Tofu is a healthy, plantbased protein that’s also one of the most versatile foods available in terms of how you can prepare it. You don’t have to look too far on YouTube or Instagram to find a wealth of ideas for tofu recipes. It can be fried, baked, blended, and crumbled, and it will harmoniously take on whatever flavors you mix it with.
While Asian cultures have been eating tofu for centuries, and vegans and vegetarians in the West for decades, today the newly plantbased curious are discovering the wonders and tastiness of tofu. Here are some common questions and interesting facts that tofu novices and aficionados alike should find interesting.
1. What is tofu?
Tofu is very much like traditional cheese in the way it’s made with curdled, or coagulated, milk. Only traditional cheese is made with dairy milk and tofu with soymilk. Tofu is also sometimes called bean curd.
The History of Tofu
Legend has it that the ancient Chinese learned about curdled milk products from the Mongolians hundreds of years ago. Soon experimental chefs started to try different ways of making it, like adding seaweed and salts to the liquid while cooking soybeans.
There’s evidence that firm tofu was eaten during the Han dynasty (220 BC – AD 220) and by the 8th century it was being eaten in Japan. In the 1770s, Benjamin Franklin mentioned in his writings that he had tried a “Chinese cheese” that sounded remarkably like tofu while on trip to England. By the 1960s, tofu had made its way to the Western World.
2. How is tofu made?
The way tofu is made today is not that much different from the way it was made centuries ago, only now it’s obviously more mechanized. Dried soybeans are soaked overnight, in the same way tempeh is made. However, with tofu, the soaked beans are then crushed and boiled. The process creates soy milk, as well as some solids that are removed.
The soy milk is then curdled with the addition of magnesium or calcium sulfates, which are naturally occurring compounds. This process separates the solid, curdled soy milk (tofu) from the other part – a form of whey.)
3. What does tofu taste like?
The easiest way to know how tofu tastes is to try it! But essentially, raw tofu doesn’t have much of a taste. Hence it’s sometimes described as a bland food. However, due it its porousness, tofu acts like a sponge when mixed with other foods and seasonings. It won’t impact the taste of those foods, but it will absorb their flavors, making it an extremely versatile food to cook with. Tofu is also available in a few different textures, which adds to its versatility.
4. Is tofu healthy?
There has been some controversy around soy bean products because they contain estrogen-mimicking chemicals that can have an effect on the endocrine system. However, most experts say this is more common with soy isoflavone supplements and foods that are made with soy protein isolate, such as some protein bars. However, most medical experts agree that eating more soy products, including soy milk, edamame, and tofu, a few times per week is fine.
In addition, the nutrition levels in soymilk, tofu, and edamame are very high, making them a super-healthy alternative to meat. As a high-protein, low-fat, and low-carb food, tofu is packed with nutrition without being high in calories.
A 3 oz. (85 g) serving of tofu has 9 grams of protein at just 60 calories. In addition, it contains 15% of the RDA for calcium, 20% for iron, and 13% for magnesium, as well as other important nutrients.
5. Is it bad for men to eat tofu?
Because it contains isoflavones, which is a plant estrogen, men often ask if it’s safe for them to eat tofu. The answer from most health experts is yes, it’s perfectly safe when consumed a few times per week.
It’s also important to keep in mind that many commercial meats come from animals who have been given growth hormones, and not the mention antibiotics. So, just from a health perspective, eating organic tofu carries far fewer risks than eating most meats from the grocery store.
6. Is tofu healthier than meat?
While red meat has more protein than tofu ounce per ounce (22g vs. 8g respectively), tofu has about half the calories of red meat and less saturated fat, making it preferable for people who want to lower their cholesterol.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that tofu can actually help to lower cholesterol. One study found that consuming about 25 g of soy protein per day can reduce LDL by around 5-6%.
In addition, consumption of red meat and processed meats has been tied to serious, lifestyle-related diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. You can read more about this in my post “Stats on Why We Should All Be Eating a Plantbased Vegan Diet.”
7. Can eating tofu help you lose weight?
Tofu is a great food if you’re trying to lose weight for a number of reasons. For one, it’s relatively low in calories. It packs 18 grams of protein for just 120 calories. Plus, like tempeh, it’s easy to mix in salads, stir fries, and other recipes that have a lot of vegetables, which are great for weight loss too.
Protein is essential for weight loss because it keeps you satisfied calorie-for-calorie longer than carbs. Plus, it helps you build muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat.
8. Isn’t tofu a processed food?
Technically, tofu is processed food that’s derived from a whole food, which is soybeans. However, it’s important to not put all processed foods into one bucket. For example, both tofu and baloney are processed foods, but only the baloney has been tied to cancer.
It’s important to read the ingredients when you buy tofu, as pre-cooked and pre-seasoned tofu will contain more ingredients than just soy milk. Furthermore, some pre-seasoned tofu is also fried and may contain added oils, salt, and other ingredients.
9. Is tofu gluten-free?
Tofu is naturally gluten-free. However, it may be prepared with sauces, such as soy sauce (which is made with wheat), that are not gluten-free. So, if you’re gluten-sensitive, always read the label when you’re buying a pre-prepared tofu or ask how it’s prepared when you get it in a restaurant.
10. Does tofu contain GMOs?
Some soybeans are grown with GMO (genetically-modified organisms) seeds, so some tofu does contain GMOs. GMOs are incredibly dangerous because they kill not only pests on crops, they also kill essential pollinating insects and birds. You can read more about the dangers of GMOs in my post “Ways You Can Help Bees, Butterflies, and Other Insects.”
The good news is there are options for non-GMO, USDA certified organic tofu and other soy products. Be sure to look for the Non GMO Project label or the appropriate certification for your country.
11. How many different types of tofu are there?
There are five different types of tofu. Like mattresses, they’re categorized by firmness, from extra-firm to soft, or in tofu lingo – “silken.”
Depending on what you’re making, there’s a perfect grade of tofu for it. For example, extra firm tofu is great for fried tofu nuggets or in veggie burgers, while silken tofu is great when blended, such as for puddings and cakes.
11. How long does tofu last?
Tofu can be frozen for several months and still maintain its freshness. If you open the package and put it in the refrigerator, it can stay fresh for about four days. But it’s always a good idea to check the sell-by date on the package.
12. What are some good tofu recipes?
I thought you’d never ask! The ways you can prepare tofu in recipes – from vegan tofu scramble for breakfast to curry tofu for dinner to vegan ice cream for dessert – are only as limited as your imagination (or appetite.) Here are a few tofu recipes on UniGuide and a link to more on YouTube.
- Spicy Tofu Kebabs with Vegan Yogurt Sauce
- Easy, Yummy Vegan Chocolate Banana Cream Pie Recipe
- Vegan Breakfast Ideas
- Tofu recipes on YouTube