Grad student Chua Jian-Yong and professor Liu Shao-Quan enjoy a refreshing glass of tofu-based Sachi.
Grad student Chua Jian-Yong and professor Liu Shao-Quan enjoy a refreshing glass of tofu-based Sachi. National University of Singapore

You can scramble tofu and have it for breakfast. You can have it in milk form and put it in your coffee. You can bake it, blend it, fry it, mix it, crumble it, and ferment it, turn it into pudding, curry, cheesecake, stir fries, and smoothies. But, tofu comas aside, you can’t use it to get drunk.

That may be about to change. Researchers at the Food Science & Technology Programme at the National University of Singapore noticed the large amount of highly nutritious tofu whey—the clear liquid left over when soy milk is coagulated into tofu curds—that usually gets jettisoned. “Very little research has been done to transform tofu whey into edible food and beverage projects,” graduate student Chua Jian-Yong said in a statement. As an undergraduate, he’d worked on alcohol fermentation, so he decided to take that approach to this all-important task. The result? A slightly sweet drink, the pale color of straw, with an alcohol content of around 7 to 8 percent and what Chua described as “fruity and floral” notes. As he put it: “The drink turned out to be tasty, which is a pleasant surprise.”

Tofu is enjoying a staggering, sustained growth in popularity, due in part to more and more people choosing to eat less meat. By 2021, the global market is expected to be worth $874 million, up from its current $742 million. But more tofu on plates means more tofu byproducts going to waste, including the dregs, known as okara, and the whey. Both are packed full of proteins and sugars. And when they’re thrown out, these nutrients can lead to algal growth that clogs waterways, which can create oxygen-depleted dead zones. Okara is sometimes used to feed livestock, as fertilizer, or in some food products. The whey has proven harder to harness.

But this new hooch, which Chua has named “Sachi,” might help solve the problem. Chua and Liu Shao-Quan, a professor at the university, have come up with a new fermentation process that leaves no waste. To make it, you mix the whey with sugar, acid, and yeast, and then let it ferment. From start to sip, it takes about three weeks, while the drink itself will keep for four months. But if it’s as delicious as Chua reports, its actual shelf life may be considerably shorter. Bottoms up!

Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week.