The day after Christmas, I received an email from an Italian man named Andrea (it's a male name for Italians) in Atlanta. He owns Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and Asian Tofu and has been making tofu from scratch. He enjoys the freshness of homemade tofu so much that he’s invested in a soy milk making machine. The problem was this, he wrote:
“I am in search of a machine that can cut down on how long it takes to make tofu. I have a SoyQuick machine but I find that it does not make enough tofu per batch and I do not like to the soak the beans. Do you have any advice for a better machine that streamlines the process?”
I’ve made a lot of tofu by hand and can understand how someone would ponder timesaving shortcuts. Add up all the hours of soaking, grinding, and cooking soybeans and your eyes glaze over. Are there shortcuts? Canned soybeans have been cooked so they won’t work. Nix that one.
While I was writing the book, I read a 1970s work on DIY tofu that suggested a soy flour shortcut. I headed to my health food store and bought about five pounds of the flour from the bulk bin. Soy flour is basically ground soybeans and saves on the initial soaking time. However, you still have to strain and cook the reconstituted mixture.
I did all that to yield soy milk, but my regular blocks of tofu made from soy flour were unpleasantly grainy, borderline mealy. Crossed that off my list. Then I tried mass-marketed soy milk sold in boxes and cartons. They didn’t coagulate well at all. So disappointing.
The most viable tofu making shortcut turned out to be purchasing freshly made soy milk from an Asian grocery store or artisanal tofu shop. They are usually in the refrigerated section shelved with other dairy products. Above is soy milk that Hodo Soy sells at farmer’s markets.
Most freshly made soy milk sold at Asian markets has a richness that’s akin to lowfat milk, which works perfectly for regular block tofu. You have to finesse the coagulation, depending on the type of beans that the soymilk maker used.
One of the best organic soymilks that I’ve used is made by Nijiya market, a chain of Japanese markets with locations in California, New York, and Hawaii. Sometimes an Asian tofu shop uses non-GMO beans but they won’t label their products because the bean source is unreliable or inconsistent. Ask, or simply try the soymilk and see if you like it. It typically costs about $3 to 4 per half gallon/liter, which is a perfect amount for a block of super fresh tofu.
Andrea specifically asked about a machine: Is there the equivalent of a bread machine for tofu? One of the home appliances that sits in my garage is this Soya Power Plus soymilk maker, which cost about $125 several years ago. I bought it to experiment with while writing the homemade tofu tutorial.
As it turned out, the machine was constructed to operate best with a certain ratio of soybeans and water. I tried manipulating (fooling) the machine to work for my homemade tofu recipes in the book but all I got was mess after mess.
The heating element was a pain in the butt to clean. Sometimes it burnt the soy milk (I like smoked tofu but not all the time!). Moreover, despite repeated straining, the soymilk retained so many fine bits that the tofu turned out grainy. Plus, I had to make repeated batches to get the quantity I wanted. Given all those factors, I advised against using a machine in the book.
Recently, the company that makes the machine released a new 2013 model called the SoyaJoy G4, with an increased 1.7 liter capacity. It's basically a super duper blender that heats and filters. I gleaned the customer Q&A and one user who made soy milk from the machine, said that there was a lot of pulp leftover so straining through fabric was needed to yield soy milk suitable for tofu. The machine sells for about $120 on Amazon.
My friend Chinshu purchased a Joyoung machine and says it’s great for soy milk, though she hasn't tried the milk for tofu. Both the SoyaJoy and Joyoung seem quite similar.
Andrea asked about a machine made in Korea that claims to make tofu. The Koco Silver 4800 tofu maker costs $250 on Amazon. It’s awfully cute in a Hello Kitty way and the reviews are glowing. I can't glean much from the customer comments. However, the machine seems to be set up for making soy milk and tofu. I wonder if it coagulates in it and all? I suppose that if you make tofu several times a week, that machine may be worth purchasing and trying.
On the other hand, tofu is a low-tech food. After experimenting with the SoyaPlus machine, flour and milks, what I realized was that if you get into a routine of making tofu, it’s easy and borderline effortless, like making bread from scratch.
Soak the beans while you sleep; refrigerate them if you don’t want to use them right away. Use nonstick pots to make cleaning easier. Get a system going and basically, you’ll spend about one hour to make tofu. You read that right – an hour to go from soaked soybeans to molded curds.
About a year ago, an Asian Tofu reader told me that he made large quantities of soymilk and used it over the course of a good week to make fresh tofu on demand, sort to speak. Now that is efficient cooking. Maybe it’ll be your 2014 new project?
If you have experience with soy milk machines or tofu making shortcuts, do tell . . .