What Is Tofu? Everything You Need to Know for Using It

What Exactly is Tofu?

With all the jokes and rhetoric about tofu, you may be left asking, "What is tofu, anyway?" You're not the only one asking this question. Even though tofu has been around for thousands of years, it's a bit of a mystery food to many of us. So let's take a closer look at what it is and why it's good for you.

What Is Tofu Made From?

First let's answer the question, what is tofu made from? It's not harvested from the tofu tree or tofu plant. In fact there is no such thing. However, it does come from the soy plant-actually soy (soya) beans to be exact. The process follows steps similar to the making of cheese, but without even a trace of dairy. Making tofu starts with crushing the soy beans and heating them. This separates the soy milk from the solids. The warm soy milk is stirred and a natural firming agent is added. Curds form and when ready they are poured into a press lined with cheese cloth to remove excess liquid. This forms the curd into a block of tofu which is also known as bean curd.

Why People Tend to Shy Away from Tofu

If you've tried tofu and found it bland and uninteresting, you're not alone. The truth is, it is rather tasteless on its own. Some have likened it to eating egg whites without salt. Actually, that's a good comparison because not many people eat egg whites without some kind of seasoning, and the same should go for tofu, also.

Another reason people tend to shy away from eating tofu is the spongy texture. It is definitely different than anything else you'll try. However, that texture is one of the things that makes it such a versatile ingredient.

Learning to Cook Tofu

Tofu has an extraordinary ability to absorb flavors from the foods it is cooked with. That's why it makes an excellent addition to stir fry dishes, but it can do so much more. It's worth the effort to learn how to cook tofu so that it becomes something to look forward to. Check out recipes that introduce you to a variety of ways to prepare and serve tofu including:

  • Baked
  • Broiled
  • Deep fried
  • Desserts
  • Dips
  • Marinated
  • Pan fried
  • Soups
  • Stewed
  • Scrambled

Why Tofu Is Good for You

While it's easy to poke fun at tofu, when it comes to nutrition, tofu is no laughing matter. It offers a complete source of protein to vegetarians, vegans and people who cannot tolerate dairy products. Other benefits from a nutritional standpoint include:

  • All eight essential amino acids
  • Easy to digest
  • Excellent source of iron
  • Excellent source of Vitamin B
  • Good source of calcium
  • Low in calories
  • Low in sodium
  • No animal fats or cholesterol

How to Choose the Right Tofu

In recent years it's become easier to find tofu in the larger grocery stores, as well as health food stores and Asian marketplaces. You'll find it packaged in three varieties:

  • Extra firm
  • Firm
  • Silken tofu

The first two varieties mentioned on the list are best for general cooking, while silken tofu is traditionally used in making creamy concoctions like dips, spreads and salad dressings.

You can often find small tubs of vacuum-packed tofu in the produce section of the supermarket. When it comes time to use it, drain the water it is packed in, rinse the tofu in cold water and blot it dry. It is then ready for slicing, dicing, marinating or whatever else you have planned.

If your recipe doesn't require the entire block of tofu, it is best stored in water in the refrigerator. Change the water daily to keep the tofu fresh and it will be good for about one week. If you don't plan to use it that soon, tofu can also be frozen. However, freezing does give it a tougher texture and darker color.

The next time someone asks, "What is tofu?" You can tell them it's a nutritious and versatile food rich in protein, calcium, all eight amino acids… Better yet, whip up a savory main dish or a dessert like tofu cheesecake and let them try it for themselves. With a little creativity and know how, the real answer is: tofu is delicious!

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What Is Tofu? Everything You Need to Know for Using It