What exactly is tofu?
The first time you see uncooked, unprepared tofu, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of clay rather than something to eat. Its off-white colour doesn’t exactly make your mouth water.
Tofu, or bean curd, is made from soya milk. In fact, it’s rather like cheese made from non-dairy milk – salts or acids are added to the soya milk to help it curdle and then the water is removed leaving a block of tofu.
Fermented tofu has more flavour because of the process it goes through (usually the addition of rice wine and salt, spices) but it’s also higher in salt and may contain added oil, too.
Non-fermented tofu, however, doesn’t have anything added and is even milder in flavour as a result.
Is tofu healthy?
Tofu contains all eight essential amino acids – our muscles, cells and tissues are made up of amino acids and they’re necessary for healing and organ function, too. It also contains useful amounts of iron, calcium and magnesium. It’s a useful food to add to your diet during and after menopause, too, as, like soya beans, it contains phytoestrogens which act like a weak form of oestrogen. Phytoestrogens have also been found to be useful in preventing osteoporosis.
Research published in medical journal Food Research International found that soya bean peptides, found in tofu as well as other soya products, helped slow the growth of cancer tumours. But the main way tofu is healthy for you is in how you can use it to replace other higher-calorie or higher-fat foods.
Half a cup of tofu (about 100g) contains only around 100 calories but provides almost half your calcium needs for the day, for example. So by replacing cheese with tofu, for example, you’ll ingest fewer calories without going hungry.
How to flavour tofu
The biggest mistake you can make with tofu is to expect it to stand up on its own. Unless you’re someone who just loves plain rice or pasta, then plain tofu will leave you feeling equally disappointed.
The good news is, though, that tofu can take any flavouring you care to add, at any intensity. Add a hint of turmeric to make tasty scrambled tofu, mix with basil pesto and add to pasta to give your meal a protein boost, or even go sweet – you can add honey to it for a delicious treat a bit like panacotta.
Tofu as a meat replacement
When you remove meat from a dish you remove a lot of flavour, sometimes all the flavour, so if you’re replacing with tofu it’s important to take that into account. Marinading it can really help. Prick it many times with a fork to allow the marinade to penetrate and try flavours such as soya sauce, ginger, garlic, for example. Frying or baking tofu helps make it firmer and crisper and so gives it a more meaty texture.
Add tofu to…
You can use tofu as a straightforward replacement for meat, as outlined above, or to salads to make them more satisfying. Use soft tofu to boost the protein content of soups or smoothies. And if you want to give yourself a treat, you can even use it to make very-nearly healthy puddings and desserts.