- What is the nutritional value of tofu?
- Are there health benefits to eating tofu?
- Potential complications
- Regular tofu
- Silken tofu
- Firm tofu
- Extra-firm tofu
- Pressed tofu
- Flavoured tofu
- Smoked tofu
- Other variations
If you’re looking to add more plant-based protein to your diet, tofu is a great option. Not only is it a versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of dishes, but it’s also packed with nutrition and health benefits.
In this guide, I’ll explore everything you need to know about tofu, from its history and cultural significance to the different types available and how to cook with them. Whether you’re a soybean pro or a complete newbie, this guide will give you all the information you need to make the most of this amazing ingredient.
What is tofu?
Tofu is a food made from soy milk. It’s a staple in many Asian cuisines and has been consumed for thousands of years. I’ll delve into the fascinating history and cultural significance of this ingredient, as well as its modern-day popularity around the world. But first, let me provide you with a succinct definition.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a popular food in many parts of the world, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. It is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid blocks of varying textures, ranging from soft and silky to firm and chewy.
The process of making it typically involves several steps. First, soybeans are soaked in water overnight and then ground into a fine paste. This paste is then mixed with water and heated to create soy milk, which is then strained to remove any solids or impurities.
The next step is to add a coagulating agent, which causes the soy milk to curdle and form solid curds. The coagulant used can vary depending on the type that is being made, but common options include calcium sulfate, magnesium chloride, and nigari (a natural mineral rich in magnesium salts).
Once the curds have formed, they are typically placed into a mould and pressed to remove any excess liquid. The length of time and amount of pressure used during this process can impact the texture of the final product, with firmer variations requiring more pressure and longer pressing times.
Historical and cultural significance
Bean curd in its many different forms has had a long history in Chinese cuisine and culture. Its exact origins are unclear, but it is believed to have been invented during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). Over time, tofu spread to other parts of East Asia, such as Japan and Korea, where it also became a staple food.
Tofu has played an important role in Chinese vegetarian cuisine and Buddhist cuisine, where meatless dishes are common. It is also associated with the Chinese legend of Liu An, a prince who is said to have invented bean curd during the Han dynasty. According to the legend, Liu An created it as a way to feed his people during a famine.
In Japan, tofu is often served as a dish in itself (the silken variety) and it is a common ingredient in miso soup, a traditional Japanese dish. In Korean cuisine, it is used in stews and other savoury dishes, and it is often marinated to add flavour.
Tofu has also gained popularity in the West as a vegan and vegetarian alternative to meat. Its mild flavour and versatility make it a popular ingredient in meatless dishes, and it can be used in a wide variety of recipes. It is high in protein and other nutrients, making it a healthy addition to any diet.
Nutrition & health
Tofu is a nutrient-dense food that’s rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. I’ll take a closer look at the nutritional information, as well as the health benefits associated with consuming it. From reducing the risk of heart disease to improving bone health, bean curd has a lot to offer.
What is the nutritional value of tofu?
Tofu is a nutrient-dense food that provides a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. It’s a great source of plant-based protein, low in calories, and contains no cholesterol. Depending on the type and brand, a 100-gram serving of tofu provides approximately:
- Protein: 8g – 17g
- Fat: 4g – 10g
- Carbohydrates: 1g – 3g
- Fibre: 0.5g – 1g
- Calcium: 130mg – 510mg
- Iron: 1mg – 3.5mg
- Magnesium: 20mg – 80mg
- Potassium: 121mg – 227mg
- Zinc: 0.5mg – 1mg
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 0.03mg – 0.15mg
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 0.05mg – 0.3mg
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 0.4mg – 1.6mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.06mg – 0.15mg
- Folate: 11mcg – 41mcg
- Vitamin E: 0.1mg – 1.5mg
- Isoflavones: 20mg – 50mg
Are there health benefits to eating tofu?
This soy-based ingredient has been a staple in Asian cuisine for centuries, and in recent years, it has gained popularity as a healthy plant-based protein source among vegans and vegetarians. But are there any proven health benefits to eating it?
In this section, we’ll explore the research on the potential health benefits of consuming tofu, including its effects on cholesterol, heart health, cancer prevention, and bone health. While some studies suggest that it may have health benefits, there are also some potential complications to keep in mind, so it’s important to weigh both the pros and cons before adding bean curd to your diet.
Tofu is low in saturated fat and has been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. Studies have shown that consuming tofu can lead to lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol (see scientific source).
Eating tofu regularly may help reduce the risk of heart disease. The isoflavones in tofu have been shown to improve blood vessel function, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation in the body (see scientific source).
The isoflavones found in tofu may also have anti-cancer properties. Studies have shown that consuming tofu regularly may help reduce the risk of breast, prostate, and other types of cancer (see scientific source).
Tofu is a good source of calcium, which is essential for strong bones. It also contains other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium that are important for bone health. Consuming tofu regularly may help prevent osteoporosis, especially in women (see scientific source)
While tofu and other soy products can offer various health benefits, it is important to note that there are some potential complications associated with eating soy, especially in large quantities or for certain individuals.
One concern is the possible effects of soy on thyroid function. Soy contains compounds called isoflavones, which are similar in structure to the hormone estrogen. In some cases, consuming large amounts of soy can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis and lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones.
Another concern is the possible effects of soy on fertility and reproductive health. Some studies suggest that high consumption of soy products may be associated with lower sperm count and altered hormonal levels in men. In women, soy consumption has been linked to changes in menstrual cycles and estrogen levels, although the evidence is not entirely clear.
Soy allergy is a real concern for some individuals, and in these cases, it’s best to avoid consuming any soy-based products, including tofu. It’s important to note, however, that for the majority of people, tofu can be a healthy and nutritious addition to their diet.
While concerns have been raised about the potential negative effects of soy, most research indicates that moderate consumption of soy products can be beneficial for health. In fact, many people, including myself, regularly consume tofu and enjoy its high protein content and versatility in cooking.
You may also be interested in: my vegan nutrition guide
Tofu comes in many different forms, each with its own unique characteristics and uses. From regular to firm, silken to smoked, I’ll explore the different types of tofu available and how to use them in your cooking.
Also known as standard tofu, this type has a smooth texture and comes in different levels of firmness, from soft to extra firm. It’s made by coagulating soy milk with a coagulant, such as calcium sulfate or nigari. Regular tofu is a versatile ingredient and can be used in a wide range of dishes, including stir-fries, soups, and stews.
A type of tofu with a custard-like texture that is made by coagulating soy milk without curdling it. Silken tofu is often used in desserts, smoothies, and sauces because of its smooth texture. It’s also a popular ingredient in vegan cheesecakes and puddings. Silken tofu is sometimes used in savoury dishes, but mostly in wet dishes like miso soup or hot pot.
Firmer than regular tofu, this type has a denser texture and holds its shape well. It’s often used in stir-fries, curries, and grilled dishes because it doesn’t fall apart as easily as regular tofu. Firm tofu can also be sliced into cubes or strips for use in salads or sandwiches (try using it to make a vegan bacon sarnie). It’s one of the most popular variations found in supermarkets.
The firmest type of tofu, it’s ideal for grilling, baking, or slicing into cubes for stir-fries. Extra-firm tofu has a chewy texture and can hold its shape even when cooked at high temperatures. It’s also a good option for making tofu “steaks” or as a meat substitute in dishes like tacos or vegan quesadillas.
A dense, chewy tofu that has been pressed to remove as much water as possible. Pressed tofu is often used in salads and stir-fries because it has a firmer texture that holds up well in those dishes. It’s also a good option for marinating because it can absorb flavours well.
Tofu that has been marinated or seasoned with herbs, spices, or other flavourings. Flavoured tofu can be a convenient and flavorful ingredient for dishes because it’s already been seasoned. Some popular flavours include garlic, sesame, and ginger.
Tofu that has been flavoured with smoke. It’s often used in sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries to add a smoky flavour. Smoked tofu can be a good option for people who miss the taste of bacon or smoked meats but want a vegetarian or vegan alternative.
The versatility of tofu doesn’t stop with the variations commonly found in supermarkets. In particular, it has been a staple in many Asian cultures for centuries, and there are a variety of additional variations that can be found in Asian markets or speciality stores.
Fermented tofu – one variation of this is known as “stinky tofu” (in Taiwan), this tofu has been fermented in brine or other flavourings to develop a pungent, tangy flavour and aroma. It’s often served as it is or used as a condiment.
Tofu skin – also called yuba, this is a thin film that forms on the surface of heated soy milk. It’s often used as a replacement for noodles, a wrapper for spring rolls or in vegetarian sushi rolls. Tofu skin has a delicate, silky texture and mild flavour. You will often find it sold in its dried form in supermarkets, so you will need to rehydrate it before cooking.
Tofu pockets (inari) – a type of tofu that is fried and then simmered in a sweet soy sauce. It’s often used as a filling for sushi rolls or served as a snack. Tofu pockets have a sweet and savoury flavour and a slightly chewy texture.
Tofu puffs – also called fried tofu or aburaage, these are small, deep-fried cubes of tofu. They’re often used in soups, stews, and curries for their spongy texture and ability to absorb flavours. Tofu puffs have a crispy exterior and a soft, porous interior.
While there are many variations available, it’s true that the more common types are more widely used and easily accessible in most parts of the world. So, if you’re new to cooking with tofu, it’s a good idea to start with the regular, firm, and silken varieties. These can be used in a wide range of recipes and are often called for in recipes you’ll find online.
As you become more comfortable with cooking with this incredible soy-based ingredient, you can experiment with the other variations to see which ones you like best and how they can be used in your favourite dishes. Don’t be afraid to try something new and have fun with it!
Cooking with tofu
If you’re new to cooking with tofu, it can be a little intimidating. But fear not – I’ll give you all the tips and tricks you need to cook tofu like a pro. I’ll cover the best brands to buy, cooking techniques, and common mistakes to avoid when cooking with this ingredient.
Best brands to buy
There are several good brands available in the UK that I love to purchase, each with its own unique qualities. Here are some popular brands that are widely available in the UK:
Tofoo is a British brand that produces organic tofu made from 100% European soya beans, including scrambled, flavoured and firm varieties. Their tofu has a firm but crumbly texture and is great for grilling, stir-frying, or using in curries. Buy Tofoo here
Clearspring is a well-known brand that produces a wide range of organic and non-GMO Japanese foods, including tofu. Their silken tofu is made from organic soya beans and has a delicate, silky texture that is perfect for use in vegan baking or in salads. Buy Clearspring here
Cauldron is a popular brand that produces a variety of tofu products, including marinated pieces, blocks, and burgers. Their tofu is made from organic soya beans and has a soft, silky texture that is great for use in soups, stews, and stir-fries. Buy cauldron here
Dragonfly produces a range of organic tofu products, including firm tofu blocks, smoked tofu, and tofu burgers. Their tofu is made from whole soya beans and has a firm texture that is ideal for grilling or stir-frying. Buy Dragonfly here
Taifun is a German brand that produces a variety of organic tofu products, including smoked, marinated, and sausages. Their tofu is made from European-grown soya beans and has a delicious, smoky flavour that is great for use in salads or sandwiches. Buy Taifun here
Ultimately, the best brand of tofu will depend on your personal taste and what you plan to use it for. It’s always a good idea to experiment with different brands and types to find the one that works best for your cooking needs.
How do you cook tofu?
This versatile ingredient can be cooked in many ways, each method producing different textures and flavours. Here are five popular cooking techniques for tofu:
This method involves pan-frying or deep-frying tofu to create a crispy exterior and a soft, creamy interior. To fry tofu, first, press it to remove excess water, then coat it in cornstarch or flour and seasonings. Heat oil in a skillet or wok, then add the tofu and fry until golden brown. You can use regular or firm for this, or if you are careful, you can use silken too.
Baking tofu is a healthier alternative to frying and can be used as a meat substitute in various dishes. To bake it, press it to remove excess water, then slice it into cubes or slabs. Toss the tofu in a marinade or seasoning, then bake it in the oven until golden brown and crispy on the outside.
- Air fried
An air fryer is a kitchen appliance that uses hot air to fry foods, reducing the amount of oil needed. To make air fryer tofu, press it to remove excess water, then cut it into cubes or slices. Coat the tofu in a mixture of cornstarch or flour and seasoning, then place it in the air fryer basket. Cook for 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the tofu is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Check out my favourite air fryer in my Ninja Air Fryer review.
Tofu can be grilled on a barbecue or grill pan, which gives it a smoky and charred flavour. To grill, it is important to use extra firm tofu and press it to remove excess water. After that, slice it into long thick strips or cubes and marinate it for at least 30 minutes before grilling. You can use a BBQ, a griddle pan, or the grill in your oven. Even some of the best air fryers have a grill attachment.
Tofu can be pickled in vinegar and other seasonings, which gives it a tangy and slightly sour taste. The process involves first pressing the tofu to remove excess water, then slicing it into small cubes. The tofu is then added to a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, and seasonings like garlic, ginger, and chilli flakes. It is left to marinate for several hours or overnight, which allows it to absorb the flavours of the pickling solution.
Common mistakes to avoid
Tofu is a versatile and nutritious ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. However, for those new to cooking with tofu, it can be easy to make some common mistakes that can result in less-than-optimal results. In this section, we will go over some of the most common mistakes to help you get the most out of your cooking experience.
- Not pressing: Tofu is packed with water, which can prevent it from absorbing flavours and can also make it difficult to cook properly. Pressing it before cooking can help remove excess water and give it a firmer texture.
- Using the wrong type: Different types of tofu have different textures and are better suited for different cooking methods. Make sure you choose the right type of tofu for your recipe.
- Not marinating: Tofu is bland on its own, so it’s important to marinate it before cooking to infuse it with flavour. Make sure to let it marinate for at least 30 minutes to an hour to allow the flavours to penetrate the tofu.
- Overcooking it: Tofu is delicate and can become rubbery and tough if overcooked. Keep an eye on the cooking time and don’t cook the tofu for too long.
- Using too much oil: Tofu can absorb oil quickly, so it’s important to use the right amount of oil when cooking. Using too much oil can make the tofu greasy and heavy.
- Crowding the pan: When cooking tofu, make sure not to overcrowd the pan. If you overcrowd the pan, it won’t cook evenly and may end up sticking to the pan.
- Not seasoning: Tofu needs to be seasoned properly to taste good. Make sure to add enough salt and other seasonings to bring out its flavour.
What better way to put your newfound knowledge to use than with some delicious recipes? I’ve collected a range of easy-to-follow tofu-based recipes, from stir-fries to salads, soups to desserts. Whether you’re a soybean newbie or a seasoned vegan cooking pro, there’s something here for everyone.
Vegan kedgeree recipe with smoked swede ‘haddock’
Vegan miso ramen recipe with oat milk broth
Vegan creamy mustard sauce recipe
Creamy vegan silken tofu sauce base recipe
Vegan pork bánh xèo recipe
Quick & nutritious creamy vegan mushroom pasta
Zingy vegan Thai green curry recipe
Indulgently creamy baked vegan cheesecake recipe
Easy & satisfying vegan quiche recipe
By now, you should be feeling confident in your ability to cook with tofu and appreciate all the benefits it has to offer. I’ve covered everything from the basics of what it is to the different types available and how to cook with them. So go forth and experiment with this incredible ingredient in your own kitchen – I can’t wait to see what you create!
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