Tofu, also called bean curd or soybean curd, is a soft, white block of cheese-like substance, often suspended in water. It is made by first making milk from the soy beans and then by adding a salt or acidic coagulant to the boiling soy milk. That creates the curd, which is then pressed and cut.
Vegetarians use it as a meat-substitute, because it’s chewy and meaty, and it provides weight, substance and texture to a dish. It’s a relatively new phenomenon in the West, as are many soy products, but it’s now widely available, even in convention grocery stores.
Varieties of Tofu
Tofu is sold either fresh or processed. Fresh tofu is suspended in water to maintain its water content. Processed tofu is produced from fresh tofu, and generally has a longer shelf life. In addition, processed tofu can have wider range of textures, tastes and flavors.
Tofu is high in protein, and it contains a high concentration of tryptophan, the sleep aid found in turkey and over-the-counter supplements. It’s also high in manganese, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and selenium. In addition, it contains copper, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. A ½-cup serving is just 88 calories, with 47 calories derived from fat. It contains 10.3 protein grams, 5.3 fat grams and 2.1 carb grams.
Tofu is a very inexpensive (calorie/fat wise) source of protein. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, research suggests that tofu can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels while possibly raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It has also been suggested that soy isoflavones can mimic estrogen, easing problems associated with menopause and perimenopause. The selenium found in tofu is an excellent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. In addition, it provides an excellent source of iron to vegetarians.
How to Choose and Store Tofu
In the grocery, you’ll find silken tofu, which is a fresh tofu and contains a higher moisture content than “regular” tofu. Silken is labeled as silken tofu, and “regular” tofu, is simply labeled tofu and is firmer than silken tofu. Both varieties are available in soft, medium and firm textures. You’ll find tofu refrigerated, frozen and on the shelf in aseptic containers—containers that typically store juice and milk and require no refrigeration until opened.
Refrigerate tofu and use it by the expiration date. Frozen tofu will keep for several months in the freezer. Use tofu packaged in aseptic containers by the expiration date. Once you’ve opened tofu in any type of container, drain the water, place the tofu in a glass bowl, cover with filtered water and refrigerate. Change the water daily and use within one week.
How to Eat Tofu
Tofu is a versatile ingredient that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It assumes the taste of the predominant ingredients in the dish and adds little flavor of its own. When a recipe requires silken tofu, it’ll be listed as “silken tofu” in the ingredients list, and you’ll need to use silken tofu; otherwise, use regular tofu. Note that you should not substitute one for the other in a recipe. Regular tofu is most commonly used in stir-fry recipes in order to hold its shape.
Because much of the soy grown domestically is genetically engineered, you may prefer to restrict your tofu intake to organic tofu.
For individuals who watch their weight, tofu can provide one of the biggest nutritional bangs for the buck. It’s low-calorie, low-fat, provides an array of healthy minerals as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Its lack of flavor makes it a perfect star ingredient for uses in ethnic dishes, both sweet and savory. It enhances, rather than detracts from, the primary flavoring ingredients of the dish.