In Japan you can find many plant based dairy alternatives, including soy milk, plant-based margarine, soy yoghurt, soy cream and almond milk. Below are some examples of the products available.
Where vegans have to be careful is in relation to additives like:
• emulsifier (乳化剤 – nyūkazai)
• calcium lactate (乳酸カルシウム or 乳酸Ca – nyūsan karushiumu)
• flavouring (香料 – kōryō)
• stabilizing agent (安定剤 – antei-zai)
To the left you can see emulsifier, calcium lactate and flavouring in the list of ingredients of one of the most common brands of soy milk in Japan (in this case coffee flavoured). These additives are in many brands of soy milk, so it is best to contact the manufacturer to check whether they are plant or animal derived.
If you want to be 100% certain the soy milk is vegan, you should look for ‘non-adjusted’ soy milk (無調整豆乳- mu chōsei tōnyū). This type of soy milk only contains soy beans and can even be used to make tofu! If you find the consistency is a little too thick, just add some water. Please note that this type of soy milk is not calcium fortified. Below are some brands of non-adjusted soy milk we have found:
• Marusan Unsweetened Certified Organic Soy Milk. Ingredients: Organic soy beans (non-genetically modified). Additional information: Sweetened, malt and matcha flavours also available (but check the ingredients).
Below are some examples of ‘adjusted’ soy milk (調整豆乳 – chōsei tōnyū). As we said above, if you want to make sure the soy milk is vegan, you should contact the manufacturer to check whether any of the ingredients are derived from animals.
• Meiraku Adjusted Soy Milk. Ingredients: Soy beans (non-genetically modified), algae extract, vinegar, calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, stabilizing agents, food flavour, sweetener (sucrose), vitamin D. Additional information: High in vitamin D. High in calcium: equivalent to cow’s milk. The sucrose, isoflavone, lecithin and protein are all derived from soy.
• Meiraku Organic Adjusted Soy Milk. Ingredients: Organic soy beans (non-genetically modified), vegetable oil, sun-dried salt, seaweed extract, vinegar, calcium carbonate, emulsifier, calcium phosphate, flavouring, stabilising agent (polysaccharide thickener), sweetener (sucralose), vitamin D.
Below are some examples of flavoured adjusted soy milks.
• Kagome Karada (Health) NEXT. Ingredients: Soy beverage (non-genetically modified), vegetable juice (carrot, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, asparagus, celery, Chinese cabbage, daikon/white radish, kale, lettuce, watercress, spinach, parsley, beet, pumpkin), fruit juice (apple, banana, lemon), emulsifier, acidity regulator, flavouring. Additional information: No sugar added. SOY+VEGETABLE+FRUIT. Also available in coffee flavour.
• Top Valu (Max Valu supermarket brand) Coffee Flavoured Soy Milk. Ingredients: Soy beans (from Canada), sweeteners (sugar, high fructose corn syrup), vegetable oil, coffee, salt, malt extract, flavouring, emulsifier.
• Kikkoman Coffee Flavoured Soy Milk. Ingredients: Soy beans (from Canada) (non-genetically modified), sugar, malt extract, rice oil, coffee extract, chicory extract, dextrin, sun-dried salt, caramel colour, flavouring, calcium lactate, emulsifier, thickener (carrageenan – from red seaweed).
There are many interesting flavours of this soy milk available in Japan. In the Q & A section of their website the company has confirmed that their soy milk does not contain any milk products and that the emulsifier is plant based.
• Kikkoman Soy Presso Coffee Flavoured Soy Milk. Ingredients: Soy beans (from Canada) (non-genetically modified), sugar, coffee, rice oil, sun-dried salt, flavouring, calcium lactate, emulsifier, thickener (carrageenan – from red seaweed).
• Marusan Mango Flavoured Soy Milk. Ingredients: Sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup, sugar), soy beans (from China) (non-genetically modified), mango puree, apple juice, pineapple juice, dextrin, salt, stabilising agent (pectin), acidity regulator, flavouring.
Unfortunately vegan margarine is difficult to find in Japan. You may be able to find it in a specialty store or online, but most regular supermarkets don’t stock it. As always, dairy products and gelatine are the problem. Here is an example of regular margarine containing gelatine (the third ingredient):
But vegan margarine does exist in Japan. Below is an example of a vegan margarine found in a specialty store (note, however, it contains palm oil).
• Soken 100% Pure Vegetable Margarine – Ingredients: Edible vegetable oil (safflower oil from the United States or Mexico), refined edible oil (palm kernel oil from Malaysia), fermented soy milk (from Iwate, Tochigi, Miyagi), salt (from Mexico), lecithin (soy) (from Brazil), antioxidant (tocotrienol from Malaysia).
Sheese, the vegan cheese is available for purchase in Japan online here.
While not exactly cheese, this smoked tofu would go well with crackers etc. It was in a small shop in Kanazawa and may be available elsewhere in Japan.
Field of Cheese – Smoked Tofu (Salt Flavoured). Ingredients: Domestic soy beans, natural bittern (nigari), deep water sea salt. Note the other flavours may not be vegan.
Japan also has a unique creation called tofu misozuke. It originated in Fukuoka Prefecture and is basically tofu that has been aged and cured in miso for at least 2 months, and up to 2 years. It can be made with a few variations to produce different ‘cheeses’. It can be hard to find in Japan, but you can make it yourself if you find a recipe online.
Soy yoghurt available in Japan but look out for gelatine.
• Soyafarm Soy Milk Yogurt is not vegan as it contains gelatine.
Below is some soy whip cream that is available in Japan.
• Sujahta Soy Whip Cream. Ingredients: Vegetable oil, organic soy milk, sweeteners (oligosaccharides, maltose, sugar), emulsifier (derived from soy), stabilizers (modified starch, carrageenan), metaphosphoric acid Na, flavouring. Note the maltose is from corn/potato/sweet potato and the modified starch is from cassava. It is not known whether the flavouring is vegan.
The list of ingredients in Japanese can be found on the Sujahta website (which is also the source of the above product photo).
There is also almond milk in Japan, however it is a bit harder to find than soy milk.
• Marusan Almond Breeze. Ingredients: Sugar, almond paste, salt, calcium carbonate, stabilising agent (polysaccharide thickener), potassium citrate, flavouring, emulsifier, vitamin E. As with the soy milk, it is unclear whether all the ingredients are plant based.
• Glico Almond Beverage – Coffee Flavour. Ingredients: Almond paste, sugar, dietary fiber (polydextrose), instant coffee, salt, cellulose, flavouring, emulsifier, acidity regulator, vitamin E, sweetener (acesulfame K).
The almond milk below is not vegan as it contains honey:
• Glico Almond Beverage. Ingredients: Almond paste, sugar, dietary fiber (polydextrose), honey, salt, cellulose, flavouring, emulsifier, vitamin E, acidity regulator.