[PHNUTR-L] Meat-like qualities whet the US appetite for tofu
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD
fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com
Tue Jan 3 08:47:13 PST 2006
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Meat-like qualities whet the US appetite for tofu
Biologist tackles taste, texture issues
By Robert Gavin, Globe Staff | January 2, 2006
Tofu is good for people, rich in protein and in substances that may
reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. But you'd probably need a
molecular biologist to figure a way to get meat-loving Americans to eat
the bland, mushy soy product.
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Enter Xiang F. Kong, who happens to be a molecular biologist. Kong, once
a researcher at the Boston University and Harvard medical schools, spent
more than two years developing a tofu with a consistency, texture, and
flavor that would appeal to the American palette.
In other words, something a lot like meat.
Kong appears to have succeeded and his new product, known as Tofettes
and coming in flavors such as teriyaki, barbecue, and Jamaican jerked,
is quickly gaining a following.
Tofettes hit the market earlier this year, starting with small grocers
like A. Russo & Sons Inc. of Watertown, and already have found their way
to the grocery chains Roche Bros. Supermarkets Inc. of Wellesley and
ShopRite Supermarkets of New Jersey. Shaw's Supermarkets, a unit of
Albertson's Inc. of Boise, Idaho, is also considering stocking Tofettes,
which, the Shaw's manager for vegetable produce said, might represent
the ''next generation" of tofu products.
Kong's pursuit of next-generation tofu is based on research -- his own
and others' -- that shows products made from whole foods, like soybean,
provide greater nutritional value than refined products, extracts, and
dietary supplements. Some meat substitutes, for example, use a refined
soy protein, which doesn't provide the same nutrients as whole bean
products, said Barbara Klein, a codirector of the Illinois Center for
Soy Foods at the University of Illinois.
Soy is best known for providing necessary protein without the fat and
cholesterol of meat and dairy products. Soy also contains isoflavones,
substances similar to the human hormone estrogen. Some studies have
shown isoflavones lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers,
Other studies have suggested lower rates of heart disease and cancer in
Asia might be related to higher consumption of soy products, such as
tofu, said John Erdman, professor of food science and human nutrition at
the University of Illinois.
But here in the United States, Erdman said, tofu has run up against two
main obstacles: taste and texture.
Tofu accounted for just $261 million of the $4 billion soy food market,
according to ''Soyfoods: The US Market 2005," published by Soyatech Inc.
of Bar Harbor, Maine, and SPINS Inc. of San Francisco.
Kong, 62, solved these problems by combining traditional methods of tofu
production, which is similar to making cheese, with modern technology.
The process begins with whole soybeans that are soaked overnight, then
ground to extract soy milk. The milk is curdled, and the curds used to
To achieve a meat-like texture, Kong uses a press that employs precise
heat and pressure, established through a lengthy process of trial and
error. The tofu, cut into small pieces, is then briefly fried in
The result is tofu ''unique in its textures and ability to take on
flavors," said Peter Golbitz, president of Soyatech, a consultant and
publisher specializing in soybean and oilseed industries.
''The whole process is very innovative," Golbitz said. ''He's doing
things with tofu that I haven't seen anybody try in 20 years."
And it seems to be working.
After first tasting Tofettes at Russo's in Watertown, Clydia Davenport,
56, of West Roxbury tracked down Kong and ordered two cases -- which
Kong personally delivered. Her favorite flavor: teriyaki.
''They're chewy and delicious," Davenport said. ''I served them to my
parents and they didn't even know they were eating tofu."
Kong's company, Soya Foods, operates out of a small plant in Dorchester,
employing as many as 10, depending on orders. Kong is preparing to
expand production with the help of a $75,000 line of credit from the
Massachusetts Community Development Finance Corporation.
Meanwhile, Kong has developed a unique process to roll tofu in thin
sheets, instead of traditional blocks, and allow him to add another
product line he hopes will appeal to the American palate. Up next: tofu
Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin at globe.com.
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD < fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com >
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