Okara is a byproduct of the soymilk manufacturing process, consisting of the bland pulp which is left behind after pureed soybeans are passed through filters. It is extremely nutritious, sometimes more so than products like soymilk and tofu, and it can be used in a variety of ways. In Asian cuisine, okara is a not infrequent vegetarian ingredient, and interest in this ingredient has grown in the West. Most okara, however, is mixed into animal feed, since large amounts of it are generated in the soymilk making process.
When soybeans are turned into soymilk, they are soaked and pureed to form a slurry. The okara is the fibrous, insoluble part of the soybean left behind, and it is rich in calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and riboflavin. When fresh, okara is creamy white to yellow, and very pulpy. It can be dried at this point to turn it into a powder, or it may be cooked and frozen for future use. Fresh okara is not very shelf stable, and it needs to be used quickly.
One way to use okara is to toast it and add it to breads, cereals, and other dishes. Toasting brings out the faint nutty flavor and creates a crunchy texture. Okara can also be used to make vegetarian and vegan grain patties and an assortment of other dishes. The bland flavor makes it suitable for a wide range of dishes, since it will readily soak up any flavors it is cooked with.
Many Asian markets sell dried okara, which may also be called unohana or kirazu. The dried product can be rehydrated and used as desired. Some also sell okara fresh, especially if they make soymilk and other soy products on site, in which case it may also be available frozen. You can also make soymilk at home, generating your own okara, although you may find that you generate such large amounts of it that it gets used more for mulch in the garden and animal fodder than for food.
This tofu byproduct is often included in vegetarian grain mixes, in which case it may be listed as “soy pulp” on the packaging. It helps add fiber and bulk to food while also upping the nutritional content and creating a more chewy texture. Okara can be used in all sorts of things, from traditional Chinese steamed dishes to falafel.