Tootie’s Tempeh and Heiwa Tofu, both made primarily with soybeans from Aurora Mills and Farms in Linneus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Even as a committed omnivore, I have noted that the rest of the world seems hungry for plant-based meat alternatives.

The global market for center-of-the plate, plant-based proteins like Beyond Sausages, Impossible Burgers, Lightlife Smart Dogs, Quorn ChiQuin and Upton Natural’s BBQ Jackfruit bites stands at just under $14 billion annually. While this number is a fraction of the worldwide annual sales for chicken ($312 billion), pork ($254 billion), seafood ($257 billion) and beef ($497 billion), industry analysts say real meat market segments will likely experience only single-digit growth, year over year, for the foreseeable future. Spending on alternative meats, though, is set to grow as much as 30 percent annually. At that rate, eaters could be spending upwards of $230 billion on man-made “meat” by 2033.

My complaint with most of these products lies in the fact that nearly all the plant-based meat alternative products sold at Maine’s grocery stores are “from away,” sometimes very, very, very far away. For example, a large majority of the pea protein in Beyond Meat comes from China, and it’s highly processed into lookalike steak tips, Italian sausages, chicken nuggets and jerky strips at plants in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Impossible Burgers are made in Oakland, California, from GMO soybeans grown in Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. And Quorn, owned by the Philippine conglomerate Monde Nissin, which recently built a research and development lab in Dallas to help push its plant-based chicken alternatives throughout the U.S., manufactures most of its products in the U.K. from a fungal protein called mycoprotein. That substance is mixed with potato protein, pea fiber, wheat gluten and yeast extract from sources that are not specified on the company’s packaging or website.

With that many food miles and industrial manufacturing cycles in play and the potential for monocropping practices to wreak havoc on soil, the argument that plant-based proteins are a greener option than grass-fed beef, pastured poultry and pork, and sustainably harvested seafood loses a lot of ground.

If you are a locavore looking for a Maine-made, plant-based protein for dinner, you do have a couple of choices: Heiwa Tofu, produced in Rockport, and Tootie’s Tempeh, made in Biddeford.-

Heiwa, a family operation headed by husband-and-wife team Jeff Wolovitz and Maho Hisakawa, has for 15 years been making been making its tofu with non-GMO soybeans grown on Maine and New England farms. Wolovitz explains that while he has built some redundancy into his soybean supply chain because crops can fail for all sorts of reasons, his primary soybean source is Aurora Mills and Farm in Linnaeus, just 175 miles away from his tofu production facility. He estimates that to keep his customers (independent health food stores in Maine as well as all Hannaford stores and Whole Foods outlets throughout the Northeast) supplied with his hand-crafted tofu, he spends $150,000 a year on soybeans. That’s a decent chunk of change to keep recirculation within the local food economy.


Farmer Sara Williams Flewelling says that while her family’s farm is best known for its cereals – buckwheat, oats, rye, spelt and wheat – growing a variety of soybean well suited to the northern climate as part of a farm-wide crop rotation plan helps keeps the farm’s soil healthy. Legumes, like soybeans, dried beans and field peas, fix nitrogen into the soil while they are growing. The fixed nitrogen helps future crops thrive when planted in that same soil. Flewelling says her farm’s business-to-business relationships with food producers like Heiwa and Tootie’s Tempeh (which uses Aurora Mills and Farm soybeans exclusively to make its product) are integral to her farm’s future success.

And the farm is taking steps to ensure the quality of the legumes it delivers to its partners. The mill recently received a grant from the Maine Technology Institute to buy an optical sorter that will help make sure there are no stones, foreign objects or blemished beans in the legume shipments to partners.

Just in case the benefits of buying local, the role soybeans play in making Maine soil richer, and the fact that strong business partnerships grow out of thriving local farms is not enough to get these two meat alternatives into your weeknight meal rotation, Tootie’s Tempeh co-founder Sarah Speare says her worker-owned cooperative company has taken pains to produce tempeh with as little plastic as possible. She doesn’t want to add to the world’s single-use plastic problem.

Tempeh, a traditional Indonesian mealtime protein made from boiled soybeans that get inoculated with rhizopus oligosporus fungus cultures and are then fermented so that the beans bind together to form a nutty-tasting plant-protein cake, was traditionally wrapped in banana leaves to ferment. In most modern tempeh production facilities, the mixture is wrapped in plastic to ferment and then again to be packaged for sale.

The Tootie’s team developed a fermentation method for making tempeh that does not use plastic. The finished product is available in most health food stores and independent grocery stores in Maine. While just the traditional flavor was available when I spoke to her, Speare said a caraway seed version (great for reubens) and one seasoned with Italian herbs (well-suited for pasta dishes) would be on the market soon.

Maine Tempeh Tacos with Tootie’s Tempeh, sour cream, cabbage, radishes, pickled red onions, cilantro and lime. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Marinated Maine Tempeh Tacos


Tempeh cakes can be easily cut into strips or cubes or broken into a crumble. The smaller the pieces, the more flavor the tempeh will take on during the marinating process. Try this recipe the next time you’re hankering for tacos. The tempeh has so much flavor, you won’t miss the chicken, beef or pork you might typically put inside your tacos.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons Gryffon Ridge Senor Pistole spice mix
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces Tootsie’s Tempeh, crumbled
8 Tortilleria Pachanga corn tortillas, warmed
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cup pickled onions
2 radishes, thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Whisk together olive oil, lime juice, honey, spice mix, garlic and salt in a medium bowl. Add tempeh, cover and marinate for one to eight hours.

Place a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the marinated tempeh to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid in the marinade has evaporated and the tempeh is starting to brown a bit, 5-6 minutes.

To assemble the tacos, hold a warm tortilla in your hand, spread a dollop of sour cream in the middle, add 1 ounce of marinated tempeh, fill out the taco with shredded cabbage, pickled onions and sliced radishes. Garnish with cilantro and a lime wedge.

Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients. Serve tacos immediately.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at:

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