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Tofu turns tipsy: meet the world’s first soy wine

A Singapore company is giving tau huay zui a kick with the launch of the world’s first wine made completely out of soy.

Using soy whey, a wastewater from tofu production, Sachi has created an alcoholic beverage that they say is easy to drink, healthier for the body, and better for the environment.

The drink is made in Singapore and comes after food scientist Chua Jian Yong began researching soy whey as part of his PhD studies at the National University of Singapore in 2016. Yong, who’s also interested in sustainable food production, was keen on finding uses for the nutritious by-product, which is normally discarded and can pollute water bodies.

Making tofu (Image credit: Futurity; Getty Images)

He eventually patented a fermentation technique that doesn’t require additional water and turns soy whey into alcohol without any leftovers. In 2018, he cofounded Sinfootech, a sustainable foods company that owns Sachi, with entrepreneur Jonathan Ng.

To make the drink, Sachi sources soy whey from a nearby tofu factory that uses non-GMO soybeans from Canada and the United States. Natural ingredients are added to prevent degradation and create the right conditions for fermentation.

The whey is then sterilised to kill microorganisms while maintaining its flavour. It’s inoculated with yeast and fermentation is allowed to happen for 18 to 38 days. Once it reaches its desired alcohol strength, the whey is sterilised again before bottling. Sachi produces about 500 litres every month.

The result is a wine that’s light, floral, and slightly sweet, similar to moscato, with an alcohol content of 5.8 percent and around 70 calories per 100 millilitre-serve. Sachi recommends chilling it to around 4 degrees Celsius before consumption and pairing it with sushi or spicy food. It can also be drunk warm like sake.

singapore soy wine
(Image credit: Sachi)

Although the idea for Sachi started five years ago, the company faced challenges before their wine could go from test tube to table. There were initial problems scaling the fermentation technology up for commercial purposes, and the long process meant experiments took awhile to prove conclusive. Making Sachi also did not fit into any existing alcohol production laws in Singapore.

“Our alcoholic beverages, though low in ABV, was not able to be under the microbrewery scheme as we are an entirely new category of alcoholic beverages,” Jonathan Ng said.

“We had to obtain our own distillery license and our own location before upscaling trials could be conducted. Fortunately, with the help of Customs Singapore, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Enterprise Singapore, we were able to expedite the entire process and waive alcohol taxes off the experiments that we conducted and disposed.”

Sinfootech is looking to create other variants such as a no-alcohol soy wine and fruit flavoured versions. Sachi currently can be purchased from their website or from Fairprice Online, or try it in bars like Club Street Wine Room and Butcher Boy.

Jethro Kang
Jethro enjoys wine, biking, and climbing, and he's terrible at all three. In between them, he drinks commercial lagers and eats dumplings.