[Homestead] Making tofu

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Thu Feb 10 15:24:38 EST 2005

Mother Earth News: The Book of Tofu 


Header <http://www.motherearthnews.com/main/>



Issue No. 41 - September/October 1976

*In MOTHER NO. 39, authors Shurtleff and Aoyagi introduced us to the art 
of cooking with whole soybeans. Below, we are taught how to 
prepare*—*and serve*—*tofu*.



 From /The / / Book of Tofu,// /copyright 1975 by William Shurtleff and 
Akiko Aoyagi. Excerpts used by permission of Autumn Press, Inc.


If you find that fresh tofu is not available at a nearby store, try 
preparing your own at home using either whole soybeans or powdered 
soymilk. It's as enjoyable as baking bread ... and considerably faster.

We have found the following recipe, based on the traditional Japanese 
farmhouse method, to be easy to follow and virtually foolproof. The tofu 
will be ready 50 to 60 minutes after you start. One pound of soybeans 
yields about 3-1/2 to 4 pounds of tofu at a cost about one-third to 
one-fourth that of commercial tofu and less than one-half the cost (on a 
usable protein basis) of hamburger. Solidified with /nigari/ (the 
mineral-rich mother liquor that remains after salt is extracted from 
seawater ... also known as "bittern"), made from soymilk simmered over 
an open fire (rather than steamed), and served at its peak of freshness, 
homemade tofu contains a fullness of flavor and subtle sweetness seldom 
found in even the finest store-bought varieties.


To make fine homemade tofu, you will need the following common kitchen 
tools (see Fig. 1) and ingredients:

        An electric blender, food or grain mill, or meat grinder.
        A "pressing pot" with a capacity of 1-1/2 to 2 gallons, or a
        basin of comparable size.
        A 2-quart saucepan.
        A wooden spatula, rice paddle, or wooden spoon with a long handle.
        A shallow ladle or dipper about 1 inch deep and 3 or 4 inches in
        diameter, or a large spoon.
        A rubber spatula
        A sturdy 1 -quart jar or a potato masher
        A 1-cup measuring cup
        A set of measuring spoons.
        A large, round-bottomed colander (that will fit into the
        "pressing pot").
        A flat-bottomed colander ("settling container") preferably
        square or rectangular.
        A shallow fine-mesh strainer or bamboo colander.
        A coarsely woven cotton dishcloth, 2 feet square, or a "pressing
        A 2-foot square of cheesecloth, or a light cotton dish towel of
        comparable dimensions.


Two special pieces of equipment, both easy to assemble, will make the 
work even easier:

    [1] Make a "pressing sack" of the coarsely woven cotton dish towel
    mentioned above, or use a piece of sturdy cotton cloth with about
    the same coarseness of weave as cheesecloth. Fold the towel or cloth
    end to end and sew up the sides to form a sack about 15 inches wide
    and 15 inches deep. Or use a small flour sack with a fairly coarse

    [2] The flat-bottomed colander listed above is for use as a
    "settling container" which gives its shape to the finished tofu. If
    a 1-quart strainer or small, round-bottomed colander is used in its
    place, the tofu will naturally be rounded.

The three settling containers shown in Fig. 2 can easily be made at 
home. Container A is prepared from a 1-1/2-quart wooden, Tupperware, or 
plastic box with an open top and non-removable bottom. In containers B 
and C the bottom is removable, allowing for easy removal of the tofu 
without immersing the container in water. Good dimensions for the 
container are 5-1/2 inches square by 3 inches deep, or 8 by 4 by 3 
inches deep. Use a drill or heated ice pick to bore 3/8-inch-diameter 
holes about 1-1/2 inches apart in the bottom and sides of the container. 
Fashion a flat wooden or plastic pressing lid (with or without holes) to 
fit down inside the rim of the box. Handmade wooden settling containers 
in the above designs (kitchen or community size) can be ordered from 
Ganesha, c/o Westbrae Natural Foods, 1336 Gilman St., Berkeley, Calif. 


The soybeans now sold at almost all natural and health food stores, most 
co-op stores, and many supermarkets will make good tofu. However, to 
obtain the highest yield, try buying soybeans directly from a tofu shop 
(if there's one in your area), for they have been carefully chosen by 
the tofu maker.


The solidifiers; most readily available in the West are Epsom salts, 
lemon or lime juice, and vinegar. All make delicious tofu, although they 
are not used in Japanese tofu shops. Japanese-style solidifiers are 
available from many natural food stores, local tofu shops, Japanese food 
markets, chemical supply houses (check your phone directory), or your 
local school chemistry lab. Usable seawater can be retrieved from clean 
stretches of ocean. Natural nigari is available at some salt refineries 
and can be ordered from Japanese natural food distributors ... or it can 
be prepared at home using natural salt. We recommend the use of refined 
nigari unless the natural nigari is certified to have come from a clean 
source of seawater. While we believe the nigari-type solidifiers are the 
easiest to use and result in the best tasting tofu, Epsom salts and 
calcium sulfate seem to give somewhat higher bulk yields and a softer 
end product by incorporating more water into the tofu. The yield of tofu 
solids or nutrients is about the same regardless of the type of 
solidifier used, except that lemon juice and vinegar give rather small 
yields. (*NOTE:* Calcium sulfate, a fine white powder, is sometimes 
mislabeled in the West and sold as nigari. The latter usually has a 
coarse, granular, or crystalline texture ... natural nigari is beige and 
refined nigari is white.)

The recipe below calls only for solidifier Your choice of solidifier 
depends upon the type of tofu you want.

*FOR SUBTLY SWEET, NIGARI TOFU * USE: 1-1/4 teaspoons magnesium chloride 
or calcium chloride, or 1to 1-1 /2 teaspoons granular or powdered 
natural nigari, or 1 to 1-3/4 teaspoons homemade liquid nigari, or 1-1/4 
to 3 teaspoons commercially prepared liquid nigari, or 1 cup seawater 
(freshly collected).

* FOR MILD, SOFT TOFU USE:* 1-1/4 teaspoons Epsom salts (magnesium 
sulfate) or calcium sulfate.

FOR SUBTLY TART OR SLIGHTLY SOUR TOFU USE: 2-1/2 tablespoons lemon or 
lime juice (freshly squeezed), or 2 tablespoons (apple cider) vinegar.


** (MAKES 22 TO 26 OUNCES) *

        1 cup soybeans, washed, soaked in 4 cups water for 10 hours (see
        graph, MOTHER NO. 39, page 40), rinsed, and drained
        11 cups water, approximately

Prepare in advance:

Place pressing pot in sink and set colander into pot. Moisten pressing 
sack lightly and line colander with sack, fitting mouth of sack around 
rim of colander. Or line colander with a moistened 2-foot-square dish 
towel (Fig. 3).

Moisten cheesecloth or thin cotton dish towel and use to line bottom and 
sides of settling container. Place container on rim of large bowl or pan 
placed in sink.

Fill a 2-quart saucepan with 2 cups water and warm over very low heat on 
a side burner.

After making the above preparations, proceed as follows:

Heat 5 cups water over high heat in cooking pot. While water is heating, 
combine beans and 2-2/3 cups water in a blender and purée at high speed 
for about 3 minutes, or until very smooth. (if using a grain mill, food 
mill, or meat grinder, grind beans without adding water and add 2-2/3 
cups more water to cooking pot.)

Add soybean purée (gô) to water heating (or boiling) in cooking pot, 
rinsing out blender with a little water to retrieve any puree that may 
cling to blender's walls. Taking care that pot does not boil over, 
continue heating on high heat, stirring bottom of pot frequently with a 
wooden spatula or spoon to prevent sticking (Fig. 4). When foam suddenly 
rises in pot, quickly turn off heat and pour contents of cooking pot 
into pressing sack (Fig. 5). Using a rubber spatula, retrieve any 
soybean purée that may still cling to the sides of the cooking pot and 
transfer to pressing sack. Quickly rinse out cooking pot and replace on 
top of stove.

Twist hot pressing sack closed. Using a glass jar or potato masher, 
press sack against colander, expressing as much soymilk as possible 
(Fig. 6). Open sack, shake /okara/ (soybean pulp) it contains into one 
of its corners, close and press again. Now empty /okara/ into the 2 cups 
warm water in saucepan on side of stove ... stir well, then return 
moistened okara to pressing sack set in the colander. Close sack and 
press well as before; squeeze by hand to express the last of the soymilk 
(Fig. 7). Empty okara into the 2-quart pot and set aside.

Measure solidifier into dry 1-cup measuring cup and set aside.

Pour soymilk into cooking pot and bring to a boil over high heat, 
stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Reduce heat to medium and cook 
for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off heat.

Add 1 cup water to solidifier in measuring cup (unless using seawater) 
and stir until dissolved. With a to-and-fro movement, stir soymilk 
vigorously 5 or 6 times and, while stirring, pour in 1/3 cup solidifier 
solution. Stir 5 or 6 times more, making sure to reach bottom and sides 
of pot. Bring spoon to a halt upright in soymilk and wait until all 
turbulence ceases. Lift out spoon (Fig. 8). Sprinkle 1/3 cup solidifier 
over surface of soymilk, cover pot, and wait 3 minutes while curds form. 
Using a measuring spoon, stir remaining 1/3 cup solidifier solution, 
uncover pot, and sprinkle solution over surface of soymilk.

Very slowly stir upper 1/2-inch-thick layer of curdling soymilk for 15 
to 20 seconds, then cover pot and wait 3 minutes. (Wait 6 minutes if 
using Epsom salts or calcium sulfate). Uncover and stir surface layer 
again for 20 to 30 seconds, or until all milky liquid curdles.

(White "clouds" of delicate curds should now be floating in a clear, 
pale-yellow liquid . . . the whey. If any milky, uncurdled liquid 
remains suspended in whey, wait I minute, then stir gently until 
curdled. If milky liquid persists, dissolve a small amount of additional 
solidifier—about 1/4 of the original amount—in 1/3 cup water and pour 
directly into uncurdled portions. Stir gently until curdled.)

Place cooking pot next to settling container in sink. Gently press 
fine-mesh strainer into pot and allow several cups whey to collect in 
it. Ladle all of this whey into settling container to re-moisten lining 
cloths (Fig. 9). Set strainer aside.

Now ladle curds—and any remaining whey—into settling container one layer 
at a time. Ladle gently so as not to break curds' fragile structure 
(Fig. 10). Fold edges of cloth neatly over curds (Fig. 11), place a lid 
on top of cloth (a small board or flat plate will do), and set a 1/2- to 
1-1/2-pound weight on top of lid for 10 to 15 minutes, or until whey no 
longer drips from settling container (Fig. 12).

Fill pressing pot, a large basin, or sink with cold water. Remove weight 
and lid from atop tofu, then place container holding tofu into basin of 
water (Fig. 13). Slowly invert container, leaving cloth-wrapped tofu in 
water. Lift out container. While it is still under water, carefully 
unwrap and cut tofu crosswise into halves. Allow tofu to remain under 
water for 3 to 5 minutes, until firm. To lift out, slip a small plate 
under each piece of tofu. Drain briefly (Fig. 14).

Store tofu in a cool place until ready to serve. (if not to be served 
for 8 to 10 hours, store under cold water.) The remaining 6 to 7 ounces 
(1 firmly packed cup) of okara can be used in various other recipes, or 
refrigerated in an airtight container. Use the 6 to 7 cups whey in 
stocks and/or for washing your utensils.


/EDITOR'S NOTE: In next issue's installment of excerpts from this great 
book, we'll present various recipes that'll show you what to do with 
your tofu once its made. / / /

    *---more about tofu* ---

Just as the word "bread" is used in reference to a wide variety of baked 
goods, the word "tofu" in its broad sense refers to a number of 
different soybean foods.

"Tofu" is also used in a more limited sense to refer to "regular tofu", 
the simplest, least expensive variety and the one most widely known in 
the West. This tofu has no exact equivalent in Western cuisine and does 
not quite fit the English terms "soybean curd" and "soybean cheese" 
often used to describe it Tofu is made /from / soybean curds just as 
cheese is made /from / dairy curds: after ladling off whey from the 
soymilk curds in his curding barrel, the tofu maker scoops the curds 
into two cloth-lined wooden settling boxes and tops them with a pressing 
lid and heavy weight for about thirty minutes. During this time the 
curds are firmed and made into tofu. Similarly, although the finished 
tofu, stored under water in deep sinks, has the color and shape of a 
light cheese, it is not fermented, aged, or ripened ... hence the name 
"soybean cheese" is also inappropriate.

According to ancient Chinese references, as well as to popular 
tradition, the method for preparing both soymilk and tofu was discovered 
by Lord Liu An of Huai-nan in about 164 B.C. A famous scholar and 
philosopher, ruler and politician, Liu An is said to have been 
interested in alchemy and Taoist meditation. A close friend of many 
students, he may have undertaken his experiments 'With tofu as a way of 
introducing nutritious variety into their simple meatless diet. 
Historians believe that Liu An's tofu was probably solidified with 
either nigari or seawater and had a firm texture similar to most of the 
tofu made in China today.

About 900 years passed from the time of the discovery of tofu in China 
until its arrival in Japan. (As tofu became a part of the language and 
culture in Japan it came to be used in proverbs and sayings. When 
someone wants to tell a person to "get lost", he may say "Go bump your 
head against the corner of a cake of tofu and drop dead." Or when 
speaking of something as being hopeless he might say "It's as futile as 
trying to clamp two pieces of tofu together.")

Up until the start of World War II, virtually all Japanese tofu was 
prepared in small household shops from gô /(EDITOR'S NOTE: /see The Book 
of Tofu excerpts in /MOTHER NO. 40. /cooked over a wood fire in an iron 
cauldron and soymilk solidified with natural nigari. Only after World 
War II did* *new solidifiers (such as calcium sulfate) and ways of 
cooking (such as with pressurized steam) come into vogue. In recent 
years, large shops and factories have begun to mass-produce tofu: each 
10-1/2 ounce cake is water-packed in a polyethylene container, thermally 
sealed with a sheet of transparent film, and pasteurized by immersion 
for one hour in hot water to give a shelf life of up to 1 week. 
Distributed over an area of several hundred miles in refrigerated 
trucks, this tofu is sold in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery 
stores at a price slightly below that of the tofu sold in most 
neighborhood shops.

Another 1,200 years passed before tofu made the leap from Japan to 
America ... where there are now more than 50 tofu shops, the oldest of 
which has been in business since the turn of the century. The history of 
tofu in the West, therefore, has only just begun.


    news from bill *shurtleff

Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi-talented authors of /The Book of 
Tofu/-recently wrote to MOTHER and asked us if we'd pass along the 
following two announcements.

First: In response to a gratifyingly large number of invitations, Mr. 
Shurtleff and Ms. Aoyagi will tour the U.S. this fall, giving special 
lecture presentations to natural food centers, student body 
organizations, clubs, etc.... and they'd like to hear from any such 
groups that would be interested in having them come and talk. According 
to Bill Shurtleff, "At a typical two-hour program, we prepare a number 
of our favorite tofu and miso recipes for people to sample, teach others 
how to make tofu at home for 13¢ per pound, talk about the highprotein 
nutritional value of these fine foods, and discuss the important role 
they can play in helping to solve the world food crisis." All Bill and 
Akiko ask of sponsoring organizations is a donation of one dollar per 
person-in-attendance, to cover expenses. Interested parties are 
encouraged to write to the address below.

Second: Authors Shurtleff and Aoyagi are putting together a new 
/volume-The Book of Sea Vegetables/—/and/ would like very much to 
contact folks in this country who've [A] developed good sea-vegetable 
recipes or [B] gathered and/or cultivated edible seaweeds extensively. 
If you've got such recipes, or info on foraging seaweed (name of 
variety, habitat, season to harvest, flavor, use in cookery, etc.), by 
all means send what you know to Bill and Akiko. They'll acknowledge your 
help in the book, and maybe list your name in the appendix under "People 
Interested in Sea Vegetables in the West".

Write to Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi at:

New Age Foods Study Center
790 Los Palos Manor
Lafayette, Calif. 94549

"We hope that /The / /Book / /of Sea Vegetables/ will long be the 
definitive work on the subject," author Shurtleff tells MOTHER. All we 
can say is, if the new volume is executed in anywhere near the 
professional and thorough-going manner of /The / /Book / /of Tofu, /it 
ought to be a classic.

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