Okara (bean curd residue) (おから)

Okara is a food peculiar to countries in East Asia, such as Japan, the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea. It is soybeans residue which is taken after soymilk is extracted in the manufacturing process of tofu (bean curd). It contains much fiber and is often eaten after cooking.

Summary

The word 'okara', which literally means refuse, consists of the honorific 'o' and the word 'kara' (which is a paronym of 'gara,' as in chagara, meaning tea dregs), and this word was typically used by court ladies. Since the word 'kara' has a meaning of emptiness, sometimes it is restated for good luck as 'utsugi' (or unohana meaning deutzia, mainly used in Kanto region) because of its whiteness or 'kirazu' (written as 雪花菜, mainly used in Kinki region) because it is edible without cutting.
Okara' itself is also written as '雪花菜.'

It is called 'toja' or 'tofuja' in Chinese and it is called 'piji' in Korean and it is used for a vegetarian dish and home cuisine.

It is cheap and popular food because of its origin as a garbage. In some cases, it has been distributed for free by a tofu seller or discarded since the Edo period. Currently, most okara is discarded since the demand falls much below the supply and it spoils rapidly, except for a part that is used as feeding stuff or dehydrated to enhance the preservative quality.

Although it is a residue after producing tofu, it is rich in nutrients. According to the general analysis value, one kilogram of dry food contains approximately 26 percent of crude protein, 13 percent of crude fat, 33 percent of nitrogen-free extract and 15 percent of crude fiber and it is rich in nutrients. Normally, it is distributed in the condition that it contains from about 75 to 80 percent moisture. About 50 percent of the contained crude fat (oil) is linoleic acid which is unsaturated fatty acid. Also, okara is rich in phosphatidylcholine (or lecithin) which enhances memory. There is a brain chemistry related to memory which is called acetylcholine. A material called choline is essential for making acetylcholine. The precursor of choline is phosphatidylcholine and there is a report that when choline is given to mice, their memory improved.

Recipe

The most general recipe is boiling okara with in abura-age (deep-fried bean curd), shiitake mushroom and carrot in a sweetened soup stock. It is often called fried unohana (other name of okara) or just unohana. It has a distinct flavor coupled with the sweetness of okara. The leftover soup stock of boiled fish, etc., can be reused to give it a pleasing flavor.

Sometimes okara is used as meat substitute for the deep-fried food and meat stuffed recipe such as tofu hamburger. The secret of cooking okara is draining it well. It is good for decreasing calories.

In Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture, there is a dish called Tai no Karamushi (Chinese-style steamed sea bream), which is prepared by stuffing two sea bream with okara through a cut in their backs and then steaming them, after which they are served on a plate with their stomachs facing each other at a wedding party.

In the central region of Kochi Prefecture, there is a unique local dish which is cooked by stuffing okara into the stomach of a sea bream and steaming it. Okara absorbs the flavor of sea bream and it is rich in taste.

In Usuki, Oita Prefecture, there is a local dish called kirasumameshi (okara mixed with marinated fish).

In recent years, it is used as an ingredient which is rich in fiber to make cakes and biscuits.

Okara konjac' which is made by mixing okara with konjac powder and molding has attracted attention as a healthy food that can be a meat substitute since around 2006.

Fried unohana
Heat a small amount of sesame oil in a skillet and add unohana, then stir it constantly with a wooden ladle. Cut or shred green onion, abura-age (deep-fried bean curd), carrot and so on and cook them salty-sweet in another skillet with a soup stock, soy sauce, sugar and sake/mirin (sweet cooking rice wine). Then, add the fried unohana and continuously stir it well over a heat. It would be more tasty if split clam, or shredded roasted goby, roasted or boiled small fishes are added.

Unohana soup
It would be delicious if salt cured products such as chum salmon, adult yellowtail and herring, in particular their head and ara (discarded portions of the fish) are used. Pour plenty of water in a pan and add sliced salt fish from the first, then simmer it over medium heat. Slice daikon (Japanese radish) and carrot in the shape of half-moon or ginkgo biloba, tear konjac and shred abura-age, then add them into the pan, when it is cooked, cut green onion into 5 bu (about 1.5cm) length and add it together with unohana until it becomes thick. If it is bland with the saltiness of fish, add salt and sake if necessary. In some cases, miso is used. For condiments, green laver, pepper, shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red cayenne pepper and other aromatic spices) are used.

Unohana-zushi (sushi made with okara instead of rice)
Season unohana with soup stock, mirin and salt and add egg white, then stir-fry constantly until it is cooked and finally add a small amount of vinegar and let it cool. Aside from this, prepare sardine, horse mackerel and spotted shad as regular sushi item and sprinkle salt on them and soak them in vinegar until they are whitened, then drain off the vinegar. Make unohana into the shape of normal sushi and put the pickled fish and add chopped ginger and so on.

Unohana namasu (a dish of raw fish and okara seasoned in vinegar)
Slice desired fish such as sea bream, Japanese spanish mackerel, flatfish, Japanese seaperch, horse mackerel and mackerel into about the size of sashimi (slices of raw fish) pieces, soak them in enough vinegar to cover and add a bit of salt, when they are whitened, pull them out and season the left vinegar with sake/mirin and sugar. Dry-fry unohana to get rid of water and season it with salt and sugar, then remove it from the heat and let it cool, finally add seasoned vinegar and the fish. It becomes spicy if fried hempseed is added. Serve them on a small bowl and put chopped ginger on it.

Unohana rice
Stir-fry unohana with desired seasoning such as soup stock, sake, sugar and salt and add vinegar, then put it on rice with chopped ginger. It becomes more tasty If scrambled egg or fried hempseed is added.

Reuse and so on

Usually, okara is disposed as industrial waste. It is said that if whole nation eats small amount of okara everyday, it will not become waste product, but most okara become waste product for the above reason now.

Thus, various studies on the reuse of okara are conducted. Sizuoka Yuka Kougyou Co.,Ltd. starts manufacturing bioethanol made with okara in March, 2008. The reuse technology of okara which is disposed as industrial waste now for biofuel attracts attention in this social condition where oil prices are soaring.
Leading tile and lavatory manufacturer, INAX has developed a reuse technology using an okara dryer called 'Okarat.'
It makes okara into long-life feeding stuffby drying it instantly. More than 15 'Okarat' has already been delivered.

In addition, there are successful examplesof developing a basic skin care using an extract of okara and practical use of dried okara as sand for pet cat.

Anecdote

It is said that when Sorai OGYU was young, he was so poor that he kept hunger away with okara which was given by a neighborhood tofu store. This is one of the most famous stories of kodan storytelling.

In a story of rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) called 'Chihayaburu,' there is a scene where a prostitute Chihaya who went down and became a beggar asks Tatsutagawa who became a tofu seller for okara and is rejected.

Also a story of rakugo called 'Shikaseidan' begins at the scene where a starving deer eats okara which was placed along the eaves by a tofu seller. Together with 'Chihayaburu,' it shows the fact that okara was rubbishy.

There is a theory that unaju (grilled eel over rice) originated from a delivery food which used jubako (tiered food boxes) filled with heated okara to put broiled eel on it and keep that warm.

Okara is used for polishing Noh stage and Shosa-ita (board for shosa (the steps and movements of Kabuki and Noh actors)) with a dry cloth to make them smooth and glossy.

In Chinese, a construction work which uses inferior cement and lacks strength is called 'tofuja konchon' meaning 'a construction work using okara.'
The Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008 showed a significant impact of that.

In the by-election for town councilor held in Chizu-cho, Tottori Prefecture on June 20, 2004, a ballot saying 'okara' was casted and it was counted as invalid. In response to this, a candidate who lost by one vote said, 'It was a misspelling of my family name (Okada)' and filed a claim to the local election administration commission. The allegation was regarded as valid and the last elected person was deprived of its elected post, then this candidate said, 'The whole town knows the fact that I feed okara to cow and the ballot is casted for me' and filed a claim to the prefectural election administration commission. The prefectural election administration commission ruled that the ballot was casted for neither candidate and counted it as invalid.

In a period drama called "Master-Less Samurai (Suronin), Daikichi HANAYAMA" starring Jushiro KONOE, okara appears as a favorite food of the main character, Daikichi HANAYAMA played by Konoe. In this drama, Daikichi HANAYAMA unwholesomelyeats okara as appetizer and once he ate up okara for 68 people.