More commonly referred to in English as “tofu skin,” yuba (湯葉) is a thin layer of dry soy milk that occurs when you heat the milk. The top layer of the heated soy milk dries and then is carefully removed and hung to dry completely. Once it has sufficiently airdried, it is often completely dehydrated, packaged, and sold in stores.
Yuba is prevalent throughout Asia, most notably in China, and has been produced in Japan since the 12th century. Tochigi Prefecture, Sendai, and Kyoto are famous for their yuba. When yuba was first introduced in Japan, it was brought by Chinese Buddhist monks. Yuba was a very important source of protein for Buddhist monks because it was vegetarian. Yuba has over 21g of protein per serving! By comparison, beef has about 25g of protein per 100g serving.
For those who are considering a vegetarian diet, yuba is a great addition. Because it has relatively mild flavor on its own, it is often rehydrated using flavorful sauces and oils, taking on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. It can be cut into long strips to resemble noodles, or into larger sheets to be wrapped around other ingredients.
In some parts of Japan, like Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, they have found many creative ways to use tofu skin. The specialty foods are advertised prominently all over the town. One dish in particular is very unique to Nikko: the yuba burger. Yuba strips are made into a patty, which is then breaded and fried like a croquette. It is served on a bun with other burger toppings.
In Kyoto, yuba is typically served very traditionally. Often it is boiled with dashi, a ubiquitous Japanese fish broth, and served in a meal called shojin ryori 精進料理. Shojin ryori can be found all over Japan but is particularly famous in the Kansai region. In Kyoto, the meal is comprised of a variety of vegetable dishes. This style of meal is traditionally served to monks in temples. As mentioned earlier, because of yuba’s high protein value, it is a nutritious addition to any meal.