Here in Hawaii, we are blessed to have fresh tofu readily available thanks to local producers like Aloha Tofu. What now is Hawaii's largest tofu factory had a beginning as humble as the food itself. Founders Kamesaburo and Tsuruko Uyehara took over a friend’s tofu factory and had only a week to learn a business that typically takes years to master. Now run by Paul Uyehara, grandson of the founders, Aloha Tofu remains committed to the belief that people in Hawaii deserve the freshest tofu.
We asked Paul to share some tofu-making tidbits with us.
What a Ton: Aloha Tofu goes through about one ton of non-GMO soybeans each day and that ton yields 3,000 to 5,000 blocks of tofu as well as other products such as aburage (fried tofu skins), atsuage (deep-fried tofu), natto (fermented soybeans), soy milk and okara (soybean pulp).
The Secret: The key ingredient in tofu-making is nigari or what Paul calls “seawater without the water or the salt.” Basically, nigari is all the minerals that are filtered out during salt-making and is what causes the soymilk to coagulate and solidify into tofu. Aloha Tofu is one of only two tofu-makers in the world to source their nigari from Hawaii’s own NELHA on the Big Island where it is extracted from deep-sea water from the Pacific Ocean.
Waste Not: Tofu’s main by-product is the fibrous pulp left after pressing out the soymilk. Okara is a favorite of many locals, and it can be used as an ingredient in cookies or as a binder for hamburgers. But human consumption alone can't use all the okara produced in tofu-making, so Aloha Tofu sends mountains of okara to a local pig farmer in Waianae whose hogs eat an all-vegetarian diet which yields outstanding, tasty pork.
Top Tips: Paul advises draining off the water from the tofu package and replacing it with fresh water before putting it away in the refrigerator. Change the water daily, using enough water to keep the tofu completely submerged, and touching it as little as possible. “Tofu doesn’t like to be handled too much,” Paul says. If you use only half the block, place the other half in fresh water.
Eat Up: Tofu is a nutritional powerhouse that is high in protein and low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol. It contains all eight essential amino acids, plus lots of iron and calcium. Not only does it include isoflavones which are said to reduce the risk of cancer, but it can also help you shed excess water to prevent bloating and weight gain.
Did You Know?
Tofu is one of the oldest foods in the world. It is said to have been discovered accidentally nearly 2,000 years ago by a Chinese cook who curdled soy milk using nigari seaweed.
Using soft tofu is the key to the right texture in this classic, spicy Chinese dish that makes a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Be sure to make extra because it tastes great the next day!
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 dried red chili peppers
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn, lightly crushed, or togarashi spice
3 teaspoons chopped ginger
3 teaspoons chopped garlic
8 ounces ground pork
2 tablespoons Chinese chili bean sauce
3 tablespoons Sriracha, or to taste
2 teaspoons fermented black beans, chopped finely
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
15 to 16 ounces soft Aloha Tofu, cut into 1½-inch dice
½ cup green onions, sliced
Heat vegetable oil. When hot, add in the dried chili pepper and Szechuan peppercorns and sizzle for 30 seconds. Add in the ginger and garlic and sizzle until fragrant.
Add the ground pork and cook until pork is broken up and cooked through.
Add chili bean sauce, sriracha, black beans, chicken stock, soy sauce, sesame oil and bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch into a paste. Add mixture to the sauce, stir in and allow to thicken.
Gently add the tofu and allow it to sit, moving it as little as possible, for a few minutes. Gently stir to incorporate, breaking up pieces slightly so you have a variety of large and small chunks of tofu.
Garnish with green onions and serve with hot rice.
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