Markets & OutletsProcessing & Food PreservationVillage Development

Micro Business – Soy Products

After several months of making tofu and soymilk weekly for ourselves and some customers, I thought I would share the process and costs.

We source our soybeans from Slater Farm in Fairy Hill, NSW, Australia. The beans are biodynamic certified which is very important; avoiding biocides, GMOs, hopefully most fossil fuel fertilisers, and are not irrigated. They are semi-local, about 200km from us. We buy at least 200 kg a time so transport costs/impacts are very low. This will be enough for a year and they store very well.

On average, we use 4 kg of soybeans once a week which needs about 8 litres of water for soaking the night before, 30 litres of rainwater for grinding, and washing up takes about 30 litres. Embodied water in food is another important consideration. Grinding takes about 13 minutes per kg of beans.

We use three large 11 or 12 litre pots. As soon as one is full of milk, it is put on the hob to cook. By the time the third pot is done, the first is almost ready (15 minutes between 80 and 85°C) — a digital thermometer clipped to the side of the pot is needed. The ground soybeans are called okara and need to be cooked before being eaten by people or animals. We steam it in a rice cooker when the sun is shining and our batteries are charged. We use it in cookies, cakes, pancakes, burger patties, and the like. What we cannot use in a week, we ration out daily to feed to our pigs. It can go into the compost otherwise.

Once the milk is cooked, epsom salts are added to curdle it. The curds become the tofu and the resultant liquid is whey. Some whey is kept and rationed to the pigs, most of the rest goes on the compost or can be diluted and used as a liquid feed on plants. The curds are scooped into holed bain marie trays lined with cheesecloth which are pressed for about 10 minutes before going into the fridge in a non-holed tray. When this sets, the tofu is sliced and lifted into people’s containers. We get all customers to provide a container each week. A little water is added to each container. Soymilk is decanted into sterilised reused apple juice bottles (which unfortunately are not reused by the local apple juicers).

Total figures per week:

  • Time taken — 4 hours
  • Income — $80 average
  • 500g tofu, 250g okara, and 1.5l soymilk for our consumption

The machine cost $250 secondhand and we believe the brand new price is from around $800 (Chinese made). Taiwanese made is quite a bit more. All the trays, pots, scale, etc., at new prices would be about $500. If one looked out for second hand, sales, auctions and the like one could have this micro business up and running for less outlay and the payback period is not that long at all.

I know we could sell a lot more than this a week if we targeted the large markets, for example Northey Street in Brisbane, but we think the transport miles are too much…. Someone in Brisbane should/could be doing it rather than us. I don’t really understand why no-one is — so that is why I have shared this information. In a large city, the demand for organic, fresh, chemical-free food is high and a micro-business should thrive. The competitor’s products are industrially produced tofu which sells for $8/kg and is chemically grown, sometimes with GMO, who knows how many food miles, and organic is $18/kg with preservatives and food miles! Non-organic soymilk is $2.20/l and doesn’t even taste of beans! We sell ours for $12/kg and $2.50/l for soymilk. Our customers agree that this is ethical pricing.

Dylan Graves

Dylan Graves got hooked on Permaculture while living abroad in Taipei in the late 2000s. He integrated it into his IT teaching and then changed lifestyles by moving to rural Australia in mid 2013 where he and partner Evita continue to develop Sugarloaf Permaculture. Our homestead where we put all aspects of Permaculture into action, including hosting work exchangers, running a Permaculture Group, and doing much volunteer work.

One Comment

  1. Hi Dylan,

    Thanks for a great article, I wondered are you still making tofu? I’m based in Sydney and would love to talk to you about it?


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