A new article by Laura Reiley and Lee Powell in The Washington Post gives us a glimpse inside the Tofurky factory in Hood River, Oregon, where the wheat gluten and silken tofu-based centerpieces of many vegan Thanksgiving tables—7.5 million to date, in fact—are created.
Earlier this year, the original owner of the Tofurky brand, Oregon-based Turtle Island Foods (established in 1980), sold the company to a Japanese firm, Tofurky's longtime tofu supplier, Morinaga Nutritional Foods. The Tofurkys are still made in the Oregon plant, however.
A "masa" of 130 pounds of wheat gluten, 56 pounds of silken tofu puree, 23 pounds of canola oil, water and spices and are loaded into an industrial-sized bowl chopper and kneaded for 15 minutes. Workers swing by to test the gluten activation of the mixture: How stretchy are the proteins? Are they forming longer and longer chains and giving the mixture cohesion and elasticity like bread dough being proofed? The churning mass smells yeasty and a lot like bread dough. When the temperature of the mixture reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit and it has a smooth, elastic texture, it's ready for the next stage. The mixture is dumped into a hopper and whisked away on a wheeled dolly. . .
The masa is loaded into one hopper, the wild rice stuffing into a second . . .
The Tofurky holiday roast stuffing is a mix of wild rice, breadcrumbs, celery, onion, carrot, leek and seasonings . . .
With the stuffing at the center and the masa surrounding it, the portions shoot through a metal tunnel with a little pneumatic puff of noise and into a plastic barrier casing, the ends tied off and clamped . . .
While the extruder machine spits out roasts, workers spot-check uncooked roasts to make sure the ratio of masa to stuffing is correct. Once a whole cart has been filled, workers transport the roasts to the walk-in steam oven. The cooking strategy is low and slow: They steam for about four hours at a little under 300 degrees. Roasts enter the oven a pale cream color and emerge with a deep caramel hue.
The oven door opens with a dramatic plume of steam, and the racks of cooked roasts are rolled out and then whisked into a nearby freezer for eight hours. Many of the roasts are sold in conventional grocery stores just around the holidays as a fresh product; health food stores and vegetarian markets often stock them for a longer window as a frozen package.
Have you ever had a Tofurky? It's been a while for me, but reading this article brought back fond memories of many vegan Friendsgivings from my youth. For some visuals of the process, check out the video, below.