Tofu or bean curd has been around for a long, long time, over 2000 years in fact. It’s said that a Chinese Han dynasty cook accidentally curdled some soy milk with some tainted salt to create the curds we now know as tofu. With the rise of Buddhism in China, tofu became a mainstay of the Buddhist monks’ vegetarian diets replacing meat as the main protein, and as Buddhism and its vegetarian ethic moved from China to Japan, so did tofu, eventually, spreading to all of Southeast Asia. Tofu came to the West in the 19th century with the Chinese and Japanese diasporas, but didn’t really take hold with Westerners until the 1960s as people started to take an interest in alternative lifestyles and diets like macrobiotics and vegetarianism both for their own health and for the health of the planet. The rest as they say, is history.
Nutrition: Tofu is high in protein, having about 10grams per 1/2 cup serving, and is high in iron and calcium too. However don’t go overboard. All soy products should be eaten in moderation, up to 3 X 1/2 cup servings per day. If you eat processed foods, many contain hidden soy products so please check ingredient lists, as these will add to your totals.
Buying tofu: Tofu tends to be more flavorful and beany tasting in Asia than it is here in the US, because here we expect it to taste bland. Tofu is usually sold in 14 ounce blocks packed in water and once opened any remaining tofu needs to stay submerged. Tofu is an item that can spoil so when buying check ‘best-by’ dates on the package.
Storage: Keep in the fridge as you would dairy. Once opened tofu will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days submerged under water, but will eventually become sour.
Types of Tofu: There are many, many different kinds, and different products, frozen tofu, dried tofu, tofu skin(yuba), stinky fermented tofu, but the types of tofu most easily found in supermarkets and most commonly used in our recipes are these:
- silken – this is very soft and wet with a puddingy texture that doesn’t hold its shape. It is great for adding a protein boost to smoothies or shakes, or to use as an egg substitute in baking.
- soft – this tofu is firmer than silken but is still very wet. Although it will just hold its shape to be diced for soups like miso, it is usually eaten with a spoon. It can also be used similarly to silken tofu in smoothies.
- firm – firm has a drier texture and holds it’s shape well. It is good for stir fries, grilling and baking – for marinating see Ann’s tips.
- extra firm – this tofu is the driest of all and can be crumbly when fresh, but in the US it is usually repressed to bring it together and is perfect for grilling, baking or to crumble into sauteed veggies for a scramble or ground meat texture – for marinating see Ann’s Tips.
Ann’s Tip: When marinating firm or extra firm tofu, it’s a good idea to press out as much water as you can before placing in the marinade so that the water in the tofu doesn’t dilute it. You can do this by setting the block of tofu, or thick slices of tofu on paper towel between 2 cutting boards, tilted slightly with a chopstick for drainage. Weight the top board down with a medium pan half filled with water and leave it for 30 minutes while you do other things. You’ll be amazed at how much water comes out.
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