Meet Meiji Tofu Master Koki Sato

Meet Meiji Tofu Master Koki Sato

Tofu is a popular protein source in asian cuisine and is made from soybeans. The soybeans are turned into soy milk, and from there, a coagulant is used to turn the soy milk into a solid form. There are many coagulants used today including liquid Nigari - an all-natural and nutritious byproduct of the salt making process. Nigari is the traditional coagulant used in Japan and is the most widely used coagulant in commercial tofu making today.

We interviewed Koki Sato, the master behind Meiji Tofu Factory in Los Angeles. Meiji Tofu Factory is the only Japanese tofu maker in the great Los Angeles area and is known for making tofu that is so delicious and creamy, you can eat it plain. Meiji Tofu Factory uses Sea Salts of Hawaii's Liquid Nigari to make their tofu.

Koki Sato Meiji Tofu Factory Liquid Nigari

Interview with Meiji Tofu Master Koki Sato:

How do you make tofu?
So the process starts with preparing the soy beans by soaking them in water overnight. Once the water is drained and separated into buckets (for measuring purpose), they are then put through a grinder which turns them into paste (watery dough). The paste is then cooked in a pressurized steam cooker. Cooked paste then passes through a press machine which separates the soy milk from the okara (soy pulp). Soy milk is then separated into a forming container and nigari is mixed/stirred for coagulation. We can let this sit for about 15 minutes and tofu is made.

What makes great tofu?
I believe understanding the manufacturing process and using good ingredients is what makes a great tofu. Manufacturing process begins with soy bean preparation. Soaking the soybean overnight means understanding how long to soak the soy beans to bring it to maturity. Under soaked soybeans leave a more bitter taste and must be cooked slightly longer to bring out the protein level necessary for correct coagulation. Over soaked soy bean must be dealt with in a certain way also. How fine do we grind the soy bean? How much water is being added into the manufacturing process? How much pressure is being applied at different levels of cooking temperature, they all affect the outcome. I believe all the stars must align in order to make great tofu.

How did you learn to make tofu?
I learned the basic process from the previous owner when my father and I took over the business back in 2000. On one random day, Johnny from Otokomae Tofu (Shingo Ito) paid us a surprise visit because he had heard of a tofu shop in Los Angeles. We had dinner and he shared with us a dream of his to one day open a tofu shop in Times Square NY. As a parting gift, he told me about his friend in the industry and slotted me in for a 2 week internship. That’s where I learned the basic intro into perfecting the craft and understanding how to be a professional.

What is your favorite way of serving tofu?
I’ve always said Mapo Tofu is VERY underrated.

Where can we find your tofu?
Retail store wise, we can only be found in super markets in Greater Los Angeles Area (Tokyo Central, Nijiya). Our product can be ordered on a National scale through True World Foods for the time being. Covid-19 shut down a lot of companies that were carrying our products out of state and we’re hoping for a quick recovery.

Can you make tofu at home?
Absolutely! Tofu is just a mixture of fresh soy milk and nigari. You can use a hot pot to bring fresh soy milk to a near boiling temperature, then stir and mix nigari and watch it coagulate into a very soft tofu. For 1/2 Gallon of soy milk, I recommend 1.5 fluid oz of liquid deep sea nigari.

Is tofu nutritional?
Tofu is high in protein and low in calorie. They also contain ALL of the amino acids your body needs, so yes, tofu is very nutritional!

Learn more about Nigari:
Our Nigari is made by drawing pure deep seawater from 2,200 feet below the ocean surface in Kona, Hawaii then letting it slowly evaporate in the Kona year-round sun. Once the seawater evaporates to about 10% of its original volume, salt crystals begin to form. Next, we harvest the salt and the remaining liquid contains a large amount of magnesium chloride which is Nigari. It has a distinct bitter taste, the word Nigari comes from Japanese word “Nigai” or bitterness.

Most Nigari in Japan is produced by seawater being boiled in kettles. In Hawaii, we harvest our Nigari naturally by letting the seawater evaporate under Hawaii’s sun. The right balance of minerals in Nigari is very important. Nigari contains mostly magnesium chloride and just a small amount of sodium chloride.

In addition to making tofu, Nigari is commonly used as a nutritional Magnesium water drop supplement. Drinking filtered water removes the naturally occurring minerals from our daily diets. Adding 3-5 drops of Nigari to your water 5 times a day will add these essential minerals back into your diet. Nigari drinking water throughout the day helps the body burn body fat, eliminate waste material and water and remove excess salt.