Tofu was first invented in China over two thousand years ago. Traditionally tofu is made from soybeans, although it can also be made from chickpeas, lentils, peas or any type of bean.
How tofu is made
Tofu is made by soaking the soybeans, grinding them into a pulp and filtering to separate the milk from the fiber. A coagulant is added to curdle the soy milk and separate the curds from the whey. The curds are then pressed into blocks of tofu.
The longer it is pressed the less water will remain in the tofu. There are several types of tofu, from super soft to firm, which are determined by how much water each retains.
Types of tofu
- Silken tofu contains the most water and is very soft, smooth and creamy – almost like a custard. This is best used for desserts like mousse or custards, in smoothies, or blended into creamy dressings and sauces.
- Medium tofu is a bit more firm than silken, but is still delicate and should be cooked gently. Medium tofu can be used in many of the same ways as silken and is nice for scrambles.
- Firm & Extra firm – Since these types of tofu contain less water, they will get nice and crispy. These are fantastic in sandwiches, used for fish tacos, in stir fries or stews.
Both the soybean fiber, which is called okara, and the whey can be used in recipes. The okara can used in place of bread crumbs, and added to many recipes and baked goods to add more fiber. The soybean whey is high in protein, and can be added to recipes or smoothies just like soy milk.
Is tofu healthy
benefits of tofu
Tofu is an excellent source of plant-based protein. All soy products, including tofu, tempeh, and edamame, are also complete proteins.
- high in fiber
- low in calories
- low in saturated fat
- cholesterol free
- high in antioxidants
- contains a variety of vitamins, including magnesium, iron, calcium (depending on the type), potassium, iron
- high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.
- gluten free
The more firm varieties of tofu have less water content and are more concentrated, therefore they will be higher in both calories, as well as protein and nutrients.
Soy seems to be one of the most controversial and misunderstood foods. At the bakery we’d constantly hear people saying they need to avoid soy for their health – whether that’s because they believe it can lead to cancer or because they are (understandably) afraid of GMO’s.
Soy contains compounds called phytoestrogens (known as isoflavones), which many people believe will raise their estrogen levels and can inevitably lead to certain cancers, especially breast cancer. Men are also afraid that soy will raise their estrogen levels and may “feminize” them.
Most of these beliefs come from a study conducted over twenty years ago on lab mice, showing that soy increased the risk of breast cancer. Not only is this an old study, but the mice were exposed to extremely high doses of isolated soy compounds (isolates) not whole, or minimally processed, soy foods, such as tofu, soy milk, tempeh or edamame (the whole soy bean). Most importantly, soy metabolizes differently in rodents than it does in humans.
Food for thought:
Another thing to note, if you know someone who is afraid of eating the phytoestrogens in soy but still drinks milk, is this: Regardless of the species, only mothers can produce milk, and breast milk is very high in hormones like estrogen. So when someone is consuming milk, they are straight up drinking a glass full of estrogens and female hormones. Cheese is even worse because it is highly concentrated.
Same thing applies to GMO’s. There’s no doubt that avoiding genetically modified products is a very good idea. Buy organic when possible, since a product labelled as organic cannot be GMO. Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of GMO soy is used for animal feed. If you are eating an animal, or the milk, cheese, butter, etc. that comes from that animal, you are consuming everything that the animal was raised on, including that GMO soy that you are worried about.
Some people believe that soy consumption is contributing to deforestation, and therefore switching from animal products to soy is worse for the environment. The fact is that over 80% of the soybeans grown around the world are used to feed animals – for beef, chicken, egg and dairy production. Global meat production – the largest consumer of soybeans – has more than tripled in the last 50 years! Soy is also used for biofuels, oil, and industrial uses. Only about 7% of all soy produced worldwide is used for human consumption.