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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Tofu Is Made

A couple of days ago, I was lucky enough to visit Sol Cuisine, a tofu manufacturer here in Toronto... or to be even more correct, located just on the outskirts of Toronto, in the city of Mississauga - a mere eight minutes from my house.

I was there for work, and will indeed have to put together a stunning feature length magazine article on the company. This blog is just something I wanted to share with my loyal readers. 

At Sol Cuisine, my host was the affable Jess Abramson, the vice-president of sales and marketing. She was nothing less than charming and extremely knowledgeable about the company and the products they manufacture - both things that make my job as a magazine writer and blogger, a whole lot easier.

First and foremost - I had a great time there! Everyone I chatted with was well-spoken and polite, right from the floor workers and all the way up - as each individual took the time to explain the inner workings of the business. 

As most people are aware, tofu is a big part of Asian cuisine that has become a staple of the vegan diet here in the West. High in protein, tofu has always possessed a texture I have enjoyed - despite being an omnivore.

I really do like tofu. I ate a lot in Japan (having never eaten before that) and have eaten a lot raw tofu since leaving the country back in 1993... stabbing it with a fork or chopsticks and pouring soy sauce into it to add flavor.

You'll notice I said I added flavor. In my opinion, tofu had always been about substance... about how it was good for you, and not about flavor.

I was wrong.

In the years since leaving Japan, my own taste-buds have matured, even if I have not. Nowadays, I eat tofu raw or cooked within a stir-fry and even baked. I certainly don't require soy sauce to make it flavorful.

Now... the tofu from Sol Cuisine... this stuff was the best I had ever eaten. While I knew that tofu possessed a texture, I was unaware that it could also present a flavor! In fact... not only was there flavor - there was a lot of flavor to go along with the texture and smell.

How do I know? Well, Sol Cuisine, after the tour and answering my prying questions, invited me to participate in a taste test between their product and tofu manufactured by three other companies in Canada and the US. All sampled tofu was completely different, and all had something different, that I suppose, depending on your taste-buds, you might prefer one over the other. That's me being fair. I still thought Sol Cusine's tofu was the best.

Jess and the folks at Sol Cuisine were kind enough to teach me how tofu is made, and even allowed me to take some photos independent of the magazine article I will write soon enough.

Using my photos and firm guidance from Sol Cuisine, allow me to explain how tofu is made.
Tofu beans arrive dry at Sol Cuisine and are soaked overnight in water. 
At Sol Cuisine, the main ingredient of their tofu is organic, Non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms) soy beans grown locally. Jess says that Sol Cuisine has partnered directly with a farmer to produce the beans and is thus able to guarantee it is exactly what they say it is.

After arriving dry at the Sol Cuisine warehouse, the beans are inspected and then stored at room temperature. When they are ready to be used, the beans are soaked in water overnight (see photo above) to soften the beans.
 
While I did not take a photo of the few next steps, the beans are removed from the water. After sitting out of the water, a weighed amount of beans are then ground with hot water for two to three minutes.

After grinding, the mixture is then placed into a pressure cooker until the beans themselves reach a temperature between 100-120C.

The slurry is then compressed by a Roller Extractor. The beans are processed into soy milk and a smooth soy fiber puree known as okara (Japanese for soy pulp) which is preserved for use in other Sol Cuisine products (they also create some awesome varieties of burgers and ribs - though I must say I was not as enthralled by the ribs, Sol Cuisine almost converted me away from eating meat burgers forever - they were that tasty!)

A master tofu maker stirs the pot to separate the curds from the whey...
The curding process is next! After adding Magnesium Chloride and Calcium Sulphate to the mix to coagulate the hot soy milk, it stands undisturbed for a few minutes... this is when the milk separates into delicate white curds and the pale yellow whey. By the way, the amount of calcium and magnesium added will directly affect the taste of the tofu, not to mention the formation of the curds. If the structure of the curds is affected, the texture and the cohesion of the tofu will be impacted.

In the photo above, a tofu master stirs the steaming pot to separate the curds from the whey.

However, when making tofu, and one is stirring to separate the curds from the whey, there is a right way and a wrong way to stir. If you stir too fast or too slow, the curds could break up and simply not allow the tofu to form with the proper texture.

In order to get a consistent texture, and to maintain its firmness, the stirring is a very important and delicate part of the whole process. Failure to stir properly can create a tofu that does not possess the texture Sol Cuisine has become famous for.

And yet... despite the fact that so many things can go wrong - Sol Cuisine prefers to ensure things go right by employing a couple of tofu masters to create a stir.  
 
If you take a look at the short video I shot (below) you can see how a tofu master stirs. From what I could tell, it was similar to the way you paddle a canoe. Yes... I know how to paddle a canoe.


The photo below shows the curds within a tofu pressing form that is being pressed to drain away any remaining whey.

Pressing the curds gives each piece of tofu its brick-like form and structure. At Sol Cuisine, the pressing takes anywhere between 5-10 minutes, and once done, it is now essentially tofu!

The tofu is cut into either square or rectangular blocks. The blocks are then placed into a cool water bath to prep it for packaging.


Under a cheese cloth, the curds are placed into a form and is pressed to remove excess whey. 



Plastic film to cover the top of a plastic tray of tofu. 
Sealed packs of tofu go through a pasteurization process before being sent out to shelves across North America.
Now... if you look at the last two photos above... the tofu blocks are cooled in the water to prep it for packing via a vacuum thermoforming machine that does three trays at a time - first removing air from the pack before sealing in all of the tasty goodness.  

After checking the integrity of each pack, the sealed tofu is then run through a pasteurization process until each pack of tofu has an internal temperature of 75-80C - a process that takes about 1-1/2 hours, which is all the time it takes to kill dangerous pathogens and to increase the shelf-life of the packaged tofu. I believe the shelf-life is one month.

After pasteurization, the tofu is once again cooled over a 1-1/2 hour period , as the temperature comes down to 4C.

Lastly, the tofu packs are stored overnight in a cooler before being packed into cartons for distribution to retail or food service entities across Canada and/or the U.S.

Oh yeah... and I did see this in action at the pasteurization station... but a quality control team monitors each step hourly to ensure product integrity is maintained.     

And there you have it... how tofu is manufactured. Hopefully you learned something, because I sure did!

Thanks to Sol Cuisine for allowing me in! And should you see their fine products in your local grocery store, give'em a try. They make a very tasty, creamy and slightly sweet tofu! Yum!

Visit their website at www.solcuisine.com.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

4 comments:

  1. thanks for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. The simple act of a 'thanks' makes me feel great and gives me the energy to continue.
      Thank-you, oh anonymous one.

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