History of Tofu - Page 5

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi

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1940-1959 . With the great upsurge of interest in soyfoods that took place during World War II, there was a consequent increased interest in tofu. In 1943, for example, as cottage cheese production was curtailed, Science Newsletter proposed that a tofu-based cottage cheese be used as a substitute. "It may be added like cheese to omelets, Welsh rabbit and creamed hard-boiled eggs, or served with other vegetables in hot dishes. The recipes given in the 1938 USDA Leaflet 166 were also mentioned, and a recipe for homemade tofu was given.

In 1942 Mildred Lager's Soy Bean Recipes was published. Included with the 150 recipes was a nice section on tofu with lots of creative recipes, including the first recipes for using tofu in creamy dressings and in desserts, plus many other American-style tofu recipes. Then in 1945 Lager's magnum opus, The Useful Soybean , was published. Here she gave tofu (she called it "soy cheese") mixed reviews. "It is an excellent and inexpensive food; but even so it is one that will never be very popular in this country, because the average American is not going to take the time to acquire a taste for it." In her 2 1/4 pages of information about tofu, she described her visits to a Chinese tofu shop "hidden away in the heart of Los Angeles, run by two old Chinese who grunt at curious visitors and can't be bothered to answer questions," and to a nearby Korean shop that was "already packaging and selling their tofu to some of the best known restaurants in Hollywood." Concerning recipes: "Many vegetarian restaurants serve soy-cheese (tofu) croquettes, and they have always been very popular when prepared by a good chef . . . Some ingenious cooks use it for cheesecake and as a topping." After noting that canned tofu, seasoned with soy sauce, meatlike seasonings, or pimientos, was more popular than fresh tofu, and that a new product was available called vegetable cheese, made from a combination of tofu and peanuts, she concluded again ambiguously: "Tofu is one of the most interesting forms of the soybean; and though only an optimist would predict its becoming a popular American food, it is worth knowing about and trying at least once." The recipe section of Ms. Lager's book contained 25 very imaginative tofu recipes including Tofu Steak, Scrambled Tofu, Mock Fish Tofu, and Tofu cutlets. The introduction to this section piques our curiosity again: "The `meat without a bone' is perhaps the most unusual and to many the most fascinating of all soybean foods. By all means try it at a Chinese restaurant." An article on tofu by Lager in The Soybean Digest in 1946 and her subsequent best-selling The Soybean Cookbook (1963) both echoed this sense of personal enthusiasm but doubt that others would share it.

Most of the many other books on soyfoods published during World War II mentioned tofu and gave a few recipes, as did a USDA publication on "Soybeans and Soybean Products as Food" (Morse 1943a).

In 1942, as America entered the war with Japan in full force, all West Coast Japanese Americans were sent to detention camps; by 1943 110,000 had been interned. As might be expected, large tofu shops were quickly started in the camps. At Heart Mountain, for example, a camp in the Wyoming desert, over 2,000 pounds of tofu were prepared daily by and for the 10,000 Japanese there, until they were released in 1945.

After the war, Chang and Murray (1949) did research on tofu nutrition, showing that tofu curded with calcium chloride contained 2.9 times as much calcium as tofu curded with nigari (magnesium chloride). A.K. Smith (1949) in his Oriental Methods of Using Soybeans , based on his 2-month trip to East Asia, made few new observations about tofu, remarking that it had little flavor. Chen (1956) in his Soybeans for Health, Longevity, and Economy discussed "soy cheese" (as he also called it) from the viewpoint of a food scientist and nutritionist. He concluded with 13 nice recipes, most of them American style. Smith (1958), on his second trip to study soyfoods in East Asia, gave mostly data about the tofu industry, remarking that there were then 50,000 tofu manufacturers in Japan.

C. D. Miller et al. (1952), in an article on tofu nutrition, also discussed the tofu market and industry in Hawaii. Some 96% of families of Japanese ancestry used tofu and 60% of them used it three or more times a week. In 1951 there were 26 companies or persons on Oahu licensed to produce tofu; output ranged from 20 to 1,000 pounds of tofu a day. The industry total output was estimated at 5,000 pounds a day. Average yields were 2.7 pounds of tofu from each pound of dry soybeans. Recovery of protein in the tofu was 70-84%, iron was 49-58%, thiamine 10-25%, riboflavin 15-25%, and niacin 20-40%. Most of the vitamin loss was in the whey.

In 1958 Watanabe, a Japanese tofu researcher, worked for a year with A.K. Smith at the USDA Northern Regional Research Center (NRRC) in Peoria, Illinois. This work subsequently had a major effect in modernizing the Japanese tofu industry and increasing utilization of US soybeans. Also in 1958 Anson, in his prophetic chapter on the potential for soy protein isolates in Altschul's Processed Plant Protein Foodstuffs , commented: "The ancient Chinese discovery of the technology of producing soybean curd, which is rich in digestible protein of high quality, is bland in favor, and has the quality of being suitable for repeated daily consumption, was a great historic step in the direct utilization of oilseed protein by man and has made possible a great protein nutritional experiment on many millions of subjects. The traditional manufacture of soybean curd points the way to a modern technology of using soy protein for man . . . The wonder is that the oriental experience has been so long neglected."

1960-1975 . After the 1950s, when America's consumption of meat and dairy products skyrocketed, tofu virtually fell out of public sight. There was a minor flurry of interest and publications in the early 1960s, then almost nothing until 1975. In 1960 Smith and Watanabe published an article on "Tofu from Japanese and United States Soybeans" in Food Technology magazine. A similar article was published the same year in Soybean Digest . At the Conference on Soybean Products for Protein in Human Foods, Smith (1962) made a strong case for more interest in tofu and soymilk: "The tofu plant is an example of production of a very important food product in small scale units. It needs only slight modification to serve the dual purpose of making both milk and tofu. Nearly 50,000 tofu plants in Japan testify to the usefulness of this product in the diet of the Japanese people. The extension of the tofu plant to a dual operation in developing countries should be given serious consideration as a means of improving diet and for enlarging our export market for soybeans and soy products." Long after Dr. Watanabe had left the NRRC, interest in tofu continued, largely in the person of Dr. H.L. Wang. In 1967 she published in Food Technology an article on preparation of tofu on a laboratory scale. Using her method, a calcium sulfate coagulant, and a relatively light (500 gm) pressing weight, she got only 1.8 to 2.0 pounds of tofu from each pound of soybeans, a fairly low bulk yield.

Another center of interest in tofu during the 1960s was the University of Illinois. In 1961 Ms. Wen-Chiang Liang Chiu, a graduate student from Taiwan studying under Dr. Frances Van Duyne in the Department of Home Economics, did her Master's thesis on The Calcium Content and Palatability of Soybean Curd from Feed and Vegetable Varieties . She published the earliest known detailed recipe for homemade tofu, using calcium sulfate and a relatively heavy pressing weight (860 gm) to get a moderately good bulk yield of 2.35 to 2.62. Her findings, showing the importance of tofu as a calcium source in the diets of people using little dairy products, were published in the Soybean Digest (Chiu 1960), Illinois Research (Chiu and Van Duyne 1961), and a special pamphlet titled Soybean Curd put out by the Soybean Council of America (Chiu and Van Duyne 1961). The latter contained eight tofu recipes. The basic information was a published in 1974 as a mimeographed flyer by the Illinois School of Human Resources and Family Studies.

The 1961 Soybean Digest Blue Book listing of soyfoods manufacturers in America showed only three producers of "soy cheese": Loma Linda Foods in Ohio, Worthington Foods in Ohio, and Madison Foods in Tennessee, all run by Seventh-day Adventists. The Blue Book apparently knew none of the many Oriental producers. The 1970 Blue Book listed only Loma Linda Foods and Nutrition International Corp. in Madison, Tennessee. The 1974 Blue Book had no listing. In 1963, in an important nutritional study, Standal gave the first analysis of the amino acid content of tofu and other soyfoods. In 1972 Schroder and Jackson developed a tofu with "reduced beany flavor" by making it from soymilk prepared by the Cornell hot grind method.

During the early 1970s, as the US food industry became fascinated with modern soy protein foods such as isolates, concentrates, and textured soy protein products, tofu was almost forgotten. Yet in their authoritative book Soybeans: Chemistry and Technology , which focused on the new foods, Smith and Circle (1972) nevertheless gave a nice plug for tofu, though as a food for less developed countries: "An approach to solving food problem of developing countries, which has received minimum of effort, is the development and use of "cottage" or "family operated" industries. This approach uses a minimum of capital and technology. An historical example of a successful cottage industry is the production of tofu in Japan and China . . . Unfortunately there has been little or no effort to extend the use of tofu outside its original area, and with the spreading of soybean production to India, Brazil, and other countries, a serious effort should be made to extend the use of tofu in its present or perhaps a modified form to these countries."

In 1974 Grace Kikuchi self-published America's first entire book about tofu. It contained primarily recipes, most with meat and fish, but 12 were meatless. In 1974 Ochomogo, in a PhD thesis at Louisiana State University, developed the first (unfermented) tofu made from both soymilk and cow's milk.

The Awakening of American Interest in Tofu . During the 1960s, America (and especially younger people and the counter culture) was starting to take a serious interest in natural foods and health foods, vegetarian diets, lower cost and less wasteful protein sources, and the larger problems of world hunger. A new protein consciousness was emerging. Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet (first published in September 1971) dispelled the myth of the superiority of animal protein, taught the simple principles of protein complementarity, and gave convincing, well-documented proof that by changing to traditional meatless ways of eating, people could do something about world hunger, save money, and lead healthier lives. This book, which became the best-selling book on nutrition in history and sold over 2 million copies during its first 10 years in print, had a tremendous impact in changing American diets and ways of thinking about food.

It was into this new food consciousness that The Book of Tofu by Shurtleff and Aoyagi appeared in December 1975, giving information that many people were already looking for: descriptions of the eight basic types of tofu, nutritional facts plus examples of protein complementarity based on Diet for a Small Plant , over 500 American and Japanese natural food recipes (many original), an easy method for making tofu at home for 10 cents a pound (with a bulk yield of 3.0-3.5), a statement of how tofu offers a simple yet revolutionary way of meeting the world's critical protein requirements, an illustrated description of how to make tofu in a small, traditional commercial shop, names and addresses of all known tofu shops in the West, and a call for people across America to start their own tofu shops. The East West Journal noted that "This book started the movement that has taken tofu from the rare Chinese food store into the kitchens of modern America" (Ref??). It also led to the establishment of hundreds of new tofu shops. During its first year in print The Book of Tofu sold 40,000 copies and was very widely excerpted, quoted, and reviewed in popular magazines and newspapers. By its second year, it had sold 75,000 copies. In January 1979 Ballantine Books published an updated, extensively revised and Americanized new mass-market edition; and by late 1983 the two editions had sold over 377,000 copies.

America's first tofu forming box was developed in 1975 by a woodworker named Ganesha in Berkeley, California. He sold the perforated pine boxes at local natural food stores and by mail order. America's first tofu kit was introduced in August 1976 by Larry Needleman of The Learning Tree in Bodega, California. Based on designs from The Book of Tofu , it consisted of a Philippine mahogany forming box that held 1.5-3 pounds of tofu, a muslin pressing sack, forming box cloths, a packet of natural nigari curding agent, and a booklet containing full instructions and recipes . . . all for $11.95. Widely advertised, 300-500 kits a month were sold for years, mostly at natural and health food stores. They introduced people to the delights of making and eating fresh tofu at home. After a few years a number of other tofu kits also appeared on the market.

Tofu soon seemed to have found its place at the intersection of virtually every new trend in diet and nutrition in America. It was truly an idea and a food whose time had come. People in all walks of life discovered it as an inexpensive, healthful, ready-to-eat, and remarkably versatile source of high-quality protein that was entirely free of cholesterol, low in fats, and contained less calories per gram of protein than any other food except several types of fish; at only 72 calories per 100 gram serving it was a dieter's delight. And good news for that 67% of all Americans who were trying to lose weight! Weight-watchers discovered rich tofu cheesecakes and creamy tofu dressings with only one-third the calories of their traditional counterparts. Cholesterol-watchers found that tofu could replace some or all of the eggs in scrambled eggs, egg salads, or bacon and eggs. Millions discovered that tofu could be used in a seemingly endless array of delicious American-style recipes; even major gourmet magazines ran cover stories and published recipes. Vegetarians delighted in tofu burgers and cutlets. Vegans, people who eat no eggs or dairy products, were delighted to find that tofu was the perfect substitute; it vanquished old cravings. Large supermarket chains (such as Safeway and Lucky in California, and A&P on the East Coast) had started to carry and sell lots of tofu by 1970. Momentum was growing, aided by strong support from the media.

Although America had only recently discovered tofu, some were already predicting that it would play an important and innovative role in the nation's evolving new lighter, healthier, more natural cuisine. By the early 1980s "tofu" was beginning to sound as familiar to many Americans as "pizza" and "yogurt," two foods which not long before had also seemed foreign. Increasingly one heard it said that "tofu will be the 'yogurt' of the 1980s." Tofu was extremely fortunate in being able to ride the crest of a long wave of media and consumer interest. The media, fascinated by the tofu and soyfoods movements, willingly heaped free publicity on the new phenomena. The Boston Globe first heralded tofu as "an idea whose time has come" (refs for this & next 10??). The New York Times headlined a feature article "The West Wakes up to the Wonders of Tofu." The Wall Street Journal did a long front-page special announcing the America "tofu boom" and the burgeoning new industry. Prevention magazine described tofu as "The Food of 10,000 Flavors . . . It's sensational. There's no doubt about it--tofu's time has finally arrived on our shores" (Kinderlehrer 1981??). Gourmet magazine ran a cover story on tofu in Japan with page after page of color photos and mouth-watering recipes. Bon Apetit , another gourmet magazine, described tofu as the "once and future food." Even celebrities started to praise tofu. When Jerry Brown, California's popular governor, mentioned tofu as one of his favorite foods, the remark made a big splash in Japan. Fashion model Cheryl Tiegs appeared in People magazine saying that she had been eating tofu for years and credited it with helping her to lose 35 pounds; her favorite recipe, a breakfast tofu pudding, was published. President Reagan's vegetarian daughter Patti said that she regularly enjoyed tofu for dinner. All of these lofty predictions and strong recommendations, paralleled by the heady growth of the US tofu industry, placed the word "tofu" on the tongues of millions of Americans and helped it on its way to becoming an integral part of the emerging new American cuisine.

The popularity of The Book of Tofu and the rising new tofu industry led to the publication a host of books on tofu by other authors. Early ones included The Heartsong Tofu Cookbook (Heartsong 1977), Tofu Goes West (Landgrebe 1978), and Tofu Madness (Olszewski 1978). By January 1982 at least 33 books on tofu had been published in the US, not to mention three more in Canada and four in Europe. A complete chronological listing of these books and of major tofu media coverage is given below??, with an update given annually in our Soyfoods Industry and Market . Also many other general, natural food, and vegetarian cookbooks began to include recipes or entire sections on tofu. Most of the tofu books contained no meat and little or no dairy products and eggs; books by Landgrebe and by Andersen were exceptions. Most of the books stressed "the Americanization of tofu." A number of tofu companies, such as Jack's Beanstalk, New England Soy Dairy, Nasoya, and Brightsong Light Foods published tofu cookbooks with the name of their tofu brand in each recipe. Many cookbook authors (Shurtleff and Aoyagi, Norton and Wagner, Andersen, Fox, etc.) became real tofu crusaders, doing extensive media appearances, tours, interviews, and classes to promote both tofu and their books. The authors of virtually every tofu book felt they had "discovered" in tofu a remarkable new food, which they wanted to share in their favorite recipes with America.

Rise of the New American Tofu Industry . We have seen above that the first non-Oriental tofu shops in North America were started back in the late 1920s; none of these were in business in the 1970s. In late 1975, when The Book of Tofu went to press, there were at least 55 tofu companies in America, all of them run by Oriental Americans (39 Japanese and 16 Chinese; names and addresses are given in that book). Most of them were unaware of other tofu companies outside their immediate area. All but two (Hinode and Azumaya) marketed their tofu through Oriental food stores, making little or no effort to introduce it to mainstream America. As noted above, Azumaya got its tofu into northern California supermarkets in 1970, and Hinode followed close behind?? in southern California. The widespread availability, good quality, freshness, and very reasonable price of this Japanese- and Chinese-made tofu was a key factor in the rapid growth of interest in tofu among Caucasian Americans after the mid-1970s.

Starting in 1976, however, a new wave of small Caucasian-run tofu shops began to open up across America; their presence soon revolutionized the tofu industry, breaking the monopoly of the Oriental shops. Many received their initial impetus or inspiration, and virtually all their basic information about equipment and processing methods from The Book of Tofu (1975) and from rough drafts of Tofu & Soymilk Production (1976-1979), both of which praised traditional caldron-style tofu shops making nigari tofu, with work seen as a spiritual practice. Most of the early shops were started by young people in their 20s and 30s interested in natural foods and vegetarian diets. Many had no experience in starting and running businesses and very little knowledge of food processing or sanitation. However by producing good-quality fresh nigari tofu, selling it at reasonable prices, and actively promoting it with demonstrations, flyers, classes, and the like, to the standard American public, they played a key role in tofu's growing popularity, and in the establishment of what is now known as the "soyfoods industry." Thus by 1976 tofu was increasingly available at natural and health food stores across America and in a growing number of supermarkets.

No one is certain who started the first of the new wave of Caucasian tofu shops. The first noncommercial community shop was started in March 1972 by The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee. They coined the term "soy dairy" to describe this new venture (see Chapter 78). To the best of our knowledge, the first of the new breed of commercial shops was the Welcome Home Bakery and Tofu Shop, which was started in March 1975 by Alec Evans at 231 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis, Oregon. They made tofu and soymilk, and used their okara (soy pulp) in breads and other baked goods. They were in business until December 1977. Other early commercial tofu shops were No Moo Dairy in Portland, Maine (April 1976 started production; Peter Beane), Heartsong Tofu in Miami, Florida (May 1976; Bob Heartsong), Metta Tofu on Denman Island, British Colombia, Canada (June 1976; Ray Lipovsky), Farm Food Company in San Rafael, California (August 1976; The Farm), East-West Soy Products in East Lansing, Michigan (Nov., 1976; Tim Price), Island Spring on Vashon Island, Washington (November 1976; Luke Lukoskie and Sylvia Nogaki), Laughing Grasshopper in Millers Falls, Massachusetts (Jan. 1977; Richard Leviton and Tom Timmins, later to become New England Soy Dairy), Surata Soyfoods in Eugene, Oregon (March 1977, Benjamin Hills), Rochester Tofu Shop in Rochester, New York (May 1977; Andy Schecter and Greg Mello; later Northern Soy), White Wave in Boulder, Colorado (Sept. 1977; Steve Demos), The Soy Plant in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Sept. 1977; Steve Fiering), Swan Foods in Miami, Florida (Sept. 1977; Robert and Mary Brooke), and Nasyoa in Leominster, Massachusetts (April 1978; Bob Bergwall and John Paino).

By February 1977 roughly 20 small commercial Caucasian-run tofu shops, including those mentioned above (but not including a number for which we have been unable to ascertain the starting dates), were in operation throughout North America, many in small towns and other remote or rather unexpected places. Most of these shops were small, labor-intensive, traditional caldron-type shops that required little capital to start. Most of the owners were young, interested in work as Right Livelihood, a rewarding art and practice as well as a source of income. Many preferred to live and work in smaller towns rather than larger cities. Following their own call or that in The Book of Tofu to "send tofu to the four directions," a number of young Americans went to study tofu from traditional masters in Japan or left to start tofu companies in other countries around the world (see Chapter 78).

By early 1977 the rapidly growing tofu industry was looking for better sources of equipment and better information on tofu production. In February 1977 Larry Needleman and William Shurtleff decided to start a company to import quality tofu and soymilk equipment from Japan. The Farm Food Company in San Rafael placed the first order, for a pressure cooker system. The name Bean Machines Inc. was coined, and Shurtleff went off to Japan to set up sources and draw up a catalog. In April 1977 an agreement was drawn up with Takai Tofu & Soymilk Equipment Co. to be a main supplier. Takai, founded in 1917, was then Japan's largest and best known manufacturer of such equipment, with some 60% of the total Japanese market production. In August 1977 the first English catalog of tofu and soymilk equipment was published, a glossy 6-page affair with some 50 photographs and brief descriptions of the equipment, which included whole systems. In August 1977 Bean Machines was incorporated: Larry Needleman took over the management and ownership of the company. He worked initially as an import agent for Takai, but by 1980 he had developed his own American made equipment, the first item being a high quality, low-cost, stainless-steel disintegrator. During 1983 he developed a continuous pressure cooker system. Another important equipment supplier was Okita Enterprises, which was incorporated in 1970, started selling tofu packaging equipment in 1972, and by 1978 was developing plants adapted to American standards. Kawanishi Shoko of Japan opened an office near Los Angeles in the early?? 1980s and started selling tofu and soymilk equipment.

In January 1978, Whole Foods magazine ran the first feature article on the new American tofu industry. Entitled "Making Money Making Tofu" (Stein 1978), it pointed out that there were 100 Caucasian and Oriental tofu companies in the US, then summarized the Caucasian shop situation nicely saying: "Small shop tofu production is on the increase, responding to a real demand, with a focus on offering a quality product. They often take an artisan's pride in their work, and aim to run a profitable business without being overwhelmed by hard labor and without exploiting the consumer." Just one year later, Whole Foods (1979) devoted an entire issue to "The Soyfoods Revolution." Great changes were taking place.

In October 1972 Shurtleff and Aoyagi began writing a book about how to start and run a tofu manufacturing business, when they made their first visit to a tofu shop in Japan. They were reluctant to rush to press, since important new developments in tofu processing techniques and equipment, and conceptual and marketing advances were taking place so rapidly. In August 1977 they collected the constantly-evolving chapters written to date and published them as a rough-typed 128-page photocopied book in a yellow binding entitled Tofu & Soymilk Production . They were basically forced to publish this unfinished document since over 300 people had written to them by that time asking for such information to help them in starting businesses. They received extensive feedback on this first edition and sold 430 copies of it prior to July 1979, when their Soyinfo Center published 2,050 copies of the finished 336-page edition. This was the first book of its type in the world that contained all the information necessary to start and run a business making tofu, soymilk, dairylike soymilk products, and yuba. The book was reprinted in 1982, 1983, and (as a slightly revised new edition) in 1984.


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