By Hiroyuki Yoneyama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSoybean “meat” is growing in popularity with an increase in the number of restaurants using soybean- and soy milk-based products that are similar to meat and cheese, or even soy cream as an alternative to conventional fresh dairy ream.
Such foodstuffs seem to be welcomed among some consumers, who can find surprising twists in meals that are healthy and vegetable-based.
T’s Restaurant in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, for example, offers what at first appear to be dishes with meat, such as those that look like hamburger steaks and gyoza dumplings. The restaurant prepares dishes that pretty much taste like real meat by softening soybean-based products through a hot-water soak and seasoning them.
Hazuki Tanaka, 44, who visits the restaurant once or twice a week, was eating a deep-fried soy-meat dish that looked like fried chicken as the faux meat also had a chicken fiber-like texture.
“This dish makes my body feel light after eating it, but I also have a feeling of satisfaction,” she said. “My husband and child also enjoy eating this.”
Since opening in 2009, the restaurant has been serving dishes without using meat, fish, eggs or other animal-derived foods. It also makes egg-free mayonnaise by using plant-derived ingredients. Menu items include soy-meat hamburger steak at ¥1,600.
“When I started this restaurant, we weren’t noticed much,” said restaurant owner Masako Shimokawa. “However, we’ve been gradually accepted amid a growing health consciousness.”
On Vegewel, a website that carries information for vegetarians, vegans and others, about 1,300 restaurants nationwide are currently featured, up by 50 percent from when the website was launched in November 2016.
An increasing number of restaurants have adopted soy meat for their menu items, as many customers find the vegetable-derived food is satisfying, according to the website’s operator.
“Today, more and more people pursue ‘subtractive health consciousness’ under which they abstain from eating food such as meat that does not agree with them, rather than ‘additive health consciousness’ in which they rely on supplements,” said Taiki Hari, president of the website’s operating company.
With advancements in technology for processing soybeans, consumers can now enjoy a wider selection of dishes.
Fuji Oil Holdings Inc. has developed a method to separate soybeans into low-fat soy milk and soy milk cream. The Osaka-based firm sells a cheese-like product that is fermented from the low-fat soy milk, while the soy cream is processed into a product like fresh cream.
The company has been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from restaurants year-on-year, with about 200 Italian restaurants currently using its products. The shipment volume has increased more than four times from that in fiscal 2013.
Marco 102 in Yokohama is among the Italian restaurants that use Fuji Oil products. In October, dishes using the soy-based cheese and cream were added to the menu, including carbonara and tiramisu. Such dishes are dubbed “soytalian.”
“The dishes are popular, especially among female customers,” said the restaurant’s owner and chef Marco Paolo Molinari. “I want to provide dishes that can surprise.”
Hiroko Kato, a lifestyle journalist, said dishes using soybean-derived foodstuffs are also popular among visitors from abroad who cannot eat meat for religious and other reasons. “Restaurants have been preparing wider selections of dishes of this kind year after year,” she said. “I think such food will attract more attention in the future.”
Cooking at home
As soy meat is now sold at an increasing number of supermarkets and shops dealing with organic food, people can use it to prepare dishes at home. Dried products are the most common, available in forms such as minced, in blocks and in fillets.
Softening the dried soy meat in water triples its weight. It can be used in the same way as real meat: The minced type is good for making “meat” sauce, the blocks for a deep-fried dish and the fillets for the dish that is similar to a Chinese sauteed one with cabbage and a sweet soybean paste.
According to cooking expert Mayuko Bando, soy meat first should be cooked in boiling water for about five minutes over low heat, then drained in a colander, squeezing out excess water. Then it can be rubbed with soy sauce or other seasonings.
For those who are not fond of the flavor of soybeans, she recommended washing the soy meat by hand in water two to three times before seasoning it.
“If you like the flavor, you can enjoy the ingredient without washing or preseasoning it,” said Bando, who recommends her recipe using minced soy meat with eggplant.
For those who want to skip the boiling, retort pouches are convenient. Some contain ready-to-use soy meat, while others include it already mixed with seasonings.
Marukome Co., a Nagano-based miso manufacturer, sells the Sozai no Moto series to help prepare various dishes, while KaRuNa Co. of Nagoya also sells a series of retort pouches, including one to make a spicy Chinese dish by just adding tofu.
Recipe for eggplant with minced soy-meat sauce
Directions (serves 4):
1. Cut four eggplants into bite-size pieces and deep-fry. Cool them in the refrigerator.
2. Put 30 grams of minced soy meat into hot water. After softening, drain and place the soy meat in a pot and add 100 cc dashi broth. Add 2 tablespoons each of light soy sauce, mirin and sake, in addition to 2 teaspoons of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Mix a small amount of katakuriko potato starch in some water before adding the mix to the pot to thicken the sauce. Cool in the refrigerator.
3. Put eggplants on a serving plate with grated daikon radish on top. Pour the soy meat sauce over the vegetables and top with thinly sliced shiso leaves.
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