By Arianne Pfoutz, The Organic & Non-GMO Report
Minh Tsai carries with him a BA and MA from Columbia University, but it’s his Tofu Master qualification he’s touting these days. The mission of Hodo Soy Beanery in West Oakland, CA, is to provide premium tofu products made the traditional way—with the highest quality organic, non-GMO soybeans—so that the full flavor and freshness of this authentic whole food can be enjoyed by American diners.
Hodo means “good bean” in Chinese. In keeping with that name, the company has enjoyed a three-year partnership with Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative (MOFC), which supplies the organic soybeans that Minh uses.
“When Minh discovered our proprietary organic soy, we thought it might be a good long-term relationship,” said Ron Ackerman, president of MOFC. “Today we ship about 45,000 bushels to Hodo Soy—three different varieties of high-quality, high-protein soy—with twenty-plus farmer members (and some non-members) providing the soybeans.”
Hodo Soy Beanery’s soymilk, tofu and yuba (bean curd sheet) represent the merging of an old recipe with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. The gluten-free, vegan tofu products fit the bill for health-conscious consumers—diners at Chipotle Mexican Grill enjoy Hodo Soy’s tofu in Sofritas.
A Memory of Freshness
When Minh was a boy in Vietnam, he would walk with his grandfather to the tofu shacks, buy some fresh tofu and eat it within a few hours. Since coming to the US, he’s found it nearly impossible to find tofu of that quality. So he left a finance career in 2004 and began making his own in a family-run commercial kitchen, selling the tofu mostly at the Palo Alto farmers’ market and to a few restaurants.
“The tofu introduced to the public in the 1970s was nothing like our tofu,” Minh said. “It was firm, made to be a substitute for meat—without the flavor and freshness of the tofu I grew up with.”
Minh launched the Beanery in 2009, in a 12,000-square-foot facility, equipped with help from some of the oldest Asian equipment producers.
Ambassador of Tofu
In addition to personally training employees in the art of making tofu products, Minh considers himself an educator and ambassador.
“I teach the chemistry of tofu, what it really is: Our tofu is a whole food, not an isolate. It only contains soybeans, filtered water and the mineral calcium sulfate. It’s really ‘bean juice’ protein! There are many different ways to cook it, to bring out textures and flavors.”
Hodo Soy’s tofu is unique for its high-quality beans, its freshness, and its buttery, creamy and nutty taste that retains the fragrance of the soybeans. The manufacturing process allows all the protein to be absorbed. Besides the three core products, Hodo Soy offers sesame yuba noodles, spicy yuba noodles, 5-spice tofu nuggets, Thai Curry tofu nuggets, braised tofu, and tofu veggie burgers.
“We’re de-commoditizing tofu,” Minh said. “Three large companies own 80 percent of the tofu market, and in that commodity product I feel some quality is lost.”
Maintaining Quality Supply
MOFC grows nearly 1,000 acres of organic soybeans, mostly in eastern Illinois and northeast Indiana. Meeting Hodo Soy’s demand requires careful planning and logistical finesse.
“We ship to meet Hodo Soy’s demand,” said Merle Kramer, marketing director of MOFC. “We use intramodal shipping to cover the 1,800 miles. They don’t have a lot of storage, so we plan strategically—things are working out well, mutually.”
To ensure non-GMO status, MOFC has testing done by Genetic ID.
“Soy is not in great danger of GM contamination because it’s self-pollinating,” Ackerman said. “A 30-foot buffer is usually enough. We have had a few positive tests come up—probably from dust from neighbors who were harvesting at the same time we are.”
Hodo Soy has been committed to providing organic (and thus non-GMO) food from Day One. “Getting our products verified by the Non-GMO Project is a way to stay ahead, to sell to larger companies who may be eventually looking for non-GMO products,” Minh noted.
Hodo Soy is now expanding to the East Coast. MOM’s Organic Market food chain is now selling them in its twelve stores in the Washington-Baltimore region.
But Minh doesn’t want “crazy growth” for his company. “We have grown over 50 percent for the last five years,” he said. “We want to meet our goals, while growing sustainably.”
See more at http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/june-2015/hodo-soy-beanery-offering-organic-non-gmo-artisanal-tofu.php#sthash.gvtApzyS.dpuf