This section is about soy products like tofu, yuba, okara, tempeh, natto, tofu pouches for inari zushi, and soy pudding. Information about soy milk can be found in the Soy, Almond, & Other Non-Dairy Milks section. Information about soy meat can be found in the Meat Substitutes section.
Tofu really is everywhere in Japan, and there are many different types available. They include:
– Thick deep fried tofu (厚揚げ – Atsuage)
– Deep fried tofu (油揚げ – Aburaage)
– Grilled tofu (焼き豆腐 – Yakidōfu)
– Fried tofu fritter (がんもどき / 雁擬き – Ganmodoki) (just check for egg)
Of course there is also regular firm tofu (木綿豆腐 / もめんどうふ – momendōfu, meaning “cotton tofu”) and soft/silken tofu (絹ごし豆腐 / 絹漉し豆腐 / きぬごし豆腐 / きぬごしどうふ – kinugoshidōfu, meaning “silk tofu”).
Although it may be difficult to find, “island tofu/島豆腐 – shimadōfu” from Okinawa has been reported to be firmer than regular firm tofu.
While tofu is abundant in Japan, it can be difficult to identify tofu that is calcium set or calcium fortified. The product packaging usually has no nutritional information (such as calcium content) and may also contain very little information about the material used as a coagulant. Below are some examples of this.
• Machida Shokuhin Yaki Tofu/町田食品焼とうふ. Ingredients: Soy beans (non-genetically modified), coagulant.
• Aoki Yaki Tofu/青木のやきとうふ. Ingredients: Round soy beans, tofu coagulant, anti-foaming agent (glycerine fatty acid esters).
For tofu packaging that does contain more information, it can be useful to look for the following words:
Coagulant – 凝固剤 (Gyōko-zai)
Calcium sulphate – 硫酸カルシウム (Ryūsan karushiumu)
Calcium carbonate – 炭酸カルシウム (Tansan karushiumu)
Magnesium chloride – 塩化マグネシウム (Enka maguneshiumu) / Nigari – にがり
Below are some examples of tofu containing these ingredients (but the calcium levels are still not known as no nutritional information is given):
• Sato no Yuki Jūten Silken Tofu/さとの雪 充てんとうふ、きぬ. Ingredients: Soy beans (non-genetically modified), coagulant (magnesium chloride (nigari)).
• Kyoto Firm Tofu/京都の堅どうふ. Ingredients: Round soy beans (domestic)(non-genetically modified), coagulant (magnesium chloride, calcium sulphate), antifoam (calcium carbonate, glycerine fatty acid esters).
You can also buy freeze dried tofu (高野豆腐 – kōyadōfu) in Japan, to add to dishes such as soup.
• Misuzu Dried Tofu/みすずカットこうや. Ingredients: Soy beans (non-genetically modified), coagulant, baking soda.
Another way of using tofu is in small fried tofu pouches meant to fill with vinegared rice to make inari zushi. While all major convenience stores that were asked used fish in small amounts, often not noted in the ingredient list, to flavor their inari zushi, there are inari zushi pouches meant for you to fill with vinegared rice at home that do not contain fish powder.
See more about convenience store inari zushi in our Convenience Stores section of the blog.
• Misuzu O-Inari San (16 pc)/みすずおいなりさん. Ingredients: Fried tofu (soybeans, non-genetically modified), vegetable oil, sugar, reduced starch syrup, soy sauce, salt, brewed vinegar, yeast extract, processed starch powder, tofu coagulant. (Product contains wheat flour)
This flavored tofu pouch for making inari zushi at home is confirmed not to contain fish or animal ingredients in the finished product. However, it does use bone-char processed sugar. The bones that are used in the processing come from cows.
Photo from website.
Yuba is similar to tofu, but is made without a coagulant. It can often be found in the tofu section of supermarkets.
• Sanwatousuian Yuba/三和豆水庵 ゆば. Ingredients: Round soy beans (from Canada (non-genetically modified)).
Okara (soy pulp) and okara powder can be found in many Japanese supermarkets. Some small tofu shops will also sell okara, leftover from tofu-making, for a low price or even give it away for free. It can be used as a thickener in dishes like soups and stews, to make vegan burger patties, and in baked goods like cookies and cakes.
Okara is also occasionally referred to as “unohana,” after the white flowers of the Deutzia shrub.
Below are some examples.
• Kyoto Protein Kyoto Style Unohana/京都タンパク 京都のうの花. Ingredients: Soy beans (domestic, non-genetically modified).
• Top Valu Okara Powder/トップバリュ おからパウダー. Ingredients: Soy beans (domestic).
Tempeh can be found in some supermarkets and in organic/natural stores. Below is an example of tempeh available in Japan.
• Marushin Shokuhin Tempeh/マルシン食品テンペ. Ingredients: Soy beans (domestic, non-genetically modified), tempeh fungus, rice vinegar.
Nattō (納豆), made from fermented soy beans, is definitely an acquired taste (and texture). Many people can’t eat it, but if you can that’s great as it is available almost everywhere in Japan, including supermarkets and convenience stores. Just be careful because the accompanying sauce often contains fish. Look for かつお節エキス (dried bonito extract) in particular. Below is an example.
• Takano Foods Ground Nattō/タカノフーズ おかめ納豆 旨味ひきわり. Nattō ingredients: Ground soy beans (from America or Canada)(non-genetically modified), rice flour, Bacillus natto. Sauce ingredients: Soy sauce, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, salt, kelp extract, vinegar, dried bonito extract, seasoning (amino acid, etc.), alcohol. Contains wheat.
In addition, the natto bacteria can be grown on either a matrix of plant matter or a matrix of animal matter, such as fish or gelatin. This would not be listed on the ingredient list as only the natto bacteria would remain in the final product. This brief, four-minute video by Vegan in Japan and Italy is a helpful introduction to the topic: Is Natto Vegan? Not as vegan as I thought.
The following Miyako Natto was confirmed in 2017 by Vegan in Japan and Italy to not contain a fish sauce packet and not use animal matter to grow the natto bacteria. The website recommends putting the paper packaging in the burnable garbage.
Uses 100% domestic large soybeans.
Photo from website.
• Sato No Yuki Kantofu Soybean Pudding/さとの雪感豆腐大豆のプリン. Ingredients: Soymilk (contains soy; not genetically modified), wasanbon sugar, soy powder, salt/coagulant (crude seawater magnesium chloride (nigari)), thickener (processed starch), sodium citrate.
• Sato No Yuki Kantofu Soybean Pudding, Houjicha Adzuki/さとの雪感豆腐大豆のプリンほうじ茶小豆. Ingredients: Soymilk (contains soy; not genetically modified), adzuki amanatto, starch syrup, sugar, houjicha, wasanbon sugar, soy powder, salt/coagulant (crude seawater magnesium chloride (nigari)), thickener (processed starch), sodium citrate, cocoa pigment.
Amanatto are sugared, non-fermented beans.
• Sato No Yuki Kantofu Soybean Pudding, Matcha Adzuki/さとの雪感豆腐大豆のプリン抹茶小豆. Ingredients: Soymilk (contains soy; not genetically modified), adzuki amanatto, starch syrup, sugar, matcha, wasanbon sugar, soy powder, salt/coagulant (crude seawater magnesium chloride (nigari)), thickener (processed starch), sodium citrate, gardenia pigment.
Amanatto are sugared, non-fermented beans.