A Taste Of Tofu: The Versatile Asian Staple

Diets consisting of fewer carbohydrates seem to be all the rage now, due to the increasing awareness of how quickly they let you put on the pounds. People who want to lose the fat but continue to keep muscle opt to consume more protein. The problem is, it isn’t always healthy to eat massive portions of meat to keep up with your dietary needs. There are other food choices that don’t have the negative aspects of meat (acidity, extra fat) that can help you fulfill your protein needs nevertheless. Some examples of these foods are legumes, nuts, and tofu.

Tofu is an extremely versatile ingredient; it can be cooked into hundreds of delicious and healthy dishes. It’s also got deep roots within many cultures and histories; predominantly that of the Japanese. You’ll find variations of tofu in many of their dishes, as it has become a staple component in the gastronomic world in their country.

What Exactly Is Tofu Made Of?

Tofu is basically soy milk (made from soy beans) that has curdled and coagulated. The substance is then pressed into a square shape, giving it a more solid formation. After that, it is cooled, cut into portions, and sold. The process of creating cheese is somewhat similar, as cheese is basically curdled milk. The resulting product is a white, wet, substance can be turned into a wide and diverse range of meals for all occasions, with varying tastes, texture, and firmness.

The History Of Tofu

While the word “Tofu” was borrowed from the Japanese language, the Japanese themselves adopted the word from its Chinese predecessor, “Tou-fu”, also known as “doufu”. The first time “Tofu” was heard of was when it was found in a diary of Nakaomi, a Japanese priest of the Shinto religion. It, later on, took its own place in the Japanese language by 1489. “Tou-fu” and “doufu”, on the other hand, in Chinese character form, combine to mean “fermented bean”. Tofu is also otherwise known as bean curd in western countries.

The first moment historians ever found the mention of tofu was in a Chinese legend, written on a slab of stone 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. Etched on the rock was supposedly a kitchen, where tofu was accidentally made because the soy milk curdled. This rock was given to Lord Liu An of Huainan, their prince. Historians speculate that Lord Liu An may have discovered the dish, but it could very well have been discovered by someone else. Information on who truly invented tofu in China is still debatable, but one thing’s for sure - tofu initially came from China. Over time, the consumption and creation of this soy product became rampant and turned into a staple in Chinese food. It’s interesting to note how deeply tofu plays into Chinese culture. Because it would melt in the heat, winter was the only time tofu could be sold readily. It is customarily offered to graves of dead relatives; placing the cooked, soft tofu on top of their resting spot, due to the notion that spirits no longer have the proper appendages to chew.

Japan, Korea, and other parts of Asia were soon familiarized with tofu because of globalization. The Nara era, which occurred during 710-794, heralded the soy dish in, thanks to Kento priests who visited China and came back with information about it. The Kento priests took a liking to tofu because they were studying Buddhism, and being vegetarian (shojin ryori) was part of their Buddhist obligations. Tofu aided them in filling their need for protein.

Tofu And Japanese Culture

Though it came from China, the Japanese surely fell in love with tofu. The reason it became so popular around Japan has a lot to do with Buddhists and their dedication to being vegetarian. Thus, most of the variations and recipes that you will see making the most unique and delicious use of tofu come from Japan. As early as 1782, a cookbook called “Tofu Hyachukin” was a huge hit; the Edo era saw tofu as an essential addition to many meals.

Kyoto is known as the region in Japan that serves the best tofu. This is because the land in that area is perfect for growing, as well as sustaining soybeans. Water is key when it comes to making tofu, and the rivers that flow around Kyoto have very clean and high-quality water, thanks to the freshness that seeps down from its mountains.

The Japanese classify tofu depending on their firmness; there’s silken tofu, which is called “kinugoshi”, firm, known as “momen”, and extra firm, named “aburaage”. With these three types of tofu, you can do virtually almost anything – fry, ferment, dry, boil, grill, frozen, freeze-dry smoke, braise, and even eat raw. After tofu is cooked or made, it creates byproducts which can be used in other recipes. The pulp (“okara”) and leftover juices that come from making tofu can be used in veggie burgers. Tofu skin makes for great additions to vegan meals, as a substitute and lookalike for meat.

How To Make Tofu Yourself

To make tofu, have two liters of soy milk ready, as well as two teaspoons of natural calcium sulfate or nigari. It’s best if you’ve made the soya milk yourself from real soya beans. You can do this by soaking the beans in water overnight and straining the liquid out of the beans. Add the soy milk to a pot and boil – leave it bubbling for 5 minutes. After that, let it cool down a bit below boiling point. In one cup of water (make sure it’s warm), add the natural calcium sulfate until it dissolves completely. If you want your tofu to be softer, you can lessen the amount of calcium sulfate, and vice versa. Add the water with the calcium sulfate into the soya milk. Stir. Let it cool for a 20-minute period.

Bring out your mold, line it with a cheesecloth, and slowly add the concoction into the space. Close your mold with a lid, and make sure that the contents are firmly packed. You may put a weight on top to make sure pressure is applied to the block. After another 20 minutes have passed to cool the forming tofu once again, flip the mold carefully to reveal a block of tofu. If you don’t intend to immediately cook the tofu, dunk it into a bowl of very cold water. Don’t forget to replace the water it’s soaking in every day.

Is It Good For You? The Nutrition Facts Of Tofu

The truth is, tofu can be both bad and good. Depending on how the soybeans were grown, they could be genetically modified or grown organically. It also has both anti-nutrients – but at the same time, it has a good amount of protein.

Almost 90% of the soybeans farmed in the US are genetically modified to be resistant to a certain kind of herbicide. Their DNA strains of the soybean are altered to be able to survive herbicide, thus growing more crops. This altering of the soybean directly affects how many nutrients are killed off, as well as how your body consumes it. GMO-born crops are infamous for giving problems with digestion. Another con about tofu is that it has lectins, saponins (cause for leaky gut syndrome), protease inhibitors (gives indigestion), phytoestrogens, (linked to breast cancer) phytate, and other goitrogenic compounds are known to cause thyroid problems.

On the other hand, a block of tofu that weighs 100 grams has 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, and 2 grams of carbs. You also get a hefty serving of Manganese, with that 100-gram portion giving you 31% of your recommended daily intake. Calcium, selenium, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus are also other nutrients found in minimal doses in tofu. It lowers cholesterol levels and has no cholesterol itself. It’s also not an animal product, giving your conscience a guilt-free reason to eat it.

Which side do you choose – pro-tofu or anti-tofu? To get the best benefits out of tofu, just make sure that you don’t have any predisposition to the diseases that it is supposedly likely to trigger or stimulate, and have it in moderation. Make sure to choose tofu that is freshly and organically made, free of any pesticides, herbicides, and genetic modification. Say no to processed soy.

How Many Calories Are There In Tofu?

In 100 grams of tofu, there are 76 calories. That’s a pretty decent number of calories for 100 grams of food, that’s why many people who are conscious about their weight opt to eat tofu. For being a calorie light food, it offers quite a lot of benefits when it comes to nutrition.

Tasty Tofu Recipes

Because tofu is so versatile, there are countless ways to turn this dish into a delectable meal. Tofu can be added to anything from appetizers to main courses, breakfast to dinner, savory dishes to desserts. It can even cross cultures. Filipinos have a dish called “Tokwa’t Baboy”, where they stir fry cubes of tofu with bits of pork, soy sauce, and vinegar. The British make their classic fish n’ chips, but instead, replace the fish with scrumptious tofu fritters. Italians incorporate tofu into their lasagna dishes – and that yummy dish, in particular, is a great choice to introduce to people who aren’t fans of tofu… Yet.

Japanese recipes for tofu include Mabo Tofu (though it has Chinese roots), where you can simply buy an instant packet for its sauce and pour it all over the tofu or make it yourself. Japan also has Agedashidofu, which are blocks of tofu that are deep-fried in oil and then soaked in a sauce called “Dashi”. Tofu that is cooked with beef, as well as soy sauce and sugar is called Niku Tofu. The sweet and savory clash of this dish is very much reminiscent of Sukiyaki and is well-loved among many Japanese. The Japanese even cross over and dip into western-style food every now and then, making tofu into patties that they sandwich into burgers. The tofu patty tastes very much like actual beef, but with a creamier consistency.

Tofu Scramble: A Crowd Favorite

Need a quick meal? Tofu scramble is an easy, healthy, and quick meal to put together. You can have it any way you want; by itself, on top of bread, or even mixed with rice. With a block of tofu as the main ingredient, you’ll need other of your favorite vegetables and spices to add to make a good scramble. Add an egg, onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers, and kale; these are great ingredients to add to this crumbled tofu mix. Garlic powder, black pepper, salt, cumin, and paprika give a wonderful southern taste. You may opt for herbs instead if you like. It all depends on your favorite flavor range.

Can’t Go Wrong With Fried Tofu

The thing about deep-fried tofu is that it’s good with almost anything. It goes with any condiment you fancy, across different cultures. Frying tofu is easy. You only need three ingredients; firm tofu, salt, and oil. Stack up the tofu, with weighted plates on top of the tofu so that the excess liquid is pressed out. Sprinkle the salt on the tofu according to your taste, and then add the cubes into the deep fryer. Don’t crowd the tofu blocks. Fry them until they are golden brown. Serve the fried tofu on a paper towel. You may add this to soup, other stir fry dishes, or even by itself with some sweet n’ sour sauce.

When It Comes To Tofu; Stir Fry or Deep Fry?     

The difference between stir frying and deep frying is how much oil meets the food. Stir-fried tofu meets less oil, so its consistency and taste are different from tofu that is deep fried. Deep fried tofu tends to have crispier, harder outer shell. Stir-frying is great for when you combine tofu with other ingredients such as meat, spices, and sauces. Deep-frying is better for concentrating on the essence of the tofu itself.

The Best Tofu Soup Ever

Not much comes close to a good, hearty meal of miso soup with tofu. All you’ll need is water, nori, green onion, cubes of tofu, green chard, and miso paste. You may add other components such as mushrooms if you like. Add the nori first to boiling water to bring out its base umami taste. Add the miso and stir. You may add more water if you feel like the miso is too concentrated, or if it’s lumping. After you have this basic miso broth, add the green chard, onion, and tofu. It should take another 5 minutes for everything to cook completely. Season with salt depending on your taste. This could stand as the simplest, yet the greatest recipe for tofu soup. Try it yourself.