Hodo Soy Builds a New, Greener Facility
August 17, 2009
While many of today’s food producers work to build up the walls between their production process and the public, Hodo Soy Beanery’s Minh Tsai is tearing them down. Literally. Hodo’s new Oakland facility, set to open this fall, was built to include a viewing room where curious visitors will watch the Hodo team in action — cutting large slabs of bean curd, pressing soy noodles, and hanging delicate yuba skins up to dry.
“For a lot of people, that white block is a mystery,” says Tsai, who believes that good tofu should be recognized for its own culinary merits, not just as a bland agent for other flavors. “We want to educate and inform people — to show them that tofu can have other qualities,” he adds.
Hodo worked with one of the oldest remaining tofu equipment producers in Asia to build custom equipment for the new facility, which will be significantly larger than the current one, and located in a building that started as a candy factory. “Everything [in the new building] has been set up for making fresh tofu and shipping it within hours, so the layout and work flow required a lot of planning and adjustments,” explains Hodo co-founder Dean Ku.
This equipment will allow Hodo to increase its volume over time (they’ll be able to produce the quantity they make in six days at the current facility in just one to two days), but much of Hodo’s process — cutting the tofu, making the yuba, etc. — will still be done by hand. More volume will also allow Hodo to explore the option of designing a product around okara (a highly nutritious, fibrous by-product of tofu-making), rather than offering it to a local farm as animal feed as they do now.
Hodo has always used organic soybeans from the midwest, but upping the scale will give the company more buying power, says Ku. “With our increased volume, we will be able to contract for crops of soybeans that we select ourselves. For example, we were able to secure our current batch of beans from an organic co-op.”
Despite being a plant-based food, most tofu has a fairly large carbon footprint (higher than that of chicken, according to www.eatlowcarbon.org). The majority of that footprint, Minh believes, is caused by the enormous amount of refrigeration and transportation required by most brands.
“Most grocery store tofu has a 30-60 day shelf-life,” he says. “It may have been made in one place, shipped to a storage facility hundreds of miles away in a refrigerated truck, and stored for days before it was shipped to your local store.”
Hodo has also incorporated an energy-saving approach to the building. They’ve added a number of skylights to the new facility, for instance, to reduce the need for electric light, and devised a way to heat the space using heat from the production equipment. The new facility will also allow Hodo to focus on bulk packaging options for some of its larger customers. And, when it comes to additional ingredients (beyond soy), Tsai still plans to source them locally.
“Even at this scale, using ingredients from local farmers’ markets is still totally tangible,” he says.
Hodo hopes to set an example for other small, sustainability- focused food producers looking to scale up without losing their core values. When Tsai attended an organic soy conference earlier this year (funded by a vendor scholarship from CUESA), it brought home the fact that most tofu is either made by huge companies like Wildwood or by “mom and pop enterprises that are more focused on staying in business than on making tofu a more sustainable food.” That’s why scaling up is important to Minh — he believes there’s room in the middle space, especially for companies willing to push the envelope. “The industry needs to be shaken up,” he says.
Come to the Ferry Plaza this Tuesday for a cooking demonstration highlighting Hodo tofu by Corinne Trang, author of Noodles Every Day.
And keep your eyes on the Hodo website for information upcoming tastings and tours of the new facility.