I made this chilled tofu and tomato salad (a.k.a. vegan caprese) with homemade tofu. I had fresh soy milk from Nijiya market (a California-based Japanese grocery store chain) that was lingering in our fridge. It’s rich, sweet tasting milk. It’s a delicious product that happens to be made from organic soybeans. There is no indication that the beans were non-GMO.
When I buy soy products like tofu and soy milk, I note whether or not the beans are organic and or non-GMO. I don’t have to check off both boxes, however. Sometimes, I let it go. For example, my favorite soy sauces don’t qualify their soybeans as anything but soybeans. I judge food ingredients based on whether or not they are good tasting, consistent, and made with integrity. I read the label, check the website, judge by flavor and function in my kitchen.
It’s hard with products from Asia. For example, Pearl River Bridge has in the past indicated that they made soy sauce from non-GMO beans. The type was so small on their Golden Label Light Soy Sauce label I had to get a magnifying glass out to see it.
Kikkoman has an organic soy sauce but I had to look on their website to see if the beans were non-GMO. Note it says “GMO-free” and such wording may reflect cultural and communication differences. Kikkoman makes soy sauces for many markets, and something like this soy sauce isn’t going to be sold at the corner grocery, but rather Japanese and Chinese markets.
Most people are concerned about tofu. I received this email from Selma in Texas:
I am glad I found you online as I do have a big concern regarding what I buy a lot. I am vegetarian/vegan, using a lot of tofu in my cooking considering that I am also from an Asian country. Someone had told me that there is no such thing here anymore in the US as organic, non-GMO soybeans. I know we grow a lot of GMO soybeans here in America. In your line of expertise, are you aware of this or is this true at all or not? I called Nasoya Company and requested to talk to their Supervisor or Nutritionist if they employ one in that capacity, a lady answered and she told me she can help me with my questions. I asked where their supply of soybeans is coming from and how do we know they use organic soybeans for their tofu. There was few minutes of silence then hung up or disconnected. I tried to call back few times but the message says it is temporarily unavailable. We are really concerned about what we eat from day to day basis. I would appreciate very much if you can shed some light on this. I may just be misinformed. I want to know the truth about this. Or perhaps you may help me where to purchase my organic. non-GMO tofu. I thank you very much.
That was rude of Nasoya’s customer service! In answering Selma, I related how most tofu makers are getting soybeans from a bunch of different growers so they can’t pinpoint the exact source. Traceability with soybeans is much harder than with say, seafood, which has its own struggles with sourcing issues.
The other thing with soybeans is there are thousands of breeds of soybeans. Many have been naturally bred while some have been genetically modified for different uses. Certain kinds of soybeans are cultivated for animal feed, oil, and even seat belts! Some soybean varieties are bred and farmed for direct human use in soy milk, tofu, and tempeh. Soybeans also do not look the same. A tiny glimpse of their diversity:
Years ago, I learned that AFC tofu in Los Angeles was using non-GMO beans but because they’d invested so much in packaging that they didn’t want to redo their labeling to include non-GMO in the text! I like their pressed and baked tofu a lot -- it’s sold at Chinese markets.
To help Selma out, I pointed her to Wildwood tofu, sold at health food markets like Whole Foods and I suspect they private label Trader Joe’s extra and super-firm tofu.
She wrote back that she grocery shops at Walmart. It’s pretty cool that Walmart sells tofu! I’m happy to know that what was deemed vile by many Americans is now mainstream.
Curious about how easy or not easy it is to find organic, non-GMO tofu and soy products, I went to my local supermarkets and looked in my pantry. Here’s what I found:
The Whole Foods tofu in my fridge is organic but not marked as non-GMO. I really like it, as well as the tofu sold at Trader Joe’s, which is also organic. I’ve been buying tofu from both retailers for years and it’s excellent, with a fast turnover to indicate that it doesn’t sit around. I’m sticking with those brands.
Nasoya tofu at our local Safeway is marked as organic and non-GMO. I didn’t pay attention before. It’s a good brand that’s nationally distributed. However, I’m not a huge fan of glucono delta lactone (GDL), a coagulant that makes tofu firm and jello-like. Wildwood often uses it too. (More on tofu coagulants here.) Tofu with GDL doesn’t absorb flavors well because it's not very porous but it sure holds its shape. So the question is whether or not organic and non-GMO outweigh the texture and flavor of a dish? That’s a personal choice that I’ll leave to you to decide.
Hodo Soy’s tofu, made in Berkeley, is firmer than I like. However, I know from talking to their founder Minh Tsai that they contract with specific farmers to raise soybeans for their use. That’s rare traceability in the soy food industry.
When I make soy milk and tofu from scratch, I buy soybeans from one grower in Iowa. The beans are superb, rich, and flavorful. The beans are non-GMO but not organic. The organic soybeans I’ve tried from local and Asian markets have been so-so. I’m sticking with mail ordering Laura soybeans.
Westsoy, which has been in operation for decades, makes my favorite aseptic (boxed) soy milk and tempeh from organic, non-GMO soybeans. They’re great tasting products. Westsoy used to make an extra rich soymilk that clocked in at around 11 grams of protein per cup. I don’t see it on their site but hope it’s still around. I’ve bought it at Whole Foods.
The original tempeh comes close to what I’ve had in Asia. Westsoy tofu is not sold near me so I’ve not tried it, but it’s likely made from the same organic and non-GMO soybeans.
Looking around in my pantry, I found San-J tamari. It’s made from organic and non-GMO soybeans. It’s not my favorite gluten-free soy sauce because there’s a tart after taste. Use a little sugar in dishes to counter that note.
Then I checked with Pearl River Bridge’s website for an organic soy sauce. Surprisingly, I found a PRB soy sauce featuring non-GMO soybeans but it’s sold in Australia. There seems to be an American organic version but the beans are not specified as non-GMO. That said, I’m going to look for it at the Chinese market!
I think this proves that organic, non-GMO soy foods and ingredients are available in the United States. You may have to hunt for them. On the other hand, they may be right under your nose in the form of a favorite product!
Selma asked a great question and I hope she and others feel more empowered as a vegetarians and eaters of good healthy food.
Have tips or insights to add? Don't hold back! Thanks.
So how about some tofu recipes?
- Honey Lime Tofu Cheesecake
- Crispy tofu and rice cakes
- Tofu, Bacon, and Kimchi Taco
- Pressed Tofu Stir-fried with Celery