Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a highly admired food of plant origin with great nutritional and health benefits. It has originated from China nearly 4000-5000 years ago and was used as a popular product in Chinese cuisine.
Originally it was called doufu by the Chinese and then the Japanese renamed it as tofu which means “a protein rich food coagulated from an extract of soybeans”.
Tofu is in fact a versatile form of soybeans that is made by curdling soymilk so that its proteins become coagulated and then pressed into a sliceable cake.
Presently, tofu has become a popular food in many countries of the world including Americas, Australia, Cambodia, Europe, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Nutritional properties and health benefits of tofu:
From a nutritional and health prospective, tofu is an excellent source of non-animal protein, as it contains all the nine essential amino acids. A single serving of tofu provides up to 18% of our daily protein requirements. It is also a valuable source of iron, calcium and manganese.
Iron is important for the transport of oxygen in the body and the production of energy. Women need a higher amount of iron (14.8 mg) than men (8 mg), as they lose it through the menstrual cycle. Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for bone health. It is essential in children to promote their growth. Finally, manganese helps the body form connective tissue, bones, blood clotting factors and sex hormones. It increases calcium absorption, and it regulates blood sugar.
Research has shown us that replacing meat and dairy with tofu helps lower LDL cholesterol by about 125 mg per day and saturated fats by about 2.4 mg per day. These nutritional changes lower the risk of several chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease. In Japan death rates from cardiovascular disease are the lowest worldwide and one of the main reasons is attributed to the high consumption of soy products, particularly tofu.
Moreover, tofu contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones that mimic the female hormone oestrogens. They naturally bind to oestrogen receptor sites including breast cells, reducing the risk of breast cancer. As oestrogens naturally decrease during menopause, tofu is a suitable food to alleviate the menopause symptoms such as night sweats and hot flushes. You can read more about menopause here.
However, tofu is not suitable for everyone. Due to its oxalate content, tofu is not recommended to those having kidney or gallbladder stones and to those having hypothyroidism.
Traditional tofu-making process:
Tofu making procedures include several steps like cleaning, soaking, grinding beans in water, coagulation and pressing.
The first step consists of soaking the beans in water for 8-10 hours until they are completely hydrated. The hydrated beans are then combined with fresh water and ground. The resulting slurry is then cooked for 7-10 minutes at 100 degrees, and then filtered to remove the water insoluble residue which is called okara. The okara is pressed, washed and then pressed again to remove any remaining soymilk. The soybean is then coagulated. This is the most important step that determines the final texture and taste of the tofu. Two types of coagulants can be used: minerals like calcium and magnesium or acids like citric or acetic. Finally, to achieve the final product, the curds are separated from the whey pressed for a period of time and the cooled.
Tofu is natural, inexpensive and can be incorporated in any recipes due to its bland flavour. There are different forms of tofu that we will describe below.
Types of tofu:
Fermented tofu: is also called Sufu. It is a briny and creamy variety fermented with different strains of microorganisms. It is served as a dip for fresh vegetables or can be used to season rice or porridge.
Silken tofu/ soft tofu: this tofu has a very fine and smooth texture. It is generally used in desserts, pudding and smoothies. It can also be used as an egg substitute.
Regular tofu: it has a spongy texture and can be sold as soft, medium, firm or extra firm depending on its water content. The soft variety is usually used in soups, whereas the firm and extra firm variety are used in stir fried or as a meat substitute.
Smoked tofu: this tofu has a rich and deep flavour and can be eaten raw.
Low-fat tofu: this tofu is made with soy flour that contains a reduced fat content (7.1% of fat rather than 19.5%). It has a roasted appearance and a nutty flavour, and it is used in place of cheese. For example, in India is used as a low-fat replacement for paneer.
The role of tofu in vegetarian diet:
Nowadays tofu is a staple ingredient in the vegan and vegetarian diet. Due to sustainability, animal welfare and health reasons, there is a growing consumer interest in meat alternative products. An estimated 7 million people currently either avoid red meat or are vegetarians compared with 2 million in 1984. Although the variety of meat alternatives in the market (e.g., mycoprotein, in vitro protein, pea protein), tofu is the number one alternative chosen by consumers. The high protein content and the versatile properties of this ingredient make it attractive to the eye of the consumers.
At Love Yourself, we source only the highest quality plant-based proteins; using tofu as a meat alterative in many of our delicious dishes to achieve a nutritionally adequate and healthy diet. Check out our vegetarian diet and taste the variety tofu has to offer.