Saturday, January 18, 2020

Interview for Thai TV

"What have you gained from this project in the 5 years since you started it?"
The director asked Nobuo and me through interpreter. 

The interview

The original question was in Thai, translated via interpreter to Japanese, and here I'm trying to articulate the memory of it in intelligible English. It was the kind of question that makes one pause and think. It was a good question. We were talking about our solar sharing farm - how Nobuo and I started it, why there are chickens and goats under the panels, what our typical day looks like, what we plan to do next. The question came in the course of this conversation. It didn't come out of the blue, but it was still surprising. I had answered similar questions before, but this one was framed slightly differently, forcing me to reframe my usual answers. I responded clumsily. Oh well. No one died so I guess it's fine. 


The director/program host, Ms. Pattraporn Sangphuangthong, asked more questions, camera crew shot more scenes and even flew a drone over the farm for more majestic views, we chatted with the coordinator/interpreter, Mr. Akrachai Mongkolchai, and in three hours on a cloudy rainish Sunday afternoon the filming was over. That was a week ago.


Goats being interviewed 

By the way chickens and goats proudly cooperated with the filming, but they did not appreciate the drone. They clearly thought it was a Big, Loud, Scary Flying Monster. They ran for their life. Luckily the Monster disappeared soon and the farm inhabitants recovered from the shock the next minute.

Flying a drone over the farm

To chickens and goats, the drone was a Loud and Scary Monster.
They were terrified.


The interview was for a documentary series about clean energy for Thairath TV, a television channel in Thailand. The production company that visited us on the farm was TV Burabha.

Chickens' Playground will be covered in the series together with Chiba Ecological Energy Inc., which is a large-scale solar sharing project in Chiba prefecture (千葉エコ・エネルギー株式会社), and Higashi-Matsushima City Smart Disaster Prevention Eco Town, which is a town with decentralized, locally governed renewable energy system in Miyagi prefecture (スマート防災エコタウン).  

The part featuring Chickens' Playground and Chiba Ecological Energy Inc. should be aired at the end of February 2020. If you happen to have access to Thairath TV on late-February Sunday between 13:30-14:00, don't miss the opportunity :D
(The Higashi-Matsushima Eco Town will be featured separately.)

By the way the 26-part documentary series features clean energy projects in Thailand, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Philippines and Germany. I'd actually love to see them all! 

Right: Coordinator Mr. Akrachai, 
Center: Director Ms. Pattraporn,
Left: Suu


And finally, how did I reply to the question?
What have we gained from the farm in the 5 years since its start?

We gained many things, but maybe the biggest one is that through the goats and chickens we became part of the community. Chickens and goats are the best ice-breakers. Through them we've got to know local people, the farm has become a part of the landscape and we gained a place where we belong.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

May there be many mice in your straw in 2020!


Happy Belated New Year from Chickens and Goats!



Solar sharing, chicken, free range, Tsukuba, ソーラーシェアリング、ニワトリ、放し飼い つくば
Mabuko, representing all Chickens

Tobi-chan, representing all Goats


However, if chickens and goats knew that 2020 is the Year of Rat in Chinese Zodiac, I'm pretty sure their wish would be much more specific, something like:


May there be more mice in your straw bags this year!


Chickens and Goats know a thing or two about mice. Mice sometimes like to build their homes and raise their families in the big bags of rice straw we store on the farm mostly for goats (their bedding) and a little for chickens (their nest boxes). 


Bags of straw on the farm.
If mice don't find anything better, they come here.

If the bags were closed,
mice would eat through the plastic to get inside.


I imagine it must be warm and cozy in the middle of a straw bag, and I'm sure mice appreciate it too. So I'm always careful not to disturb them when I delve my hand in the bag to get some straw. I have learned that a surprise is mutually unpleasant. Anyway, in the Year of Rat may there be many happy rats and mice around the world! 

... Uhm. 

... Okay, I think our chickens and goats didn't get this wish right. I'll correct it for them.


May there be many happy animals, including rats, mice, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, alpacas, mantises, turtles, carps, hamsters and humans, this year! 


Happy 2020!



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Miracle Egg

Awww, what a miracle! One of our long-retired hens laid an egg this morning! 

Here it is.

Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
When I went to the farm this morning, this is what I found.

There are two eggs in the nest, but only one is real. 

Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
We always put a fake egg in the nest box
so chickens have no doubt where to go
when they're in egg-laying mood.

Today morning, there was a real, beautiful, still warm egg in the nest box, right next to the plastic one which is there all the time. 

And why is this a miracle? Our elderly hens have not laid a single egg for almost three months, and given their age ( 4 and a half years) we didn't expect any. Nevertheless I still kept one nest box full of straw and with a fake egg in as usual. This was done 80% out of nostalgia, 15% out of laziness to clean the box, and 5% "just in case." And that case happened this morning! 

Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
The Miracle. December 31, 2019.

This special day, December 31, 2019, will stay forever in The Chronicles of Chickens' Playground, which are scheduled to become  a world classic in about 500 years. By then, around the year 2520 A.D., every university with a chickenology major will have a copy of The Chicken Chronicles, as they will be casually known, in its library, and students will be writing thesis about which of the Three Heroines (Mabuko, Liliko or Maiko) accomplished this great deed.
I watched the three closely this morning, but I couldn't tell which one laid the egg. The heroine either doesn't want to take the credit, or she already forgot. 


Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
Was the culprit Mabuko, Liliko or Maiko?
(Photo from breakfast on Dec. 31, 2019)


Now, back to practical issues. The Miracle Egg could have been put on some kind of pedestal or enshrined in some kind of home-made shrine, but being the only Egg in many, many days, and being a great source of some 7 grams of perfect protein (with ALL essential aminoacids in the right balance), its fate was more pragmatic. 


Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
Miracle Egg, Phase 1

Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
Miracle Egg, Phase 2

Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
Miracle Egg, Phase 3

Free range chicken farm, egg, Tsukuba, solar sharing, power plant Oo, Chickens Playground, おお発電所、とりの遊び場、ニワトリ 放し飼い
Miracle Egg, Phase 4


The egg was swiftly made into a sunny-side up and became part of Suu. (Nobuo, who is not a big fan of eggs, was not interested in the feast.)

So the miracle egg will, after all due digestion, end up somewhere in my bones or muscles or internal organs. 
I'm sorry for taking it all myself. If we have more miracle eggs next time, I will share!

Happy New Year soon!







Sunday, November 17, 2019

Can tofu be too tasty? (Yes, it can.)


This is almost an existential question.

Can tofu be too tasty? 


The answer is:


Yes, it can.


To some people, at least.


This was one of many discoveries we made at our Second Tofu Tasting earlier this month. (You can find more details about our First Tofu Tasting here.) 


Second Tofu Tasting (November 2019)


Fourteen participants compared seven samples in kinu (soft tofu) category and seven samples in momen (firm tofu) category, and evaluated which they liked most, second most, and if possible, third most. They were also encouraged to add further ranking if they wanted, e.g. tofu they liked least. Identities of the tofu samples were only revealed after everyone submitted their evaluation sheet.

Here are three takeaways from the event:


1. It is possible to produce tofu that tastes like a dessert. 

A tofu maker in Tokyo, Tofu Kobo Yuu, makes it. It's delicious. It was the winner of our tasting. 


とうふ工房ゆう/Tofu Kobo Yuu 


2. However, this dessert-like taste may be too much for some people. 

As shocking as it is, some participants found this delicious tofu too sweet. 
"You don't want to eat dessert with your rice every day." 
Tofu should be tasteful, but not too tasteful, it seems... The answer to this impossible request might be our second-place winner: Tofu Kobo Watanabe. The tofu is delicious but not in the dessert-like way.

とうふ工房わたなべ/Tofu Kobo Watanabe

3. Our local tofu maker in Tsukuba ranked third!

Inamoto-tofuten, our local tofu maker in Tsukuba, finished in the third place. This is great news! It was a nice confirmation of what we, the Inamoto fans, knew all the time: we do have a decent tofu maker in Tsukuba!
稲本豆腐店/Inamoto tofuten


Yup, these were the three takeaways in a nutshell.


Reminder


Our tofu tasting is not just a pleasant pastime. It is part of a quest for sustainable protein. All three medalists in our tasting had this in common:
1. They all use Japan-produced soy beans (and provide information about the beans variety and the prefecture of origin on their websites).
2. They all use nigari as firming agent.
3. They are small businesses supported by and supporting their local communities. 

Of course this is not a rigorous study into sustainability, but I would say they are sustainable. And you can see it in their tofu. 

Our medalists


By the way, this is not paid advertisement and the tofu makers mentioned here don't know I'm mentioning them here. Just in case you wondered.


For the tofu geeks, here are the three takeaways, nutshelled above, in more detail: 


1. It is possible to produce tofu that tastes like a dessert. 

One brand in our line-up stood out for its rich taste:
Tokusen kinugoshi 特選絹ごし and Tokusen momen 特選木綿 by Tofu Kobo Yuu とうふ工房ゆう in Ome, Tokyo.

If taste could be compared to a picture, the taste of this tofu was not a sketch, it was a full-fledged oil painting.


A sketch taste
Copyright: Suu

An oil painting taste 
Copyright: Suu


I should repeat that we are talking about plain tofu, made only of soy beans, water and coagulant (= firming agent, in this case nigari). No added sugar or any other taste enhancer, nothing - and yet, it was sweet and creamy and delicious.
Achieving this amount of sweetness and creaminess solely from the simple combination of soybeans, water and nigari is so remarkable it sounds almost like a magic.

It's no surprise that this tofu won first place not only in our tofu tasting but also in Japan's "National Tofu Contest" (全国とうふ品評会) - gold for kinu in 2017 and for momen in 2018. This means it was basically chosen the No. 1 tofu in Japan. 

It is also priced accordingly : 450 yen for a block of kinu, 500 yen for momen. (For comparison, you can buy tofu in a supermarket for about 100 yen.)
It's the most expensive tofu I've ever had. 


2. Some people find this amount of taste too much.


It's surprising, but some participants found this tofu too tasteful. They were a minority, but the very fact that this opinion exists is important.

Here are some of the comments I got:

"This tofu is the sweetest of all samples, but it's not the kind I would want to eat every day. I'd grow tired of it."

"It tastes so different that there should be a new category for it. It's not tofu, it's a different food."


Since tofu generally has almost no taste, it's easy to assume that more taste would always be better. On our tofu tasting this assumption got a reality check. 
More is not always better, it seems.

But then, the next question is: 


How much is just the right amount of  taste for tofu?


Tofu that won the second place in our tasting may be the answer. 

Second place in both categories went to Shimosato-tofu 霜里豆腐 from Tōfu Kōbō Watanabe とうふ工房わたなべ in Saitama prefecture. 

Quite predictably, this tofu also happens to be a medalist in Japan's "National Tofu Contest": gold for kinu and silver for momen in two consequential years: 2018 and 2019.

Maybe Tofu Kobo Watanabe is the golden middle path - tofu was distinctively sweet and creamy and delightful, but more subdued than that of Tōfu Kōbō Yuu. It was delicious but still close to the popular notion of tofu as something that is not too self-assertive.

By the way, it was the second most expensive tofu in our tasting: 320 yen for kinu and 350 yen for momen.


To sum it up, both Tofu Kobo Yuu (first place) and Tofu Kobo Watanabe (second place) were delicious, but Watanabe type may be more appropriate for everyday meals, while Yuu type may be great for special occasions ... and desserts.


3. Our local tofu maker in Tsukuba ranked third!


In our tasting, organic tofu from our local tofu maker in Tsukuba, Inamoto-tofuten 稲本豆腐店  ranked third in both kinu and momen category. 

Inamoto-tofuten lost to Tofu Kobo Yuu and Tofu Kobo Watanabe, which is not surprising - those two are Japan's national-level prize winners. However, it ranked better than all the other samples in our line-up. What a great result. I know Mr. Inamoto personally and I'm one of his many fans in Tsukuba. I'm happy that we have a decent tofu here! 


Second Tofu Tasting Medalists

Our quest for sustainable tofu continues.


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Photo report: Chickens and everyone in Autumn 2019

日本語

It's been two years since we stopped selling eggs and our chickens officially retired. The farm is now living a quiet life while Nobuo and I are trying to figure out how to revive the chicken business. Meanwhile, here's what the farm looks like now.


Farm inhabitants

As of October 2019, the population of Chickens' Playground was four chickens and three goats. Unofficial population includes a nation of frogs, spiders and other independent creatures of various sizes and (usually) many legs. 


Solar sharing chickens eating breakfast on an autumn day. Tsukuba, Japan.
Breakfast time! 
October 2019

Chickens eating breakfast on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan
All members of the current flock are in the picture.
Four chickens - four feed trays.

October 2019

Now that there's only one rooster and three hens, they can enjoy the luxury of having each a personal feed tray. Four chickens - four trays. This way, if a lower-ranked hen is chased off a tray by a higher-ranked hen (or a mean rooster), there's still one unoccupied tray to go and eat from. In other words, all hens can eat as much as they want and when they want regardless of their social status. This keeps them all healthy and happy. What a fair society it is. (And made possible solely by the change of design - providing four small trays instead of a single big one.)


Chickens on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan.
After breakfast, siesta in chickens' favorite retreat.
 October 2019

Chickens on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan.
Siesta time, zoomed-in.
October 2019

Persimmons

This year, for the first time in the farm's five year history we were able to protect persimmon trees from the goats well enough to be able to harvest some fruit. Isn't it beautiful!


Persimmons on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan.
Persimmons: Our very first harvest!
October 2019


However, photo from the other side shows that one fruit was half-eaten by crows.


Persimmons on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan
One fruit was half-eaten by crows
October 2019


Never mind, two perfect ones are still left! Actually I was surprised that crows were polite enough to leave the two untouched. I suspect it's because unharvested persimmons are now in every garden all over the region. Crows must be feeding themselves elsewhere.

I harvested all three pieces, took the two pretty ones home and gave the half-eaten one to the chickens. They happily finished it.


Chickens and persimmons on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan.
The half-eaten fruit was happily finished by chickens.
October 2019


Tea time

In our chickens' and goats' world, tradition dictates that a morning siesta and a nap are followed by an afternoon siesta and a nap. But sometimes, when the weather is pleasant and everyone is in good mood, afternoon siesta is combined with a tea time when chickens join goats in Grand Goat Shed for a cup of tea and a chat.


Chickens and goats on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan
Tea time: Chickens and goats in Grand Goat Shed
October 2019

Chickens and goats on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan
Tea time, somewhat zoomed-in.
October 2019

Yup, that's the life on the farm now.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

How to make weeding a popular blog post

[日本語]

I have a problem.

I wrote an interesting blog post the other day, but no one reads it.

Even though the content is dazzlingly captivating, almost no one clicks on the link.
It's about weeding.
Here it is:

The Perfect Weed Is ...

I think it's a super exciting topic. 

I posted it on FB too.
In one week it got 6 likes. The first one was from my husband Nobuo, who gave it a like after I was lonefully complaining "Why is no one liking my post?" (He has not read it.)
The remaining five likes too were all from compassionate friends.

And so I noticed that, since it doesn't even get clicked on, there must be a problem with the title.

It's not only about this latest article. Topics like what kind of weeds we have on the farm; that sparrows come to the chicken coop and drive us crazy; that goats don't work (don't eat grass) as much as we want them; that spiders build huge webs all over the farm overnight - these are obviously the most exciting topics  in the world and something must be wrong if they don't get read!

So I decided to do some research about article titles that inspire.

Here are some of my research findings applied.


Title 1

Ranking: The handsomest face in the world.


(Original was in Japanese.)
The Handsomest Goat in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan


Title 2

Three reasons why companies should promote remote work.

(Original was in Japanese.)


Three Reasons Why Chicken Farmers Should Promote
Sparrow Remote Control


Title 3

Ten things I want to do before I die.

(Original was in Japanese.)


Ten Things I Need to Do on the Farm
Before the End of Summer Holiday

What do you think?

Would you love to read these articles?

Let me know! This is research in progress. 
I simply can't believe people don't want to read about weeding...




Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Perfect Weed Is ...


While everyone else spends their summer weekends on the beach, in the mountains or at summer festivals, we do mostly weeding. 

Goat weeding on solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan
Worktime (front: Tobi-chan, back: Nobuo)


Solar sharing, goat, Tsukuba, Japan
Breaktime (left: Tobi-chan asking Nobuo 
for a cold drink; right: Haru-chan and Momo-chan)


It's the fifth summer since we built the farm/power plant, and every single year the vegetation has been a pure, unchallenged life force swallowing everything and everyone who doesn't fight back. Without intervention, in a matter of few weeks the place becomes a jungle. 


Goat weeding on a solar sharing farm in Tsukuba
Jungle in the making

Of the 1150 square meters of land, 1000 square meters are the goats' and chickens' run. We expected animals to take care of the greenery in their run, leaving only reasonable 150 square meters outside the run for human management. 

Alas, men plan, goats and chickens laugh.  

Now there are too few chickens to scratch the ground sufficiently to disrupt the plant growth, and goats get so many delicious treats from outside that they don't bother to eat what grows inside. This means that the entire 1150 square meters need human intervention to avoid junglification.

And we only have weekends for this.

Goats fighting on a solar sharing farm, Tsukuba, Japan
Instead of weeding, Haru-chan and
Momo-chan are fighting again. 

So we need a strategy.


Our current strategy consists of two approaches:


1. Outsourcing the help


This year we gave in and asked dedicated professionals from Tsukuba Silver Workforce Center (つくばシルバー人材センター) to help us with mowing and weeding. Japan is full of vital seniors eager to work. Their help has saved us a lot of time. It's a total win-win.


Human weed cutter and goats, summer, Japan
 Silver Center Superman cutting grass in the back.


2. Smart weed management


Just mindless mowing would be the silliest thing we could do. In order to reduce the workload in the future, we need a more strategic approach to ensure there is more of the good weeds and less of the bad ones. We realized that this is not something that happens naturally. If we left it to nature (and help it with indiscriminate mowing), the whole farm would soon be covered in yabugarashi (Cayratia japonica), which I consider the ultimate King of Japanese Weeds.
やぶがらし, Cayratia japonica, yabugarashi, ビンボウカズラ
Yabugarashi
(it looks innocent to untrained eye)

Bad weeds


Why we don't need yabugarashi: 
- Neither goats nor chickens eat it. 
- Because it's a vine, it's hard to cut with a weed cutter (or scythe or sickle)
- It's almost impossible to "kill" because the roots are connected deep under the ground, creating immortal root web. It's actually quite impressive. But for us it means that unless we want to poison the entire place with aggressive weed killers, we'll have to deal with yabugarashi for the rest of our lives. 
- It can't be composted (the "composted" stems will sprout again) 
- There is no other use for it (at first we thought it had one use: it creates nice green curtain in the summer as it climbs up the fences, but the trouble with removing it afterwards was too much of a headache and we abandoned the green curtain idea) 


There are a few more weeds that we want to have less of, for instance inutade (or akamanma, Persicaria longiseta) and shiroza (Chenopodium album), but these are at least good as goat food, so we want to keep them (in limited amount) in our weed portfolio. 


Good weeds


Two major good weeds that we want to have more of are clover (Trifolium repens) and horsetail (sugina, Equisetum arvense)

クローバー, Trifolium repens, clover, シロツメクサ
White clover carpet 


Clover is the friendliest wild plant I know. I even feel bad calling it weeds. 
The reasons why clover is so lovable:
- It doesn't grow too big so it essentially does not need regular cutting. 
- It's a favorite food of both chickens and goats. 
- It's resilient (the roots can withstand chickens' scratching)(unless it's hundreds of chickens).
- It forms a soft, beautiful carpet that invites you to sit in and have a chat with a goat or a chicken while sipping cold beer. 
- And wild bugs can still live in it.

Clover is the perfect weed.
But it's not the strongest of all. More aggressive weeds will take over if we don't step in. So what we do is hand-pick the other weeds and make more space for clover to spread around. Once it spreads, it will mostly stay there, hopefully with  little intervention.


clover, shiroza, クローバー、シロザ, chenopodium album
Removing other weeds (in this case shiroza
to make space for clover.

Horsetail is for some reason hated by Japanese farmers, but it's absolute favorite of our chickens (therefore it doesn't survive long in their run), and even goats like it. Moreover, like clover, it doesn't grow too big nor is too agressive in any way. So we like it. 

I'm thinking of doing my PhD in weedology. What other field would give you so much insight into the survival strategies of the species that humans work so hard to exterminate. There's a lot to learn from them. From the weeds, I mean.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Taste of Sustainable Protein?

日本語

The other day we organized a rare event: Tofu Tasting (利き豆腐).
Tofu Tasting! (June 2019)


As tofu is generally known as that thing that has no taste at all, tofu tasting may sound like a contradiction in terms - how can you compare the taste of something that has no taste? 

Except, this assumption of tofu tastelessness is wrong! It's hard to find, but tasty tofu exists. In our tasting, one brand was a clear-cut winner. 

By the way, if you're wondering why I'm writing about tofu here on this blog devoted to chickens and eggs - well, it's no coincidence. Tofu and eggs have at least one common denominator. But I will get back to that later, right after I tell you about our tasting, the most exciting event of the year far surpassing Christmas and Buddha's birthday and Sumidagawa fireworks combined. (Okay, that's a little exaggeration)


Tofu Tasting!


Our tofu tasting took place at a friend's place last month. 8 participants tried various brands of tofu in two categories - 8 samples in the Kinu category (soft tofu) and 8 samples in the Momen category (firm tofu).



Unlike in Europe, there are many tofu producers in Japan. A tofu shelf in the Japanese supermarket is the size of a cheese shelf in Europe, so it's easy to pick up a varied selection.


Tofu tasting samples

At our tasting, samples were anonymous. Each sample was randomly assigned an alphabet letter, and that was pretty much the only information the participants had. Everything else was, for a while, a top secret.  Participants didn't know whether they are eating a high-end or low-end product, made in a local tofu shop or in a large tofu factory, made from soy beans produced in Japan or from imported ones. They had to rely solely on their taste buds. 
Each participant chose the "Best" (their most favorite), "Second Best" and "Third Best" sample in each category. After everyone finished their evaluation, evaluation sheets were collected, answers were counted, the information about the samples was revealed and the results announced.


Results


One would expect that participants' preferences would be scattered among different brands, but the results were surprisingly uniform. 

Can I say it here? A clear winner was Ohmomo-tofu 大桃豆腐, a small tofuya in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, where I used to work a long time ago. (This wasn't a coincidence. The reason I worked there was that I found it to be the best tofu I ever had). Ohmomo tofu won eight out of eight "Best" votes in the Kinu category, and seven out of eight "Best" votes in the Momen category.

A somewhat distant second was Inamoto-tofuten 稲本豆腐店, a mid-size tofuya in Tsukuba. It won one "Best" vote in the Momen category, and a few "Second Best" and "Third Best" rankings. 
Other brands fared poorly.

By the way, this is not paid advertisement and neither Ohmomo-tofu nor Inamoto-tofuten know that their products were used in our tasting or that I'm mentioning them in this post. (Please don't tell them!)


Where does the difference come from?


It's hard to describe taste in words. As opposed to the typical no-taste associated with tofu, the winning tofu in our tasting had natural mild sweetness and creaminess to it, making it easy to enjoy on its own, without adding any soy sauce or salt or whatever spice at hand. Just plain tofu tasted good.

If food was music, hamburger would be a noisy pop song bursting out of loudspeakers - exciting at first, but ultimately tiring for its overstimulation; regular tofu would be like three piano notes repeating themselves in a never ending loop - hard to bear without adding a melody; and our winning tofu would probably most resemble a quiet but beautiful piano symphony - if you don't listen, you can easily miss it, but if you do listen, you'll realize you can keep listening and enjoying it forever. 

Needless to say, the best way to see the difference is to try it yourself.

The difference in taste of course has everything to do with the choice of the raw ingredients - which are exactly three: soybeans, coagulant and water - and with the way these ingredients are processed.
I could elaborate in great length on the best variety of soybeans or the best type of coagulant or the way the coagulant is mixed with the soy milk, and pretend that I actually know something about tofu. I just deleted a long paragraph on exactly that. I realized it's endless. I will just mention that both Ohmomo-tofu and Inamoto-tofuten use soybeans produced in Japan and use nigari as coagulant. (Nigari, or 粗製海水塩化マグネシウム, "crude seawater magnesium chloride," a byproduct of making salt from the seawater, is a traditional coagulant in Japan. It makes the best tofu, but it requires skill and experience to use.)

Another tasting? Invitation


Eight is  admittedly a small number of participants, although the results are clearly not accidental. I would nevertheless love to do this experiment again and see how replicable the results are.

If you are interested in tofu tasting and are around Tsukuba, please comment under this post, or drop me a message via email or Chickens' Playground page on Facebook.  If there are enough participants, I'll be happy to organize tofu tasting again.



Why the taste of tofu matters?


Now perhaps I should explain why we organized this event in the first place and what implications the taste of tofu has for the world peace. Obviously the implications are huge :D

To those who think that tofu and eggs have nothing in common: In fact they do. 

Tofu and eggs have at least one thing in common: They can both be a wonderful source of sustainable protein.
But for both, this status is conditional - they have to fulfill certain conditions if they want to be called "sustainable." (These conditions are different for eggs and for tofu.)



As for tofu, I insist that to qualify for the sustainable protein badge, it must be "tasty." 


Sustainable Protein


If you never heard of sustainable protein before, don't worry - no one did. I first realized that the term officially exists when I looked it up online last week. 
There are initiatives like Protein Challenge 2040.
There is a book called Sustainable Protein Sources.
There is an extensive article called Sustainable Protein: Meeting Future Needs on the The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) website.

Without knowing any of this, it seems that I have been in quest of sustainable protein for the past decade or so. Raising free range chickens was part of it, and learning how to make tofu was also part of it.


Tofu making (Tokyo, 2013)

Our first chickens (Tsukuba, 2011)

What's sustainable protein?


It's exactly what you think it is: a quality protein that can be produced (1) in large quantities, (2) at low environmental cost and (3) at affordable price.  
And I would add: (4) that people enjoy eating. 

Sustainable protein includes all the protein sources that can support the 9.7 billion people that are projected to live on Earth in 2050, or 10.8 billion in 2100 (the United Nations World Population Prospects 2019) without destroying the planet. 

If you now have a baby, she still might be around in 2100, and she might have grandchildren of her own. They will all be part of the 10.8 billion. If we assume that by then we will have built a reasonably fair society and every person on Earth has access to 60 grams of protein a day (which is about the amount we need to stay healthy), that means 648 million kilograms of protein consumed by humans every day. And that's just protein. Unless we will have expanded to Mars by then, all of it will have to be produced out of the same finite resources we are using now.

Protein sources involve - in traditionally recognized order - meat, fish, eggs, dairy, soybeans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and some vegetables (broccoli, asparagus...)
The amount of energy, land and water used in the production of these protein foods varies, as does the amount of waste that comes from the production process. 

Since plant foods almost always require less land, less water and less energy to produce and process than animal products, sustainable protein often means shifting diets toward more plant-based sources. It doesn't mean becoming vegetarian or vegan though. Within the animal protein category, sustainable protein makes a distinction between the environmental impact of various animal-derived foods and encourages a shift towards those with relatively smaller footprint - for instance eggs are (in general) more sustainable than beef or pork. 

For example, according to the IME Global Food report (2013) one hectare of land can produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people a year, but the same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people. 
It takes about 15,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef, or 6,000 litres for 1kg of pork, but less than 3000 liters to produce 1 kg of eggs (200 liters per egg), or 2,500 liters to produce 1 kg of rice, or 287 liters for 1kg of potatoes.

Also, in processing of foods after the agricultural stage, there are large additional uses of water. This is especially important in the case of meat production, where beef uses about 50 times more water than vegetables. (IME Global Food Report)

According to a case study The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products (2011), the amount of water necessary to produce a 150 g beef burger is 15 times higher than the water required for a soy burger of the same weight. (2350 liters and 158 liters, respectively). In other words, with the amount of water necessary to produce a single beef burger, you could produce 15 soy burgers. 

As for energy use, quoting again from IME Global Food report, estimates show that an average of 7–10 calories of input is required in the production of one calorie of food, but this varies dramatically depending on crop, from 3 calories for plant crops to 35 calories in the production of beef. 

Why does the taste of tofu matter?


First, tofu is made of soybeans. Dried soybeans contain 30 -40 % of protein, and it's the most complete protein among all plant protein sources. (Complete protein means that it contains all 9 essential amino acids in a balanced ratio. More on that some other time). 
150 grams of momen (firm tofu) have 9.9 grams of protein, 150 grams of kinu (or kinugoshi, soft tofu) have 7.4 grams. (150 grams of tofu is about half of the regular tofu size sold in Japan.) Add to it all the minerals and vitamins tofu contains, all the while being low-caloric and non-cholesterol, and at least in theory you might appreciate what a perfect food tofu is. Except, many people are not big fans of it.

In other words, tofu can easily pass the sustainable protein definition mentioned earlier: (1) it can be produced in large quantities (2) at low environmental cost and (3) at affordable price; but it often fails point (4) - taste. Few people crave tofu the way they crave hamburger or ramen. Tofu is rarely listed as someone's "favorite food." 

If people don't like it (or are indifferent), they won't eat it, and what's the point then.

That's why I added "being tasty" as a  condition to tofu's sustainable protein potential. Our tofu tasting the other day was an experiment on this. 

So, to answer the question in the title: 
Sustainable protein tastes like, among other things, a tasty, delicious tofu!