When you hear the word ‘soy‘, what’s the first thought that pops up in your mind? Is it the smooth, rich creamy soy milk from your childhood? Or is it that firm earthy-tasting tempeh in the sambal goreng from your favourite neighbourhood makcik?
No matter what comes to your mind, there’s no denying that soy is an integral part of many of our local and foreign cuisines. For me, my favourite soy dish has got to be Tofu Kimchi Jjigae ‒ a guaranteed bundle of warmth on a cold, stormy day.
But did you know that the production of soy products actually produces an additional by-product known as soy okara. Well then that begs another question ‒ “Do you know what soy okara is?”
If you have no clue what that is, let’s find out together!
What is soy okara?
Soy okara ‒ sometimes also known as ‘soy pulp’ ‒ is the leftover pulp consisting of the insoluble parts of the soybean after filtration of the pureed soybeans in soy milk or tofu production.
So if you’ve ever had the chance to make soy milk at home (or you could also try it now), it’s basically the solid residue that you’re left with after straining out your soy milk from the soybean puree
Interesting facts about soy okara
Here are some facts about this lees by-product of soy milk production.
#1 The beneficial high insoluble fibre nature of soy okara
Fibre refers to the type of carbohydrate that our body is unable to digest due to the lack of cellulase ‒ an enzyme required to digest the cellulose that fibre is made up of. Fibre can be typically broken down into two classes ‒ soluble fibre & insoluble fibre ‒ where soy okara is high in the latter.
No matter your age, the recommended daily fibre intake tends to sit around 20-30 grams per day (a balance of both soluble and insoluble fibre of course!) but unless you’re tracking your food macros to a tee, you’re probably missing that mark.
The importance of insoluble fibre lies in the bowel-fits (benefits) that it brings you, such as:
- Healthier bowel functioning ‒ nobody likes to sit on the toilet for too long and struggle with their business. Fortunately, fibre is the solution to this through its ability to increase stool bulk and softness (nasty to imagine but yes), thus preventing another of your long-drawn-out wars with constipation.
- Reduced risk of colorectal conditions ‒ increasing bowel movement reduces the risk of developing small folds or haemorrhoids in the colon, increasing general gut health.
With soy okara, about 100 grams of it would contain 11.5 grams of insoluble fibre ‒ meeting almost half your recommended daily fibre intake. 100 grams ‒ or about one clenched fist ‒ is definitely a reasonable amount that can be easily incorporated into your diet with the recipes that will be shared below
#2 The surprisingly high quality of soy okara protein
The protein is soy okara, as it turns out, is of better quality as compared to the protein of other soy products such as soy milk. This quality is often measured in terms of the Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER), where a high PER is generally better.
Okara has a PER of ~2.71 while soy milk has a PER of ~2.11, showing a sizeable difference in PER. Generally, foods with a PER of over 2.7 are considered good protein sources and thus could be good options to incorporate into your diet.
Furthermore, the essential amino acid to total amino acid ratio of soy okara is comparable to soy products, meaning it’s as good of a protein source (or even better) as compared to other soy products!
As such, if you’re already actively consuming soy products to increase your protein intake, soy okara is something you should look into to spice up your life!
#3 The meaning behind the name
The word ‘Okara‘ is formed from the Japanese honorific prefix ‘o-‘ & the word ‘kara‘ ‒ which roughly translates into ‘shell, hull or husk’. This means that the name ‘okara’ kind of means ‒ The Honorouble Shell (and for my anime fans , just imagine this)
What happens to soy okara?
The high global production and intake of soy products generates a massive amount of soy okara yearly with the largest soy producers, being countries that you might not expect.
Despite the origins of soy in Asia, you might be shocked to know that the top producers of soy are found on the other side of the globe ‒ in North & South America ‒ with the USA, Brazil and Argentina at the top. This translates into an estimated production of over three million tonnes or three billion kilograms of okara annually.
Originally, the fate of most produced okara included:
- Usage as animal feed ‒ due to its low cost of use compared to other forms of livestock feed without resulting adverse effects
- Disposal ‒ in landfills and incinerators
- Plant fertilizer ‒ acts as a natural nitrogen source
Okara was, as such, originally seen as more of a waste product instead of a useful by-product that could be adapted for our usage. However, some cultures at that point, were also using okara in many of their cultural cuisines ‒ indicating okara was always safe to eat!
But with the global need to reduce food waste and optimize resource usage to meet the growing food consumption needs of this century, research on the by-products of food production has been booming ‒ especially in the field of okara research.
This has driven the change in mindset towards okara, from a waste product to a valuable by-product that can be adapted for us. This is very much supported by data showing that the global okara market is projected to reach 5.41 billion USD in 2030, from the 3.7 billion USD value of 2022.
How can soy okara be eaten?
Since we’ve reached a general consensus (or I hope that we have) that okara is an ingredient worthwhile of your time, how may you then incorporate it into your diet?
Well, okara is a very versatile ingredient and can be used to make both savoury and sweet treats ‒ perfect for any occasion.
Disclaimer: If you are allergic to soy, please do not try these at home
#1 Okara Patties
If you have leftover okara and love hamburg as much as I do, why not give these okara-based patties a go!
Be it on rice or within a burger, okara patties are a great way of getting your burger or patty fix without the extra additives of commercial patties ‒ be it vegan or real meat.
With okara patties, here are two recipes that you can follow (links here: 1 & 2). But in general, the ingredients that you would need include: Okara, diced vegetables of your liking (mushrooms, carrots, green onions), all-purpose flour, cornstarch and your favourite seasonings (garlic powder, paprika, onion powder etc.).
Simply mix all of these dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually add water to create a wet paste. Shape the patties from this paste and voila, all that’s left is to fry the patties and serve them up with your sauce of liking.
Muffins are the perfect breakfast or mid-afternoon snack. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly the cheapest snacks to get ahold of so let’s make our own. In this recipe, we will be making blueberry muffins ‒ but do feel free to substitute the blueberry with a filling of your liking (chocolate chips sound like a good choice, don’t they).
This recipe calls for: all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, okara, eggs, soy milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and fresh blueberries (or your filling of choice).
Simply begin by mixing your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar) in one bowl and your wet ingredients (okara, eggs, soy milk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract) in another.
Mix the ingredients from both bowls till they form a thick mixture and add your filling of choice. Scoop the mixtures into muffin cups and bake till golden brown (375F for 20-25 minutes).
If that sounds easy enough for you, the full instructions can be found here!
In Japan, Unohana either refers to the popular Bleach character or a side dish. In our case, we’re talking about the side dish that typically consists of okara cooked with soy sauce, mirin, and an assortment of vegetables ‒ such as sliced carrots, burdock root and shiitake mushrooms.
This dish is also sometimes known as Okara no Irini, which references the way the dish is cooked ‒ through a technique called Irini.
The simple nature of this dish calls for a few ingredients: okara/ soy pulp, carrot, dried shiitake mushrooms, dried hijiki, and green beans (vegetables can be added or omitted based on your personal preference). The seasoning can be made from a mixture of light-coloured soy sauce (usukuchi shoyu), sake, mirin, sugar, and salt.
To begin, cut and stir-fry your vegetables of choice. At the same time, pan-fry your okara in a separate pan. After your vegetables have been fried dry, add in the seasoning mixture and allow the mixture to cook for 4-5 minutes.
Finally, add your okara into the mix and allow the dish to continue cooking till all the mixture has evaporated, forming a beautiful glaze on the dish.
If this dish piques your interest, the full recipe can be found here.
#4 Snack Bar
Snack bars like Granola Bars are quick-fix to a restless stomach on a long day, but why buy one when you can so easily make your own.
With snack bars, the world is your oyster and you can very easily switch up the ingredients from any recipe to suit your taste. This recipe from bittersweet provides a good outline that you can use to make your very own concoction.
#5 Savoury Okara Pancake
If you’re looking for a quick and easy side dish to pair alongside your dinner, a savoury okara pancake is an option that you can’t go wrong with. With this recipe, all you need is okara, egg, flour, milk and spring onions.
All you need to do is mix the above ingredients in the bowl to form a smooth mixture before frying till golden brown and crispy.
#6 Okara Granola
Too lazy to cook and looking for a quick breakfast fix?
I’ve got you covered!
The ingredients you will need are: old-fashioned oats, okara, cinnamon, salt, honey, vegetable oil, vanilla, vanilla protein powder (optional for some additional protein) and nuts or seeds of your choice (such as almonds, dried raisins etc.)
The process only requires you to mix your ingredients and spread them onto parchment paper to bake in the oven (while stirring at them at regular intervals for the extra crispness).
If this sounds good to you, be sure to check out the full instructions here.
Interestingly enough, you can actually turn okara into hummus ‒ a creamy, zesty light dip of Middle Eastern origin. The difference between a traditional hummus recipe and this recipe is the replacement of chickpeas with okara.
The ingredients you will need are: okara, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, cumin, salt and water or olive oil. You will however need a food processor or blender to make this recipe.
If you’re afraid that you won’t be able to finish all the hummus in one sitting, don’t fret! You can also store it in the fridge (lasts ~2 days) or in the freezer (lasts ~1-2 months). So if that sounds good to you, the recipe can be found here.
Who doesn’t love cookies? They’re the perfect snack for any time of the day ‒ be it as breakfast, a mid-day snack or a late-night movie treat, cookies never fail to disappoint.
The versatility of okara allows it to be easily turned into any cookie that suits your taste and that for me, has got to be the matcha cookies (but similar to other recipes above, feel free to change up any ingredient to suit your taste!)
For these matcha cookies, the ingredients you will need are: okara, olive oil (or melted butter), sugar, an egg yolk, matcha powder, hakurikiko (or cake flour) and white chocolate chips.
To begin, whisk and combine the olive oil with sugar and the yolk. To this mixture, add the matcha powder, flour and okara one at a time. Ensure that with each ingredient added, the mixture is stirred to ensure full incorporation of each ingredient.
For the finishing touches, add your topping of choice (white chocolate chips or nuts) and bake till lightly brown at the edges. So, if matcha cookies also float your boat, follow this link to the full instructions! And alternatively, if chocolate chip or coconut cookies better suit your taste, I also have you covered.
Why not turn your already-versatile okara into an even more versatile dish of meatballs!
From pasta to rice to a sub, the uses of meatballs are endless ‒ just like the uses of okara (what a match made in heaven).
To make these awe-inspiring meatballs, the ingredients you will need are: okara, spring onions, red onions, grated radish, dried shiitake mushrooms, carrots, cilantro, an egg (or a flax egg), ginger, mirin, white pepper, soy sauce, sake and garlic powder. For the sauce, you can use a mixture of: sake, mirin, soy sauce and sugar.
Begin by dicing and mixing your vegetable & herbs (onions, mushrooms, carrots, radish, cilantro) in a bowl, before giving them a light fry. Transfer the lightly fried mixture back into the bowl and add your ginger, garlic powder, sake, mirin, soy sauce and egg.
Next, add your okara and mix well, before moulding into small balls. Let these “meatballs” sit on a tray or plate and prepare your sauce by mixing your sake, mirin, soy sauce and sugar.
And finally, with everything all prepared, you can then move on to assembling the completed dish. Dip your now-rested meatballs into some cornstarch and pan-fry on medium heat.
For the finishing touches, throw in some additional cornstarch to help the sauce thicken up before serving on a plate. The full video recipe can be found here.
Who knew soy could ever become meatballs?
#10 Bread (Dinner Rolls)
And finally, the staple of my household (and maybe yours too) ‒ Bread.
Instead of buying ultra-processed bread from your nearby supermarket, why not opt to make your own at home? To do this, you will need: yeast, milk, okara, butter, egg, sugar, flour and salt.
Begin by activating your yeast in warm milk. During the process, the mixture should eventually become foamy, indicating that your yeast is well-alive and kicking. To this live solution of yeast, add your remaining ingredients (okara, butter, egg, sugar, flour and salt) and knead to form a dough.
If you notice the dough getting extra dry, do add a tablespoon of milk before continuing to knead (make to avoid adding excessive milk to prevent the dough from getting too wet).
Or if you notice the dough begins to stick to the sides of your bowl, lightly sprinkle some flour onto your dough to reduce its stickiness.
After the dough has been kneaded, oil a bowl and let your dough sit in it. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and allow the dough to proof over 1-2 hours (or till the dough has doubled in size) in a warm environment.
Once the proofing is completed, split the dough into equal parts (you may split it into any amount you desire) and round each part into a ball. Place the moulded doughs onto a tray and cover again with cling wrap for a second round of proofing (for ~1 hour).
Finally, once the proofing is completed and oven heated, pop your dough into the oven and bake till golden brown. (PS: serve hot with some ice-cream for the optimal experience)
The full in-depth recipe can be found here.
After all that, there’s no way you can tell me that okara cannot become part of your diet since its uses are plenty (and these ten are only scratching the surface). So get out there and explore the world of food upcycling (and why not get our grains while you’re at it).