Tofu is unofficially recognized as the spokesperson of vegetarian cuisine. But just what is that stuff?
Often described as “bland”, or “tasteless”, tofu is one of the most underestimated foods of our time. Recent vegetarian or vegan converts find comfort in its hearty, meat-like texture. It is difficult to get the flavour of tofu to resemble that of meat – though many vegetarian restaurants have done a stand-up job. In its own right, however, tofu can be made to taste delicious. It’s all in how the bean curd is prepared.
The History of Tofu
Bean curd? Tofu is technically soy bean curd, actually.
Tofu has been around for a long time. Tofu seems to have officially originated in China, around 164 B.C., and remains strongly associated with that country and culture. Apparently, it was quite popular with the vegetarian Buddhist crowd throughout Asia. The mystery and fear it evokes in North America is a testament to its relatively short duration here; likely only since the 20th century.
How is tofu made?
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk. This is really only important if you are interested in making your tofu; however, the agent doing the coagulating can sometimes be relevant, especially those whose diets are vegan.
Tofu coagulation is performed by one of two agents: calcium sulfate or a calcium/magnesium chloride combination. Tofu which is coagulated by calcium sulfate retains enough calcium to add a significant amount to the diet, especially the firm varieties, whereas tofu made with chloride supplies some calcium from the soybeans, but not nearly as much as the former.
Why eat tofu?
Soy is one of the few “complete” proteins found in plant foods. If you’ve been into the vegetarian scene for some time, you may remember a fuss about combining various foods (such as rice and beans) to ensure the consumption of the full spectrum of essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Now, however, scientists have discovered that human bodies pick and choose the amino acids they need and combine them over time. That means no more fretting over combining proteins in a single meal or even in a single day. A varied diet supplies them all.
Because soy is a complete protein – and is high in protein in general – it became a vegetarian staple early on.
As mentioned above, tofu set with calcium sulfate can confer a significant amount of calcium to the diet, is high in protein, can be low in fat (especially compared to meat), and seems to be easily digestible. As an added bonus, it contains iron and comes in different flavours, textures, and sizes to suit every cooking need. If you’ve ever cooked with soy milk, you know how versatile it is, filling in for dairy milk in nearly every type of recipe.
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