In a dark and steamy room in Indonesia’s tofu heartland three men sweat over bubbling cauldrons, churning creamy beancurd with wooden paddles before draining it by hand and slicing it into silky cubes.
Tofu has been cooked this way for generations but today, innovative villagers on Java island are producing something extra from the simple soybean – cheap, renewable energy, piped directly into their homes.
Around 150 small tofu businesses in Kalisari village, many run from the family home, are benefiting from a pioneering green scheme that converts wastewater from their production floors into a clean-burning biogas.
Where families once relied on sporadic deliveries of tanked gas or wood for stoves, tofu producers like Waroh can access this cleaner fuel anytime with the flick of a switch.
“The advantages are huge, because we produce the gas with waste,” Waroh, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP as he boiled tea over a steady blue flame coming from his kitchen stove.
Experts say harnessing power from unconventional sources like tofu holds enormous potential in Indonesia, a vast energy-hungry nation heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
There’s another benefit too because large-scale tofu production is pretty gross:
The Kalisari project has also helped to reduce damage caused to the local environment from tofu production.
Thousands of litres of waste water drained from raw tofu was once pumped daily from factories around the village into nearby rivers, befouling waterways and contaminating rice fields downstream.
“The environment here was very polluted,” Kalisari local government head Aziz Masruri told AFP, gesturing to a river fringed by wooden tofu workshops. “It stank, and it was affecting our agriculture.”
Things have steadily improved since the cloudy, foul-smelling liquid was diverted from rivers to large blue tanks, where it’s transformed into biogas. Farmers have reported better rice yields, while the river is clearer and less smelly, Masruri said.
I suppose this doesn’t really deal with the long-term water depletion, but is certainly better in the short-term.
Also, tofu is just a great food. I swear, people who don’t like it think that it is just eaten plain. Do you eat plain pasta or rice? Unlikely. It’s really at its best paired with pork, but obviously it’s a great meat substitute too, though I think ideally paired with something else kind of meaty like eggplants or a hearty mushroom.