Tofu Or Not Tofu

Following on from ‘Veganuary And The Meatless Monday’, we come to Tofu, or bean curd, a popular food derived from soya.

Like many soya foods, tofu originated in China. It is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it in much the same way that cream cheese is made. The curds are pressed to form a cohesive bond. A staple ingredient in both Thai and Chinese cuisine, it can be cooked in many ways to change its texture from smooth and soft to crisp and crunchy.

Legend has it that it was discovered about 2000 years ago by a Chinese cook who accidentally curdled soy milk when he added nigari seaweed. Introduced into Japan in the eighth century, tofu was originally called ‘okabe‘. Its modern name did not come into use until around 1400.

Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also a valuable plant source of iron and calcium and the minerals manganese and phosphorous. In addition to this, it also contains magnesium, copper zinc and vitamin B1. Soya-based foods like tofu can be an invaluable part of the vegan/vegetarian diet.

The 1960s saw a swiftly growing interest in vegan/vegetarian food as part of a wider interest in a healthier diet which, in turn introduced tofu to the western world.

Given its neutral taste and range of consistency, tofu has an amazing ability to work with almost all types of flavours and foods. Extra firm tofu’s are best for baking, grilling and stir-fries, while soft tofu is suitable for sauces, desserts, shakes and salad dressings. Of course, it is up to you to experiment! Try slicing marinating and grilling it or chopping it up into smallish pieces and fry it with garlic until golden. Silken tofu is a creamy, softer product.

Tofu can be acquired in bulk or individual packages, both of which are refrigerated. It should be stored in sealed containers and kept at room temperature. It does not require refrigeration until it has been opened. It can be kept in water for up to a week provided it is kept in water that is regularly refreshed.

Tofu is made from dried soybeans that have been soaked in water, crushed, and boiled. The mixture is separated into solid pulp (okara) and soy “milk.” Salt coagulants, such as calcium and magnesium chlorides and sulfates, are added to the soy milk to separate the curds from the whey.

Tofu is bean curd, but bean curd isn’t exactly tofu. Bean curd is the curdled soy milk that you get when you mix it with a coagulant. Technically speaking, bean curd becomes tofu once it is pressed and formed.

Before it has been cooked and seasoned, tofu tastes sour and is quite bland. However, this food is an excellent absorber of flavours, which makes it a favourite for anyone who knows their way around a kitchen. When prepared correctly, tofu can be savoury, sweet, crunchy, or soft.

The volume on which this series is based was printed in the early eighties as veganism was slowly growing in popularity.


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