Quinter Katuyi speaks with gusto about food because she loves it – the making and the eating – having been brought up among foodies. She’s the director of Mtofu Kenya, a company that specialises in the production of vegan tofu.
Tofu is a protein-rich food made from soy milk curd.
“Our products are purely plant-based, artisanal in nature, organic and free of additives. They’re suitable for both vegans and vegetarians as well as those who are looking for alternatives for a healthier diet,” Ms Katuyi says.
Mtofu was founded in 2019 to meet the need for vegan tofu. Going vegan was important for the five directors who own the company because the environment is having more than a bad day. It’s a nightmare.
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“Back then, it was hard to find vegan tofu because no one was actually making it. It was then that one of our founding directors who has been in the food industry for over 20 years decided to try his hand at making tofu,” the food production and hospitality graduate says of their humble beginning.
Ms Katuyi joined the company as a part-time student-chef and got interested in tofu production. Four years later, the company has been supplying tofu to people opting for live and thrive on a vegan diet for personal, environmental or health reasons.
A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products and their by-products. Purely plant based, all their nutrients come from plants.
Tofu is popular among vegans because of its nutritional value, and its ability to imitate meat in taste, look, texture and usage.
“Where you can use animal products, you can use tofu, be it in beverages or solid foods. It’s also marinated the same way you would regular meat,” she shares.
The main ingredient in tofu is soybeans, a highly proteinous plant food that Mtofu sources from western Kenya (Busia County).
The process of making tofu begins by getting good-quality soybeans. These are then soaked overnight, washed, and then blended. The resulting liquid is soy milk.
Upon removing the milk, the required condiments for the different flavours are added and the mixture is clotted and pressed into the signature chunky blocks that characterise tofu.
The production process has several products along the chain. The first is soy milk which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are vital for healthy muscles and organs. Soy milk can be used in place of regular milk in milk-requiring beverages.
“The second product is silken tofu, which as its name suggests is silky and soft. It renders the vegetarian version of scrambled eggs. This is followed by natural tofu, which is regular tofu. It is firmer and is used to replace meat in meat and chicken burgers, nuggets, stews, and meat pizzas,” she explains.
These were Mtofu’s first products in the market. With growth, the firm has expanded its product range to include vegan sausage and hotdogs.
Their tofu is also flavoured yielding products such as herbal, hot, and spicy chorizo-styled and smoked tofu.
“Due to its smoky flavour, smoked tofu can be used in place of bacon while chorizo tofu replaces ham,” Ms Katuyi adds.
The company’s production facility is in Machakos County and has a capacity of producing 160 pieces of tofu each weighing 220 grammes. It has employed four people.
Initially, tofu was sold through word of mouth as the company sought to find a footing in the market. One of the teething challenges they faced was having too much production and few buyers.
In the beginning, their target market was elderly people and Indians who lead a primarily vegetarian lifestyle.
“We were surprised to find a clientele among young adult Kenyans who now make up a third of our market. The rest is a mix of Indians and smaller groups of people including vegan expats who are here for short-term work assignments.”
Mtofu makes most of its sales online, particularly via Instagram and Facebook. It has as well partnered with retailers such as supermarkets who stock its products. It was retailers who opened them up to the market.
Their products are popular in eco-friendly hotels which are keen on sustainability as well as regular hotels catering to events attended by guests who want a vegetarian menu as part of their offering.
Organic markets have also been instrumental in endearing them to customers who know about tofu and winning them new ones. Part of their strategy is demystifying tofu and sharing easy-to-follow recipes with their audiences both offline and online.
Their growth has also been scaled by the consistency of their products steered by rigorous quality assurance control measures that ensure the taste and texture remain the same with every new batch.
The allure of going vegan is in the movement’s environmental and life protection philosophies.
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According to the director, going vegan offers a tangible and substantial way to reduce environmental impact. Veganism reduces animal slaughter and work exploitation in slaughterhouses. It’s also ideal for those looking to lose weight or simply eat healthier for their bodies and the planet.
“Tofu is also delicious and usable in a variety of ways to make multiple dishes that are made from meat. It’s an experience for those who want the taste of meat without eating meat,” the 23-year-old says.
Investment into Mtofu went into importing the machinery required. Recently, they got interest in Tanzania. This got the company training its eyes on expanding its territory to include the East African Community countries.
Ms Katuyi is thrilled about the path her career is taking.
“By working here, I’m earning clean money, creating employment opportunities for the youth, and conserving the environment for my future generations.”