CHIBA, JAPAN (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN) - Baked goods made using okara, a fibrous byproduct from the production of tofu, have found a niche market among pregnant women and mothers raising small children. Especially popular are muffins produced by Ms Makoto Nakamura, a 46-year-old cooking instructor who specialises in baking with okara.
Ms Nakamura lives in Wakaba ward, Chiba, and has two children. During her second pregnancy and breastfeeding periods, she stopped eating sweet foods, despite having a sweet tooth. She decided to start baking using okara, which she has turned into a business.
“I wanted to cheer up mothers who are having similar experiences to mine,” she said. The muffins have drawn wide praise, with one regular customer commenting: “They’re tasty and safe to eat.”
Ms Nakamura was raised in a single-parent household. During her junior high and high school years, she had to cook bento lunches and dinners for the family, which helped her improve her cooking skills, she said.
She began producing okara muffins after the birth of her second son in 2011. She had miscarriages before and after giving birth to her first son in her late 20s and also suffered severe morning sickness, often spending long periods in the hospital.
She became concerned about the additives in store-bought confections, which she had eaten while pregnant with her first son. “If only there were foods that mothers could easily consume and gives them the nutrition they need, even if they have to refrain from eating sweet foods or don’t have an appetite,” she wondered.
Her okara muffins are made without butter. Instead, she uses komatsuna, tomatoes, bananas and other natural ingredients. While okara is seen as having a dry texture, the combination with vegetables and fruits produces moistness. The muffins are high in dietary fiber, low in calories and filling enough to satisfy your appetite, she said.
Since she started selling them online and at local events in 2013, her okara baked goods have gradually developed a fan base. In 2014, she began mainly selling okara muffins. Since January 2017, she has been running a cafe several days a month in the renovated garage of her house. During the cafe’s busiest periods, she sells nearly 500 muffins over three days. Many of her customers are mothers from a wide range of age groups.
One regular customer, a childcare worker in her 30s who lives in the ward and has two daughters of her own, said: “I love the salted tomato muffins. I can give them to my children without worrying.”
Ms Nakamura said: “I’m glad to be able to relieve their stress even a little bit with these muffins.”