Posted by: acooksca | 03/08/2012

A Visit to the Hodo Soy Beanery

Hodo Soy Beanery

Hodo Soy Beanery

My friend, Julia, is curious about the process of making tofu.  I have never been a fan of the spongy, lack-luster supermarket variety, but maybe freshly made tofu will be different. So we go on line, get a reservation for the once a month visit and head for the Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland.

Making flavorful and texture-rich soy bean products is a daily event in Asia. Soy is an important source of protein in countries such as Vietnam, where Minh Tsai, the founder of Hodo Soy Beanery grew up. In 2004, Tsai left a career in finance to make fresh soy bean products in his uncle’s garage in San Jose. From that humble beginning he assembled a team of food professionals and two years ago opened a sparkling new manufacturing plant in Oakland.

Hodo began by selling at Bay Area farmers’ markets and still does. Now with the new state-of-the-art beanery they supply 30 restaurants and 50 supermarkets in the Bay Area as well. Even with their expanded production, Hodo’s products are made by hand, using much thicker soy milk than usual.

Hodo Soy Kitchen

Hodo Soy Kitchen

We join twelve others at the front door of Hodo Soy Beanery and meet Maria Yates, Hodo’s farmers’ market manager. The visit begins promptly at 10:30 with a video explaining the process of making soy bean products. Dried organic soy beans are soaked overnight then ground, blended with water into slurry and cooked under high heat and pressure to separate the proteins into rich soy milk. This rich soy milk is the basis of their product line.

After the video a curtain is drawn away from a wall of glass and we are looking at the kitchen. It gleams with stainless steel steamer tanks, crushers, vats and forming tables imported from Japan. In the background soy milk is coagulated into curds, wrapped in cheesecloth and pressed into tofu of various textures. Before us the technician making yuba is precise and methodical. Fresh yuba, (called tofu skin) forms atop warm soy milk as it cools. We watch as he lifts paper-thin sheets gently by hand to dry on a pole above the vats. He will return to each vat, testing the density before lifting the next series of skins to dry. The sheets are then folded and packaged for sale.

Making Yuba sheets

Making Yuba sheets

Maria tells us that Hodo is the only company making fresh, organic yuba  in the U.S.  One reason might be the difficulty in sourcing enough organic soy beans. Hodo contracts a farm in Illinois for their non-GMO (genetically modified organic) soy beans. That farm is arduous about testing for pollen that might blow over from genetically modified soy bean fields. Genetically modified soy beans account for 93% (as of 2010) of the beans grown in the U.S. The theory is that by modifying DNA the plants and beans will be less venerable to pests and environmental issues, but not everyone agrees on the safety or tastiness of non-GMO soy beans.

Curiosity peaked, we are ready to sample. Tasting the tofu plain I am struck with the custard-like creamy texture and fresh “beany” flavor. We taste several of their grab-and-go salads of fried tofu with Asian flavors and Maria tells us these sell particularly well. But I can’t seem to get enough of Hodo’s Spicy Yuba Strips with sesame, ginger and chilies. The texture of yuba reminds Julia of crepe-like Chinese egg pancakes, but slightly more toothsome. Maria offers to take orders for purchasing products and nobody leaves empty handed.

Look for Hodo Soy Beanery products at Bay Area farmers’ markets: medium tofu is $2.50 a block, yuba in a 6-oz. package (two large sheets) is $7 and containers of all “salads” there are $7 each or 3 for $20.  Prices for all these products may vary by retail location.

To visit the Hodo Soy Beanery: http://hodosoy.com/
Where to buy Hodo retail: http://hodosoy.com/where-to-find-hodo/retail/

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