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December '02

An ideal protein provider

- by Carel

An important food crop in China, Japan and Korea, soybean products are only slowly gaining ground in India. The same goes for Auroville.


Soybean or soyabean is one of the most versatile pulses known to mankind. Its high protein content makes it a substitute for expensive meat products. It is estimated that one hectare of land used for grazing purposes will produce enough meat to satisfy one man's protein needs for 190 days; planted in wheat it will provide enough protein for 2,167 days. But that hectare, planted with soybeans, will yield enough protein for 5,496 days. Soybean finds hundreds of uses in home and industry. Well-known processed soybean products are tofu, soya sauce, tempeh (originally Indonesian), miso (Japanese), natto (Japanese). and hamanatto (Korean). Soybean is also used to produce textured vegetable protein to replace meat, a source of oil, and is added to paste toppings, baby foods, candy bars, cake mixes and bread.

In countries such as China, Japan and Korea advanced technologies for the processing and manufacture of palatable soybean products have been developed. In India the introduction as a food item has proved difficult. In Auroville too, soybean products are only slowly being appreciated. About four years ago the unit Aurosoya was launched, but it is still struggling to keep afloat.

Wrestling to separate the soya milk from the okara. From left to right: Kuppu, Muthulakshmi and Frederic


"Actually, the unit would not have survived but for the help of the Dutch Foundation Stichting de Zaaier," says Frederic who manages the unit. "They have helped a few times in the past, and the result of their most recent cash injection will come to Auroville soon: a soya cow, a machine to process the soybeans. The machine's filter will remove the particular smell and taste of the bean which some people don't like, and it will be possible to introduce another product range."

In addition to tofu, the white delicate soyabean curd that is sold in water-containing plastic bags, Auro-soya sells soyabean milk (good for people with high blood pressure and those who are allergic to lactic acid) and tempeh. New products are cookies made from soya and wheat flour, and muesli made from the bean pulp (called Okara in Japanese) that remains after making tofu, mixed with raisins, dates and jaggery. "When the soya cow is operational, we will soon produce soya yoghurt and soya bean paste," says Frederic, "and I have many other plans."

One of the uncertainties of Aurosoya is the quality of the soybean that the market offers. Are they genetically-modified? "There is no way for me to know," says Frederic. "Best would be if the Auroville farms would produce the soybeans - assuming they can buy seeds that are not engineered. But so far they supply less than 10% of my requirement. The only thing I know is that my soybeans come from Madhya Pradesh, but there is no certificate that the beans are organic."

Aurosoya's main sales outlet is Auroville and there are a few shops in Pondicherry and Thiruvanamallai that sell Aurosoya's products. Is there a prospect of a quick development now that the soya cow is coming soon? Not really, it appears. "Tofu is not well-known and it will take some time to have the product accepted.

Then there is the marketing and packing problem. I cannot sell tofu outside of Auroville in the water-containing plastic bags I use here. To sell outside, I would need a Rs 1 lakhs (US$ 2000) vacuum-sealing packing machine which I cannot afford for the unit is under severe financial constraints. As it has to move out of the Bharat Nivas complex as soon as the government grant arrives to finish this building, I had to take a loan to build a new unit. The pay-back time is 12 years! The best result I can expect is that we will break even in the coming years and that the marginal maintenance the unit now provides me with will rise to an acceptable level."

See also: auroville.org/health

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