You’ve probably never tasted okara. A by-product of soymilk and tofu production with a consistency similar to cheese curds, the substance is essentially flavorless; while it’s part of the cuisine of Japan and other Asian countries, in the United States, it mostly gets fed to livestock or dumped in a landfill.
But to Sumit Kadakia SOM/FES ’16 and Claire Schlemme, okara is a superfood and a business opportunity. “Soy pulp,” as it’s also called, is not just plentiful; it’s nutritious—low in fat and high in fiber and protein. Kadakia and Schlemme, who are married, launched Renewal Mill this year to sell a flour blend with okara as the star ingredient. Kadakia says that the flour combines the nutrition of whole wheat with the taste of white flour. “We kind of feel like we have the Holy Grail of bread,” he said.
Kadakia and Schlemme believe that Renewal Mill can make a positive impact by lowering the amount of waste in industrial food production. In Japan, people still make soy milk and tofu in their homes, and the leftover okara gets used in cooking, adding texture and nutrients to an array of dishes. “When you’re turning it into an industrial scale, it’s just easier to dump it,” said Schlemme.
The two spent the last several months working with local bakers to perfect the flour blend and to see how it performs in baked goods. So far, they’re happy with the results. Kadakia cites the support of Yale SOM faculty and fellow students as crucial in getting the venture up and running. “It’s hard to imagine how we could start this business and be as successful as we have without the entire SOM community,” he said.