Sunday, May 3, 2009

Homemade Tofu, Soy Milk, and a Vietnamese Ginger-Tofu Dessert

In Honolulu, I regularly pay more than I can stand for 12 oz. blocks of tofu and half-gallon containers of soy milk. After tax, the former usually costs around $3 and the latter around $6. I easily go through this much tofu and soy milk in a week, which means that in a month I pay around $40 for these two products alone. I decided to look around Honolulu for tofu molds but came up empty handed. After my fruitless two-week search I headed online, and in a matter of seconds I found a Connecticut-based company that carries what I was looking for. Although the mold cost $40, and shipping an extra $20, I figured that if the product wasn't a scam I could recoup that total in a couple of months.

Well, my tofu mold arrived yesterday afternoon. I was taken aback by how small it was, but was pleased that it came with several packs of nigari -- a coagulant derived from sea water and also known by the unappetizing scientific name of magnesium chloride -- and two cheesecloths for straining. (The mold, incidentally, is made from hinoki, or cedar wood, and its fragrance is like an early spring walk in the woods.) In the evening I went shopping for organic soybeans. (For those living in Honolulu, I found these at Kokua Market, 2643 S. King St.) A pound of these hard little yellow beans went for a mere $2.19. I splurged for a pound and a half and then raced home to soak my fresh new beans in water overnight.

I awoke at 6:30, and bam, it was tofu time! I unfolded the directions that came with my tofu mold and in 90 minutes I'd made two slabs of fresh tofu. What's more, it was delicious! Admittedly, it was too soft to cook with, but its softness made it perfect for a dessert I learned to love in Vietnam that uses hot ginger syrup (see below). There are many Japanese desserts that use soft tofu as well, so you can guess what I'll be eating after my meals for the next week or so. And not just that, but one byproduct from tofu-making is okara, which can be used in various dishes, too. (But more on that in a different post.)

With my second batch of beans I made soy milk. And one reason I'm sharing this is because I want people to know that they, too, can make soy milk without a tofu mold, and it's very easy to do.

Homemade Soy Milk Directions

1) Soak about a pound (400 g) of soybeans in water for at least 8 hours. (In the winter, soaking times are almost twice as long.)

2) Put soaked soybeans in a blender along with 3-4 cups of the soaking water.
3) Blend until the soybeans and liquid have reached a smooth, milkshake-like consistency.

4) Boil 7 1/2 cups of water. (I might recommend more water than this, as the soy milk that results tends to taste fairly strong.) Pour blended soybean mix into water and stir constantly until boiling again. Turn off heat and let mixture cool for about 3 minutes. Then simmer mixture for 7-8 minutes on medium heat.

5) Pull cheesecloth over colander and set colander in a large bowl or on a deep pan.

Pour mixture into cheesecloth and strain soy milk from solids. Keep the solids (okara) for use later in cooking.

A colander isn't necessary when you strain out the soy milk. I used
one in case I inadvertently spilled anything.

This is the okara, or the solids that remained after I squeezed the soy milk from the cheesecloth. Okara is incredibly nutritious and should be used within about two days.

If you only want to make soy milk, pour the liquid into a container and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Since the taste will be a tad bitter, you may want to dilute the milk with water, or add sugar, or both.

A cup of fresh hot soy milk

If you want to make tofu, however, continue on to step 6.

Directions for Making Tofu (continued from steps 1-5)

6. Add nigari coagulant (or substitute with 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice) to soy milk and let sit for around 30 minutes. You will immediately see the soy milk curds separate from the whey. The more you stir it at this stage the firmer your tofu will end up. (I need to remember this for next time...)

7. Pour mixture slowly into your thin cheesecloth-lined tofu mold.

Fold the cheesecloth over the tofu and fit the top of the mold over this. Distribute between 2-5 pounds of weight over the top and let it sit for 15-30 minutes until the water is pressed out of the tofu.

Remove the weight and top of tofu mold, then unfold and peel your cheesecloth from the tofu.

Agh! It's hideous, I know...but it tasted good. I'm hoping that future
attempts will teach me how to make it turn out looking better.

Place tofu into bowl or Tupperware container and cover with cold water.

For whatever reasons, homemade tofu doesn't last nearly as long as the store-bought variety.
Ideally, you should use fresh tofu within just a few days of making it.

Mine turned out quite soft, which meant that I really couldn't use it for cooking. With the soft tofu that I had, I decided to make a simple dessert that I used to enjoy straight from the pots of sidewalk vendors in Vietnam. It's called đậu hủ gừng, which is basically soft tofu with a sweet and spicy ginger sauce served warm. You can make this with any soft tofu available at your local store or market.

Đậu Hủ Gừng

2 cups water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 2-inch piece of ginger, cut into 1/4-inch wedges and crushed
12 oz. soft tofu

1. Add water, sugar, and ginger to a small pan, stir to dissolve sugar, and boil for 12 minutes. You can add more ginger and boil longer to give the sauce more of a kick. You may also want to include more water to dilute its sweetness.
2. Pour sauce hot over tofu and enjoy.

A bowl of soft tofu in a sweet, hot ginger sauce

Many of you have probably heard of recent studies indicating that tofu eaten in middle age may increase the likelihood of dementia or even brain shrinkage in later life. This may or may not be true. And until scientific research definitively bears one or the other truth out, I'll continue to eat tofu and drink soy milk, the more so now that I'm able to make it at home.

For anyone interested in the tofu mold I bought, the product can be found at

And for a video on how to make tofu (or soymilk), this may prove useful:

As a final word, I just want to mention something about the cost savings I'm expecting to enjoy with my new tofu and soy milk making capabilities. Without looking into this all that carefully, I'm guessing that I spend close to $450 a year on these foods (roughly $9/wk), but I should be able to get by spending less than $150 (less than $3/wk) for the soy beans necessary to make them myself. Saving $300 isn't going to change my life, but it is a nice way to save a little money. And what's more, in a year I'll end up with close to 100 pounds of uber-nutritious okara to cook with, all as a byproduct. I'm not sure if so much okara is a good thing or not, but I guess I'll find out soon...

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  1. $10 for tofu and soy milk? Absurd!

    Good job for making them yourself. My parents make soy milk the exact same way.

    Making your own stuff is cheap(er) and rewarding. You have me wanting to make my own tofu now. Although at just a little bit over $1, it's probably more trouble than it is worth.

  2. Stupendous Sapuche!
    I would never dream of making my own. WOW!

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  4. wow - I am in awe - another terrific post, I confess to being spoiled here in SF, the cost is not nearly the same so the ROI is much lower. But the thought of being able to do this all from scratch is so tempting. Ah too little time in the day for all these exciting projects to tackle. Thanks again for this post, I feel inspired.

    BTW, I have not forgotten my commitment to find that link on foraging, but when I checked in my food folder, I had over 600 emails to dig through and well, as it did not come up immediately I will continue to look. It was a sign that further organization is required.

  5. My mom-in-law makes soymilk that way - it tastes much better and the flavors are more well-rounded than what you get at the grocery store. Dau hu gung is one of my fave Vietnamese desserts - when we visited VN there was an old lady that would walk by my grandma's house every morning selling it for breakfast. The best breakfast ever!

  6. This is what I love about food blogs - discovering that the 'convenient' foods that we buy pre-made at the grocery is just as convenient, and much more self-satisfying, when made at home. I'm going to put this down along with the homemade ricotta/queso fresco/paneer recipes posted recently (the latter courtesy of Daily Spud!)

    This could be an ultimate irony. Technology has borne the blame for the slow demise of hand-crafting but it may also be what revives it as wide dissemination of information on the Internet, such as through blogs, ensures that by-hand techniques are shared and stored.

    This soft tofu dessert is one of our all-time favorites. It's the first thing we ask for during dim sum (called tofu hua, we've had little luck finding it). In the Philippines, it's known as taho and it's served with tapioca balls in the syrup. Thank you for the syrup recipe - I can't wait to make it!

  7. I like to make my own soy milk, it's easy and cheap :) but then, I've never made home made homemade tofu.

  8. Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing this!
    I haven't made soy milk or tofu (yet), mainly because I'm not a huge fan of store-bought versions... something about the after taste that I can't handle. But if this is anything like my homemade almond milk adventure (life changing), I'm game...

  9. Waw....Sapuche! What an intersting & learning post! I love tofu & soy milk & to make your own sounds delicious!!
    What a lot of work though!! You did an excellent job!!

  10. I've never been a big fan of tofu, but I might be able to get used to it in the sweet, hot ginger sauce. That sounds wonderful! I'm also intrigued by the soy milk, I am a fan of that. :)

    There are many vendors at our weekly farmer's market that sell huge blocks of homemade tofu. I'm glad to have a new knowledge of how it is made. I've never checked the price. I'll have to look next time. I'm sure it is a steal!

  11. Hey this is fabulous. I've never thought to make my own tofu, but its a sure fire way to know only good things have gone in it.

  12. Great post! My husband became a vegetarian and almost vegan 9 months ago.....I want to learn more about recipes with tofu. Thank you for sharing.

  13. tofu!!!!!!! wow, i really wish i had the equipment to make my own tofu (the wooden box, especially) But i guess all i can do for now is oogoogle over yours :P

  14. where did you learn this stuff! I am so impressed. GREG

  15. It´s true! I save a lot of money since I began to make Soy Milk,Tofu and yogurts at Home...Good Luke with your first home made Tofu.

  16. I love the soft tofu with ginger...I usually buy the mix from Asian grocery store...but you are very brave to make your own everything.

  17. I have read about making this, but have not ventured I am also impressed! I feel once we do make things for our selves, we have a greater appreciation for those things in life!

    I need to find your 'follow me' button, as I do enjoy your post!

  18. Wow, how impressive! you made your own soy milk and tofu! Very neat! The dessert with ginger sauce sounds delicious!

  19. Kudos for making soy milk and tofu yourself! It would have not even crossed my mind to make these two at home; didn't realize it can be done. In addition to having fresh tofu and soy milk, I am sure they're much healthier since they lack preservatives that most commercial products include.

  20. I went to the trouble of getting nigari once just so that I could make my own tofu. I didn't have a special tofu mold, just pressed it into a little block. I also managed to make a considerable mess at the soy milk stage as I recall!

    I was so proud of myself at the end of it all - though, because I'm only an occasional tofu eater, I haven't actually gone to the trouble of making it since (though if I ate it more often, I certainly would).

  21. I was shocked at food prices when I went to Kauaii a few years ago. Its crazy that a little bean curd would be so expensive.

    So yours wasn't so perfect... who cares I bet it tasted delicious.

    Do you know much about the high levels of plant estrogen in soya? Our family doctor recommended we limit our soy milk intake...but I'm not sure if I know enough about it to limit it. I prefer soy milk to dairy milk.

  22. Wow, the costs of food there would definitely convince one to make their own. That's ingenuity at its best.

  23. Great post with lots of useful info - thank you!

  24. I'm impressed! My mum would be too, if she knew you made tofu blocks!! It is relatively simple to make soy bean milk...but such a tedious process!

    I salute you...and your incredible patience! =P

  25. Great post, Sapuche. I used to make my own soymilk all the time, then I got lazy. :( Okara has many uses. When I was still making my own soymilk, I would put this soy fiber in muffins, cakes, cookies, meatloaf ...

  26. I love tofu but never made it. That's a long process but it must be so rewarding and so tasty. Better than anything in store. Love that post.

  27. I never thought about use tofu in desserts, sounds very yummy.

  28. Oh man. Yet again I’m way, way behind on replying to those who so generously commented. I’ve been busy lately, unfortunately, and that busy-ness continues. Even in my replies I’m going to have to break things up.

    Sugarlens: Actually, maybe tofu and soy milk is closer to $9 for both together. But yes, it’s absurd. Until I forget mainland prices I’m going to look for ways to produce more of my own food! You may be right that buying your own tofu is easier than making it on your own, especially if it only costs $1 where you live. The nice thing is that it only took me an hour and a half to make my own tofu, and I found the process to be rather pleasant.

    Elra: Please don’t be too impressed! It’s really not very hard, nor is it terribly time-consuming. You should give it a try sometime!

    Vincent: Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my post and my blog! I’ve already joined Petitchef, though I’ll try to upload my tofu post soon.

    Oysterculture: Thanks for your kind words! Yeah, if you’re crazy busy then it may be hard to find 90 minutes of uninterrupted time to make this. It’s quite relaxing, though, so if you’ve got a few hours after work some day, it’s a nice way to unwind. Plus you end up with good tofu for your efforts! And I appreciate your digging through so many emails for that foraging link, but no worries! I’ve come up with some new ones lately, too. If only I had time to move forward with my foraging. :)

    Nutritiontokitchen: You said it perfectly: “the flavors are more well-rounded than what you get at the grocery store.” I agree with you completely! Ah, dau hu gung for breakfast, a? I hadn’t thought of that! I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow… :)

    Tangled Noodle: I totally agree with you – I really enjoy the tofu and soy milk more knowing that I made them myself. I also know exactly what went into the food I made, which is comforting. I really hope that by-hand techniques continue to spread over the Internet – I say that partly in selfishness, of course, since I want to learn more about how to “craft” my own food! Oh, and when I finally manage to get to the Philippines I’m going to keep my eye open for taho! The tapioca balls in the ginger syrup sound great!

    Selba: I agree with what you said about making your own soy milk. I’m addicted to the stuff now! And trust me: if I can make tofu at home, ANYONE can! :)

    Sweet Charity: I hear you on the store-bought versions of tofu and soy milk. I find it’s really hit or miss, actually. When it’s bad, it’s terrible, and when it’s good, it’s amazing. This is definitely “beanier” than any store-bought version I’ve had, but in Japan I’ve had even stronger-flavored tofu and loved it. I think that part of the pleasure I get in eating my own tofu and drinking my own soy milk is knowing that I made it myself! Not very long ago I never would have guessed I’d be doing this now. Oh, and your homemade almond milk sounds life-changing indeed. I’ll definitely need to look into that!

    Sophie: Thank you! It’s really not that much work, though. If you have the equipment and an extra 90 minutes to spare, you’ll be amazed at what you can make!

    Lori: Yes, the soft tofu in ginger sauce is quite a different eating experience from regular tofu. The best kind is almost like a crème brulee, though not quite as rich. If you like soy milk, however, it really is easy to make your own!

    Although I’m sure no one’s waiting on pins and needles for my replies, I’ll try to get to the rest in the coming day or two. Thanks, everyone!

  29. A Girl Has to Eat: I agree completely. It’s always nice being able to make my own food. It’s comforting to know what’s gone into it!

    Erica: Thank you! I’m sure there are a lot of tofu recipes that you and your husband can make use of. The okara byproduct, too, is something that many vegans cook with a lot. It’s super-nutritious and goes with just about anything.

    Anjelikuh: Hmm, I guess there’s not a very huge tofu tradition in Poland, eh? If you can find it locally made, however, I wonder if the people there can sell you one of their tofu molds? Ah, but then maybe it would be hard to find a good supply of soybeans… :(

    Sippity Sup: Ah, it’s not so impressive, really. Thanks to the directions that came with my tofu mold, and a quick search through Youtube for tofu-making videos, it was actually really easy…

    Borboleta Africana: Yoghurt! You’ve given me something new to try to make! Yoghurt, too, is ridiculously expensive here. It’s great that you make your own in Portugal!

    Juliana: Haha! I’m not sure I’m brave for making my own tofu, but it’s really nice to know that I’m able to. The same goes for the tofu/ginger dessert. It’s another way to bring Vietnam back into my life in the U.S.

    Chef E: You should venture there! It was surprisingly easy. The hard part is finding 90 uninterrupted minutes with which to make the tofu! And I agree with you completely about how much more we appreciate food when we’ve taken part in the process of making it. Thanks for your comment!

    5 Star Foodie: Thank you! The dessert was great, though I seem to recall the same version in Vietnam was prettier.

    Mediterranean Turkish Cook: Thanks! I think I decided to do it after dwelling too long on a recent tofu/soymilk purchase at the store. It just shouldn’t be so expensive for a product made out of water and beans! Btw, the store-bought tofu surprisingly didn’t list any preservatives, though the soymilk did.

    Daily Spud: Wow, I’m impressed that you were able to make tofu without a special tofu mold. I assume your block had holes through which the excess water could drain. I know what you mean when you said you were proud of yourself after making it. I could hardly believe my eyes when I unpeeled the cheesecloth and saw I’d actually made tofu.

    Gastroanthropologist: Yup, the food prices here are sky high. And yes, I really didn’t care about how it looked. But when you have a blog, sometimes it feels necessary to make the occasional disclaimer. :) Oh, and I’ve heard about the danger of plant estrogen in soya, but from what I understand researchers aren’t yet in full agreement about this. I prefer soy milk to dairy, too, and drink it every day. Apparently, if there is a danger it’s primarily to those who consume a lot of it during middle age.

    Duo Dishes: Even after two years in Hawaii I still get sticker-shock at the grocery. It’s nice that I’m taking the time to do this sort of thing, but it’s also a bit of a shame that we go out to eat much less frequently than we used to!

    Madam Chow: You’re welcome! And thank YOU for your nice comment!

    Bangsar-bAbE: Ah, I had to chuckle when you said you were impressed! The most impressive thing, I think, is that I paid $60 for a tofu maker. :)

    Leela: Thank you! I can see how one might go through soymilk making phases. I’m sure that sometimes it just seems like it takes too long. And yes, okara is excellent for cooking, but it’s hard to find in a store, which is another reason for making it at home!

    Helene: The process isn’t too long – it only took me 90 minutes! But yes, it’s very rewarding and tasty…but maybe that’s mostly because I knew I’d made it. :)

    Anna: Being somewhat light, it’s a nice way to end a meal!

  30. I have not heard of okara before. Thank you for sharing this with us. I always find it fascinating to find out about new food stuff!

  31. Wow! what a great initiative!Way to go!Not only is it cheaper,but I agree it is ever so gratifying to be able to prepare your own produce from scratch,fresh unaldulterated and forming a connection between you and your food aswell as opening a creative freedom where the sky`s the limit..!Once you learn the basics,could you imagine the possibilities you could go with this..adding spices;herbs etc..?
    Bythway,I actually like to cook wth the soft tofu, crumbled and added to dishes it absorbs flavors really well.For example I like to stirfry it wth chopped onions tomatoes and mushrooms,forming sort of a 'scrambled eggs' type of dish.
    Ive always wanted to make my own soy milk and tofu,and I am ever so grateful for this,thanx!

  32. bytheway,until I do get myself a proper u think I could get around making somekind of alternative myself..?thanx,Mia

  33. A Girl Has to Eat: I’m the same as you, and I find that what I know about food is only a fraction of a fraction of the smallest percentage of what’s out there for me to learn about. And that’s why reading other people’s blogs is so interesting! Now, if the day were only a few hours longer, maybe I could read them to my satisfaction…

    Mia: Thank you! As you say, it really is gratifying to be able to make your own tofu and soy milk from scratch. I think that when you create something like this, your mind naturally opens up to other possibilities, and you gain a kind of momentum that can be of benefit to one’s health and lifestyle generally. I liked hearing what you often make with tofu; it’s definitely a versatile ingredient!

    As for finding a proper mold. Hmm. I’m not sure about that given your location in Israel. If you don't want to order one over the Internet, I doubt that it would be terribly difficult to make one from wood, or even aluminum, as long as whatever you use has a separate top for pressing down on the tofu curds and the device has proper drainage on the sides and/or bottom. As Daily Spud mentioned in her comment above, she made her own tofu without a mold of any kind. I guess you could use any sort of block-shaped device, really, and drain your tofu by tilting it to the side every now and then while something heavy is pressing down on it. Thanks for your comments, and good luck with it!

  34. What a nice surprise to read the article of making tofu! Going to link this article back to my Tofumaking post.

    Angie's Recipes

  35. Wow! This takes me back to college. I remember trying to make tofu with my roommates, but we failed. I think we were missing a key ingredient. We tryed lemon juice, and it didn't work so well.I can't remember what we used to mold and press it... I just recently made horchata and it is similar in process to soymilk. Always great to hear how affordable, delicious and fun food is if you take a little time to try to make it.

  36. Many thanks for the details. I tried your version with lemon juice (not only I have no access to those chemicals, but they sound suspicious as to their contribution to our health...), and have just completed the preparation of our first Tofu that came real nice!
    I just wonder how the dark and flavored tofu that one can buy in oriental shops is made. Has anyone tried adding, for example, Soya sauce during the process of producing the tofu? should it be done after the coagulation or before?

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  38. Kunwar Vikram SinghAugust 8, 2011 at 5:03 AM

    I have been following Tofu recipes on various channels and got interested in making it myself at home.However the final quantity of Tofu is too less ( About 200 gms from 500 gms beans) I used fresh lime juice (about 25 ml.) Is there any particular variety of soyabean to be used or something else goes wrong .

  39. Hi Kunwar: Thanks very much for your comment. I'm afraid I don't know much about which soybean varieties are best. In Hawaii I only ever had one choice of soybeans. I agree with you that the quantity of tofu this recipe produces is rather small, but with limited kitchen space and equipment it's about all I could deal with! Good luck with your tofu making, and if you find an answer to your question I'd love to know the answer.

  40. Hi; I too make my own soy milk and tofu. Just want to add that with the soft tofu I make a great omelet. People can barely see the difference. I fry onions, red pepper, green pepper and mushrooms then add the soft tofu lightly and mix gently till it is done. For coloring I add tumeric. I use whatever fine herbs I have especially the fresh ones and serve with aragula and wedges of tomatoes. And of course, homemade wheat bread and coffee.