of the idea of putting individual cakes of tofu each in a plastic bag with water, sealing the bag with a heat sealer, placing the bag in a stiff paper deli carton with a wire handle, then folding over the top. The process was labor intensive. This happened at about the same time that a letter from journalist George Yoshinaga had led the city to pass a new regulation requiring tofu to be packaged in individual containers.

1958 - Tofu is first sold in a U.S. supermarket - Boy's Market supermarket chain (which had about 12 stores at the time) in Los Angeles. The tofu was sold in individual packages (see above) and made by Matsuda Hinode Tofu Co., whose owner, Mr. Shoan Yamauchi was responsible for this major innovation, and for seeing the mainstream potential of tofu.

1965 - The Library of Congress establishes the subject heading "Tofu" as the official name for that food in cataloging books for libraries across America. However, in the mid-1970's disputes arose there about the proper form of romanization of that term. The dispute was resolved by the decision to use the common English term "Bean Curd" instead.

1966 - Tofu is first packaged in plastic trays/tubs, the type so widely used today. Again, Mr. Yamauchi conceived of the idea. He went to the Sealright Company in Los Angeles that made Sealright trays and asked them to make a waterproof plastic tray for his tofu. Mr. Yamauchi created three specific early innovations in tray packaging: (1) A very deep tray, holding 26-28 ounces; (2) A method for heat sealing a plastic film to the flange of a tray which had cold water flooding over the flange; (3) High-speed sealing machines to pack and seal the tofu in his plant.

1975 March - Alec Evans, owner of first of the new breed of Caucasian-run tofu shops, starts to make "Tofu" in Corvallis, Oregon. His Welcome Home Bakery and Tofu Shop is the sixth Caucasian-run tofu company in America.

1975 Dec. - The Book of Tofu,Î by Shurtleff and Aoyagi, is published by Autumn Press. This book, which had sold about 570,000 copies by 2001, played a major role in introducing tofu to the Western World. (See Below)

1977 Aug. - Takai Tofu & Soymilk Equipment Co. publishes its first English-language equipment catalog, which helps many American and European tofu shops to get started.

1977 Sept. - White Wave, owned by Steve Demos, starts making tofu at 1738 Pearl St., in Boulder, Colorado.WhiteWaveSteveDemos.JPG (85586 bytes)



1977 - Morinaga Milk Industry Co., Ltd. in Japan introduces the world's first aseptically packaged tofu in a Tetra Brik carton. It is named "Morinaga brand Tofu. Soybean Curd." In 1978 the name was changed to "Morinaga brand Ever-Fresh Silken Tofu."

1977 - Swan Foods Corporation, owned by Robert Brooks and Mary Pung, starts making "Tofu - Organic" at The Soybeanery, 5758½ Bird Rd., Miami, Florida. This is the first tofu in the Western World labeled "Organic." Swan Foods is also the first American company to make a wide variety of soyfoods, and the first to open a soy deli - which had a take-out menu.

1978 April - Nasoya Foods, owned by John Paino and Bob Bergwall, starts making Nasoya Organic Tofu (water pack) at Mechanic Street Exit, Leominster, Massachusetts.


1978 Dec. - The Book of Tofu, by Shurtleff and Aoyagi, is published by Ballantine Books in a mass-market edition that retails for $2.95.

1979 July. - Tofu & Soymilk Production, by Shurtleff and Aoyagi, is published by Soyfoods Center in California. This book is used to start hundreds of tofu manufacturing companies throughout the Western world and in some Third World countries.

1982 April - There are 242 tofu manufacturers in the Western World, including 173 in the United States.

1985 June - The Library of Congress decides to change its subject heading from "Bean curd" back to "Tofu." This, perhaps more than any other single thing, makes the word tofu "official."

1983 - House Food Industrial Co., Ltd. of Japan purchases 50% ownership in Yamauchi Enterprises (formerly Hinode Tofu Co., owned by Mr. Shoan Yamauchi) in Los Angeles. The company is renamed House Foods & Yamauchi, Inc.

1989 Dec. - Sixty-five books (more than 48 pages long) on tofu have been published in the Western World since 1970. Each one has the word "tofu" or its equivalent in the title. Forty of these books were published in the United States, 6 in Canada, 5 in Switzerland, 5 in Japan (but written in English for sale primarily outside of Japan), 3 in West Germany, 3 in France (but 2 of these were published simultaneously and primarily in Quebec, Canada), 2 in England, and 1 each in Italy, Sweden, and Brazil.

1990 Aug. 3 - Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Co. Ltd. (makers of Vitasoy) acquires Nasoya Foods of Leominster, Massachusetts.

1993 June - Vitasoy purchases Azumaya Inc. (America's largest tofu manufacturer, and the low-price leader) in California for an estimated $4-$5 million.

1993 - House Foods Corp. of Japan purchases the remaining 50% of House Foods & Yamauchi, Inc. from Mr. Shoan Yamauchi. The new company is renamed House Foods American Corporation.

1997 March 12 - House Foods America Corporation holds the opening ceremony for America's largest tofu factory, in Garden Grove, California; the company closes its tofu plant in central Los Angeles.



You can learn more about Tofu by clicking on the title:

Book of Tofu  
by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi (Mass Market Paperback - February 1992)
(small paperback)

The Book of Tofu : Protein Source of the Future...Now!  
by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi (Paperback - November 1998)
(large paperback)

Bibliography of Tofu and Tofu Products : 3939 References from A.D.950 to 1989 : 
by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi (Paperback - February 1989)

Marketing Tofu Second Generation Products, Varieties & Okara Products (1977-1985 : Labels, Ads, Posters & Other Graphics)
by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi (Compiler) (Paperback - January 1988)

Marketing Tofu Second Generation Products, Varieties and Okara Products (1986-1988 : Label, Ads, Posters and Other Graphics)
by William Shurtleff (Paperback - April 1989)

Using Tofu, Tempeh and Other Soyfoods in Restaurants, Delis and Cafeterias
by William Shurtleff (Paperback - June 1988)

A complete listing of The Soyfood Center's books and publications can be found Here.