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EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TOFU

everything you need to know about tofu

A delicacy in Asian cuisine for over 2,000 years, tofu is now a go-to staple of vegan and health-conscious diets here in the 21st century. Widely regarded as a super-food, tofu is popping up in everything from street-food dishes to the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants. However, it’s still misunderstood as an ingredient and is often labeled bland and boring. In this article, we’ll discover that tofu is anything but bland and, as an ingredient, it can form the basis of all manner of exciting and delicious recipes.

1. The Origins of Tofu

Like many of the soy foods that are trending in vegan diets, tofu originated in China. According to legend, its invention was a complete accident. The story goes that over 2,000 years ago, a Chinese cook mistakenly added nigari seaweed to the soybean dish they were preparing, which curdled the soybean milk. The resulting curds were then pressed together, and low and behold, tofu – or doufu – was invented. While the Chinese kept their tofu secret for a few hundred years, it was eventually introduced in Japan in the eighth century. From then on, its popularity across East Asia skyrocketed, with tofu becoming a central ingredient in countless recipes. Here in the West, we’ve been slow to cotton on to the wonders of tofu. It only started to gain popularity in the US and Europe in the late 1960s as interest in healthy eating surged. Fast forward four decades, and tofu is enjoying quite the renaissance here in 2021.

2. How Tofu is Made

The tofu that we know today is still prepared in the same traditional way as it once was in Ancient China, albeit on a much larger scale to meet the demands of mass consumption. The product is made from ground soybeans that have been soaked in water to create milk. This soybean milk is then heated and combined with a coagulant like magnesium, calcium, or good old nigari seaweed to form curds and whey. At this stage, the curds are either separated from the whey and pressed to form block tofu, or both the curds and whey are solidified to form silken tofu, aka kinugoshi-dofu. Since tofu is such a pure foodstuff, being prepared with just a few healthy ingredients, with a bit of patience, tofu can easily be made at home too.

3. How Many Types of Tofu Are There?

There are actually a number of different types of tofu available today, especially if you class tofu skins and flavoured pre-packaged tofu as different types. In this article, though, we’ll just be focusing on the two types that you’ll most likely encounter as a home cook: Block Tofu and Silken Tofu.

Block Tofu

As the name suggests, this kind of tofu is the type you'll find packaged in blocks in the grocery store's refrigerated section. Block tofu is pressed soybean curds, and it’s most commonly used to make high-temperature recipes. Block tofu is available in different levels of firmness:
  • Soft to Medium, which has been pressed to form a block but still has a high to medium moisture content. Its smoother texture means that it doesn’t hold up well when cooked at a high temperature, so it's better suited to noodle and soup dishes, like miso soup.
  • Firm and Extra Firm, which is pressed for a longer time during the preparation stage. The difference between firm and extra firm is sometimes non-existent, but extra firm tofu is generally pressed for the longest. This is the tofu that's used as a meat substitute, and its denser texture makes it suitable for baking, grilling, frying, and even deep-frying.

Silken Tofu

Silken tofu is a more delicate tofu, and it’s the type that you'll find on the shelves of the grocery store. As mentioned above, silken tofu isn’t pressed in the way that block tofu is, so it has a lighter and creamier texture that can easily be spooned or whipped. Somewhat confusingly, silken tofu is also available in different firmness levels, from soft to firm. However, even firm silken tofu has a completely different texture to block tofu, so it won’t work as a substitute. Soft silken tofu is best used raw in pasta sauces and mayonnaise, while firm silken tofu can handle light frying and fermenting.

tofu tiramisu pudding

4. Cooking with Tofu

There are several reasons why you would try cooking with tofu. First of all, it’s a very healthful ingredient, with just 73 calories and a substantial 8.1g of protein per 100g serving. Secondly, it’s wonderfully versatile, not just as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan dishes but also as a stand-alone ingredient. The success of any tofu dish is all in the preparation. Let’s review some of the steps to take to get your tofu ready for cooking:
  • Draining – All tofu blocks come packaged with water, so you will need to drain them before you begin. The easiest way to drain tofu is to slit the packet along the side to get the water out.
  • Salt-Soaking – If you’re planning to bake, grill, or fry your block tofu, soaking it for 15 minutes in saltwater will result in a much crispier crust when it’s cooked.
  • Pressing – Due to tofu’s high moisture content, even the most extra-firm blocks need to be pressed before you can start to cook with them. Using a Tofubud tofu press will significantly reduce pressing time; otherwise, you can go the old fashioned route and press your tofu with a weight and paper towels.

5. Tofu Dessert Recipes

Tofu is not the first thing people consider when they think about dessert. However, there are many dishes and options as tofu can be prepared in a variety of ways to suit your taste buds. Here are some dishes for you to consider adding to your dessert options.

Tofu Tiramisu

There are many ways to eat tofu. However, most of them are savoury and not sweet options. However, there are some recipes that utilise tofu in a way to satisfy your dessert craving. The traditional Italian dish of tiramisu uses mascarpone cheese, but that can be substituted with tofu for a healthier and low-fat alternative. First, you will make a coffee mix with water and instant coffee or espresso. You will then mix it with biscuits so that the liquid is soaked up. Then you will blend the tofu with sweetener and vanilla extract until it is smooth. The biscuits soaked in coffee can then be poured into cups with the tofu mixture on top. Once this is done, you can store them in the refrigerator. Once these have been cooled, and when you are ready to serve them, take them out of the fridge and add some cocoa powder on top for that added sweetness and flavour. This alternative take on tiramisu will add some extra options to your dessert menu.

Tofu Pudding

Tofu pudding is made with soy milk and not tofu cheese. It is best served cold so it is best you store it in a fridge until you are ready to serve, and you can store it for up to 3 days. Doing this will ensure that you give your guests the best dessert experience possible. The recipe for this amazing vegan dessert calls for a unique syrup that pretty much makes the dish as it is flavoured with ginger, which you can use either in the fresh or powdered form. This gives it a spice to the dish that may seem different but that is what makes it stand out. It is best served cold, but can be served after preparing and still, warm, but be sure to let it cool after so it meets the palette well.

Taho

Taho is a different take on tofu pudding, with origins and roots in Asian countries and cultures. Currently, taho is one of the most popular snacks or desserts in the Philippines. Similar to pudding, taho still incorporates syrup as a sweetener while keeping the tofu as a main ingredient in the dish. The main ingredients in this dish are tofu, a sweet syrup made from equal parts water and brown sugar, and tapioca. Brown sugar is what gives the syrup that dark color, while the tapioca adds another complexity to the taho not found in typical pudding mixtures. The tofu should be steamed until soft and can be easily scooped with a spoon and eaten. Once all your ingredients are prepared, you will pour them into a bowl or cup in layers, creating a nice visual look that is easily recognizable by anyone familiar with the dish. Tofu might not immediately feel and sound like a dessert, but if done properly, can absolutely satisfy your sweet tooth. There are many dishes and options to consider, so be sure to experiment, being open to the flavors, and try as many as possible.

tofu pudding

6. Wrap Up: Tofu, A Kitchen Staple

This post was brought to us by my good friend Daniel (thanks Daniel :) Now that you’re a bit more clued up about the different types of tofu and how you can prepare and cook them, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to whip up all sorts of tasty tofu dishes. Once you start cooking with tofu, you’ll realise just how versatile this soybean curd is, and it will quickly become a kitchen staple! Last, but not least here is a useful DIY video about how you can make your own tofu at home :) Enjoy!


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