William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Fight Against World Hunger
Encyclopedia Knowledge of Soy Foods

“You will be supported in your endeavors. It is just the way the universe works.” — William Shurtleff

Using miso to prepare Asian dishes


Going to Nigeria for the Peace Corps changed William Shurtleff’s life.  He learned first hand about Third World hunger.

He knew he wanted to help solve one of the world’s great problems.

Shurtleff later visited Japan to study Zen meditation. He also met his future wife there.

Akiko Aoyagi was a commercial artist and graphics designer.

Shurtleff learned about tofu and soy beans as a possible solution to hunger.

Why is there so much hunger? In Western Countries up to half the land is used to grow crops that feed animals, which are then used as food by humans.

Is there a better way? In East Asia people eat the plants directly.  Soy products are a major factor in the diet of the countries there — soy is almost a major food group itself.

William and Akiko spent six years in East Asia, mainly in Japan, learning all about soy foods, how to make and use products such as tofu, miso, and tempeh.

But does it taste good? They collected recipes from cooks all over East Asia and created new ones of their own.

They share their secrets in recipes printed in their books.  In their first three books they give more than 1,000 recipes using soy foods.

Are these recipes worth trying? They are delicious, and you could cook a different dish every day for three years using the recipes from their first three books — without repeating once!

Their recipes are a good starting point if you are interested in using more soy foods in different ways in your own kitchen.

In the United States, Akiko ran a graphics arts business in Walnut Creek, California, in the Bay area.  William continued studying and writing about soy foods.  His writings about a tofu shop led a publisher to ask him to write a book about tofu.

This was his first book, The Book of Tofu, which sold half a million copies and is still in print. Shurtleff and Aoyagi went on to write, The Book of Miso, and The Book of Tempeh. Akiko designed all their books, including the covers.

What came next? Shurtleff and Aoyagi went on to promote soy foods in a flood of seminars, classes and media events.

The result? Their work was the basis for the rise of the soy food movement around the world and their followers wrote more than 50 cookbooks on using soy foods.

They founded the Soy Information Center in Lafayette, California.  It may have the world’s largest bibliographic database on soy foods, with more than 80,000 records, some going back to 1100 BC. The Center and its Archives have a Soy Info Library with more than 75,000 items, many unique.

Shurtleff speaks seven languages, including Japanese, and has done research in the literature of soy foods in several Asian countries.

Here’s a recipe with a Japanese flavor adapted from their miso book that uses one our favorite vegetables, burdock root:

Burdock Root Sauteed with Miso


  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 1/4 cups burdock root, scraped and sliced finely
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons red or yellow miso
  • 1 tablespoon sesame butter
  • 5 tablespoons water

Dash of Japanese red pepper mix, Shichimi Togarashi


First, heat a wok until very hot, then add the oil, then put in the shaved burdock root and saute for five minutes.

Next, combine the ginger, miso, sesame butter and water and mix together well. Add this mixture to the wok, stir to combine, cover and simmer over a very low fire 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Finally, season with the Shichimi Togarashi and let it cool a bit and serve.

This is a sice dish and can be served with rice.

What next?  Try these recipes in your own kitchen!

Why bother? As Shurleff puts it:

  • Soy foods are delicious
  • They are healthy
  • Soy is economical
  • Using more soy can help solve world hunger and nutritional problems
  • Cooking with soy is fun

A good place to start would be their four major books, The Book of Tofu, The Book of Miso, The Book of Tempeh and The Book of Kudzu These books give a complete course in soy foods and will give you the big picture.

Making a Commitment: Shurtleff says, “Do what you do in a dedicated and professional way — whatever you do it has to be done right.”: Once you have made the commitment, he says, you will find that “the universe will support you.”


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