Yellow Springs foodies try a new vegan product that has yet to hit the commercial shelves
- Published: September 10, 2013
Remember the product: okara konnyaku. Perhaps it will never make it in the American food market, but it could just be the next tofu. Traveling to the U.S. partly to push the latter, the inventor of the Japanese health food, Tetsuko Okada, came to Yellow Springs over the weekend to share variations on her theme of cooking with a vegan product made of soy fiber and a starchy root vegetable known in Japan as konnyaku.
The labels on the dozens of dishes Okada prepared included maguro tuna sushi, chicken teriyaki, crisped salmon, fish balls, and steam-fried gyoza (potsickers.) But while the foods looked like their traditional meat laden namesakes, every dish laid out on the table was made instead of okara konnyaku. The vegan product has four times the fiber of lettuce, and one-tenth the calories of chicken. Made of bean curd, eggs, konnyaku powder and calcium hydroxide, okara konnyaku is marketed as a diet food that is “perfect for the health conscious.”
Okada holds a degree from the Hirosaki Kyogakko Craft school and studied vegetarian cooking in Taiwan before returning to develop okara konnyaku. In 2002 she founded the Vegetarian Culinary Institute, which produces okara konnyaku and provides training on vegetarianism and vegetarian menu development. Okada received the 2006 Tohoku Commendation for Invention and the 2006 Momofuku Ando invention encouragement award and has been featured in many Japanese magazines, newspapers and television programs.
Local resident Christina Rowe met Okada in 2007 while Rowe and her family were stationed in Japan with the U.S. military. After the Rowes returned to Yellow Springs, Okada announced she was coming to Chicago to speak about vegetarianism and market her product, and Rowe convinced her to stop by the village on her way to share her unique foods.
According to Okada, the Japanese diet is one reason the Japanese people are among the longest living in the world.
“People in Japan live into their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I think this is because, when they were young, they ate plain foods, grains and vegetables. This diet best suits the Japanese, and eating vegetarian was best for me — of course, for my body, but also for my mind and heart (kokoro). I truly believe the saying that a vegetarian diet is food for a healthy brain, good for the brain and gentle for the heart, to make you wise. I strongly recommend a vegetarian diet for people today.”
Okara konnyaku is not yet available for retail consumption in the U.S., but its developers are working to make their product more widely available soon. See Tetsuko Okada’s website for more details.
See a short clip from Saturday’s demonstration: