Native to parts of East and Southeast Asia, tofu forms a staple ingredient in many traditional Asian dishes. It is also very popular around the world, having enjoyed a period in which it was constantly gaining more traction as information about its health giving properties were flaunted by culinary experts and nutritionists alike.
Though tofu has taken a step back in recent years, as concerns grow in certain quarters about the potential downsides of consumption – or at least of over-consumption – it still remains a popular source of protein in many cultures and amongst those on meat-free diets in particular.
There is a great deal to say about this well known ingredient, so read on to find out all about tofu in this, my Tofu 101.
- What is tofu?
- Tofu production
- How the west got tofu
- Different types of tofu
- Quick facts about tofu
- Tofu’s nutritional profile
- Health benefits of tofu
- Is tofu keto friendly?
- The tofu buyer’s guide: What to look for in your tofu
- How to prepare tofu
- Tofu Recipes
- How to store your tofu: Storing it at home
- Are there any downsides to tofu?
- For something different, try tofu wine!
- Tofu 101… done!
What is tofu?
Also known as bean curd, tofu is prepared by coagulating soy milk. The resulting curds are pressed into solid white, textured blocks. It is a traditional part of cuisines from East and Southeast Asia: in fact, tofu has been eaten in China for at least two millennia and continues to be popular today.
Tofu comes in varying textures: it can be silken, firm or extra firm, though I will of course go into this in more detail later on in this article. Its taste is subtle enough that it can be used either as an ingredient in sweet or savoury dishes, and is often marinated prior to cooking as it is well known for being good at absorbing flavour.
Tofu is simultaneously low in calories whilst being quite high in protein, making it a staple of many modern vegetarian and vegan diets. Alongside its high protein content, tofu also delivers large amounts of iron, calcium and magnesium, though quantities may vary between production methods.
Globally, there are five main producers of tofu:
- USA (108.0 million metric tons)
- Brazil (86.8 million metric tons)
- Argentina (53.4 million metric tons)
- China (12.2 million metric tons)
- India (10.5 million metric tons)
Tofu production is simple enough, essentially consisting of:
- The preparation of soymilk
- The coagulation of the soymilk to form curds
- And finally the pressing of the soybean curds to form tofu cakes.
Its production in this regard is quite similar to the production of traditional cheese, made by coagulating dairy milk to form curds before pressing them and ageing them to form cheese. Typical tofu-making procedures are cleaning, soaking, grinding beans in water, filtering, boiling, coagulation, and pressing.
The most important step in tofu production is the coagulation of the protein and oil (emulsion) suspended in the boiled soy milk. This process is completed using coagulants and is a complicated affair, as it is heavily dependent on a set of very complex interactions.
Variables include the variety and amount of protein in the soybeans being used, the cooking and coagulation temperatures, type of coagulant (commercially usually salt or acid), alongside a host of other things… it’s as much of an art as a science in this regard!
How the west got tofu
An American lab in the beginning of the twentieth century was set up by a Dr. Yamei Kin, a Chinese scientist who habitually paired a traditional kimono with her white apron and lab gear.
Kin made headlines. Between 1916-17 she embarked on a tour of China, looking to investigate culinary uses of tofu. Her adventures were well documented by the New York press.
Apparently, everybody in her lab immediately went mad for tofu. Chemists from other labs even began to visit, taking Kin’s tofu home for their dinners and testifying to all that they couldn’t tell it apart from the meat dishes it was prepared with.
Kin made her career by espousing the culinary uses and nutritional benefits of tofu, so much so that today it is almost as much a staple of many western dishes as it is in its original homeland.
Different types of tofu
Tofu is categorised by texture and/or consistency.
Tofu’s texture is dependent on its water content. The more water there is, the softer (or ‘silkier’) it will be. Firmer tofu therefore contains less water.
There are five general categories for tofu:
- Extra firm
- Super firm
Silken tofu is also known as Japanese style tofu and is, unsurprisingly, silky and creamy in consistency. As mentioned above, it has the highest water content of all the tofu types and will typically fall to pieces quite easily. It can be used in the same way that a soft cheese like ricotta can be, or alternatively as a thick cream, and is usually used wet.
Silken tofu is particularly good in vegan cheesecakes, smoothies, dips and fillings.
This type is most often used in Asian dishes and is more compact than silken tofu, whilst still retaining a high degree of softness. It absorbs flavours, spices and sauces very readily and so is used to great effect in soups, stews and curries.
Frying regular tofu is likely to result in it falling to pieces and so regular tofu can also be broken up and used as ‘scrambled tofu,’ a decent vegan facsimile of scrambled eggs.
This is the most widely available form of tofu in western supermarkets. The chances are that if you have bought generic tofu, it’s a ‘firm’ variant. It comes as quite a compact block, often packaged in liquid to keep it good. It won’t crumble when you handle it and is quite easy to slice.
Firm tofu is the most versatile form for culinary use. You can fry it, either on its own or as part of a stir fry, use it as an ingredient in soups and stews or even turn it into a filling for vegan pies.
Be sure you dry it completely when you prepare it so that it can soak up marinades and spices more easily, and so that it doesn’t add unwanted moisture to your dishes.
Firm tofu can also be bought smoked or seasoned.
Extra-firm tofu contains less water than firm tofu and you will easily notice its difference in texture. The culinary uses of extra-firm are about the same as with firm, though extra-firm tofu isn’t as good at absorbing flavours and marinade.
However, extra-firm is easier to pan-fry, stir-fry or deep-fry, meaning that it will handle a lot more easily for most dishes and recipes.
Carrying on the theme, this is obviously a firm variant with even less water once more. Super firm tofu is incredibly dense – so much so that it makes a great substitute for meat. Dice it, slice it or cube it and use it as you would any mince or diced meat – mix it with a decent, hot marinade and enjoy it as you would a barbecue.
Super firm tofu is not as common or easily found as regular firm tofu, but is easy enough to make.
Some variations of the above include:
Seasoned and smoked tofu
Tofu is also available pre-seasoned. This makes it easier to prepare and is available in different flavours; tamari and tomato/basil are quite easy to find. Seasoned tofu is usually a firm variant so that it can be fried, grilled, roasted in the oven, cooked on a barbecue, mixed in with a stir fry or eaten raw.
Smoked tofu on the other hand is extra-firm and brings with it a smoky flavour.
Smoking is an artisanal process, learned over time by masters of their craft. Tofu was traditionally smoked above tealeaves. However, in modern times it is mostly prepared over smoking beech wood. This gives it a lovely aroma and quite subtle taste beneath the initial smokiness.
You can pan-fry or stir-fry smoked tofu. However, it is also delicious when eaten raw.
Tofu à la minute
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of cheating for a short cut – especially with tofu. Tofu à la minute comes in the form of small, pre-cooked, pieces. All that is required of you is to add them to your favourite dish.
Alternatively, you could pan-fry the tofu à la minute in oil until it’s crispy. These pieces will then be lovely added to salads and stews. Tofu à la minute can be purchased in a variety of flavours, incorporating many different countries’ cuisines.
There are several other, more specialist, tofu products, all of which can be found in most Asian supermarkets:
This one is like super firm tofu. Subjected to high pressure so that very little moisture remains, pressed tofu takes on a very meaty texture. You can buy it natural or pre-seasoned. Enjoy it as you would super-firm tofu, but with added bite in every mouthful.
Tofu can be fermented by pickling it in a mixture of water, rice wine and salt. Tofu fermented in this way will have a savoury, moorish and very deep flavour called umami. This is used more like a seasoning in traditional Chinese cooking than as an ingredient in its own right.
If you buy fermented tofu, make sure to get it packaged in glass. This will halt the fermentation process so the taste remains as you want it – plastic won’t do here.
When you heat up soya milk, just as with regular milk, a layer forms on the surface of the liquid like a skin – think rice pudding. Dried tofu skins are readily available in most Chinese supermarkets. They can then be pan-fried after marinating to taste. Otherwise, they are delicious used in a way similar to pastry, filled and deep fried like spring rolls.
Quick facts about tofu
Though I will of course go into more detail about tofu throughout this article, it’s always nice to start with a few fun facts to get you initially acquainted: read on for my quick facts about tofu:
It’s solidified bean juice…
As I mentioned above, tofu is made from bean curds in a process similar to dairy cheese manufacture. To make, you simply cook soybeans until they form a juice. Then you add nigari to this: nigiri is a coagulant made from magnesium chloride which produces the curds. Press these into soft white blocks and you have your tofu- made from bean juice.
It makes for a great dessert
Tofu is really good as a core component of sweet dishes. Though the meatier firm varieties of tofu work best in savoury dishes, the softer, silken varieties are velvet smooth and go wonderfully in dishes that would more traditionally call for cream. Try it in chocolate mouses or cheesecakes.
Frozen tofu is the business
Believe it or not, but freezing tofu turns it into something of a delicacy. The large ice crystals that form in the tofu result in the formation of cavities which make it appear layered and give it its colloquial name – Thousand Layer Tofu.
If you ever have any leftover tofu I would thoroughly recommend freezing it. It will soak up more flavour and give you greater texture.
It’s a bit of an everyman
Tofu as an ingredient is a bit of a chameleon. Though critics will often describe it pejoratively as ‘bland’, this is a part of what its fans love about it. Thanks to this bland taste, it can feasibly go with everything and anything – it will take on any flavour you throw at it, so remember to get creative when using it.
It gives you all essential amino acids…
Tofu is one of the only plant based protein sources (along with quinoa) that will give you a full complement of all twenty amino acids.
Of these, the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce themselves are the most important – especially for vegetarians and vegans, whose diets can typically be quite light on them. Soybeans contain all of them and pass them on to tofu.
…and those proteins come with added benefits
Tofu, as a protein source, beats many of its protein rich competitors when it comes to its fat and cholesterol content. Tofu contains a quarter of the fat of ground pork and a third that of ground beef, and none of it is saturated. It also contains none of the cholesterol with which animal proteins are typically laden.
In fact, it comes with quite a few health benefits
Tofu’s health benefits are quite considerable, as I will go into in greater detail below. For now, though, let’s do a quick run through. Incorporating tofu into your diet can yield results such as reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease (CD) and certain cancers, lowering cholesterol, and preventing the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries.)
Tofu’s nutritional profile
Of course, the health benefits to be had from tofu come from its stellar nutritional profile. An average block of hard tofu weighing around 120 grams will give you:
- 177 calories
- 5.36 g of carbohydrate
- 12.19 g of fat
- 15.57 g of protein
- 421 mg of calcium
- 65 of magnesium
- 3.35 mg of iron
- 282 mg of phosphorus
- 178 mg of potassium
- 2 mg of zinc
- 27 micrograms (mcg) of folate, DFE
As I mentioned earlier, the soybeans that form tofu’s prime ingredient are a complete source of dietary protein – rare for a plant-based protein source. Therefore, you can expect to receive a full complement of all twenty amino acids. Soybeans, and hence tofu, are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.
There are also some health benefits to the isoflavones that you will typically find in soy based foods. These have been linked to a range of health benefits, which will be detailed below.
Health benefits of tofu
There are numerous health benefits that can potentially be garnered from tofu, not least from its fantastic macronutrient content. Below are some of the key benefits you could enjoy from including it in your diet.
It can decrease your chances of developing cardiovascular disease
Tofu can be good for your heart. The isoflavones found in soy have been found to aid in the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, one of the main markers for cardiovascular disease. (6)
Daily consumption of soy may even decrease the other markers for cardiovascular disease, including overall weight and BMI, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, with a minimum of 25g of daily soy protein as the recommended intake in order to realise these benefits.
This will be due in part to the replacement of animal proteins that soy protein will deliver – as mentioned above, it contains far less saturated fat and cholesterol than equivalent meat products like pork or beef mince.
It can lower instances of breast and prostate cancer
It has been suggested that genistein, a predominant isoflavone contained in soybeans, could have antioxidant properties. These could inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. (7)
There has been a degree of controversy surrounding the consumption of soy by those diagnosed with breast cancer, as the isoflavones have a similar chemical structure to oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen can increase breast cancer risk.
However, moderate intake of soy does not appear to have an effect on tumour growth, nor does it have any kind of link to breast cancer development. Stick to no more than a single serving per day and you should be fine.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that regular intake of soy products may decrease the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence. The data is not yet strong enough to say for sure and more experimentation is needed, but it is a promising sign.
It can help with symptoms of menopause
Bone loss from osteoporosis – a common occurrence with menopause – can be reduced by soy isoflavone intake. Bone mineral density can also be increased in this way.
Soy products have also been found to have benefits in combating other common menopause symptoms. The phytoestrogens that they contain can help to relieve symptoms such as hot flushes, for instance. (8)
Hot flushes are reportedly less common amongst women from Asian countries in which soy consumption is higher.
However, studies looking into the causes for this have produced conflicting results. More research will be needed to establish the exact nature of any kind of causal relationship.
It can be beneficial to those suffering with type 2 diabetes
Tofu is a good go-to for diabetics.
Type 2 diabetes often goes hand in hand with kidney disease. This causes the body to excrete higher than normal amounts of protein in the urine. Evidence suggests that those who consumed protein only from soy and other plant based proteins excreted less protein than those who derived their intake mostly from animal products.
This suggests that soy based protein could be of benefit to those with type 2 diabetes and/or kidney disease. (9)
It can also aid overall kidney and liver function
Soy protein may be beneficial to renal function. It might have benefits for those undergoing dialysis or kidney transplantation. Studies have shown a positive effect of soy on some of the biomarkers of those suffering with chronic kidney disease. (10)
Why is this? Speculation is that the combination of soy’s protein content and its impact of blood lipid levels could be behind it, though more research will be needed for clarification.
Laboratory studies on animals have suggested that any type of tofu that has had various coagulants used in its manufacture may help to diminish free radical damage to the liver.
Is tofu keto friendly?
The short answer is that yes, Tofu is keto friendly.
An average serving will yield just 1.5 grams of net carbohydrates, so it will easily fit within a regular ketogenic diet plan. The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) daily carb limit is 50 grams. So, you can realistically eat tofu without running the risk of overdoing the carbs.
There are myriad types and brands of tofu on offer in today’s market and it will always be important to check individual carb amounts for any tofu you buy. That being said, most, if not all, types of tofu will come with low carb contents.
So, from the point of view of your macronutrient intake, it looks like a safe bet. However, as with most things, initial appearances are simplistic and the reality can get a little bit more complicated.
Tofu may not be the most ideal foodstuff for most people following a ketogenic diet plan. Just getting your macros to weigh in at under 50 grams of carbs does not make them healthy.
A large part of the keto diet is the increase it can bring to testosterone levels. Over consumption of tofu can lead to increased levels of phyto- and xeno-estrogen.
This can raise your risk of hormonal imbalance, decrease overall testosterone levels, and increase the likelihood of certain types of tumour formation (though, as mentioned above, you would have to eat a lot to run the risk of the latter.)
However, most ketogenic diet plans revolve around the consumption of meat. In these cases, tofu is probably going to need to be a lesser player in your nutritional intake. If you’re on a plant based ketogenic diet, though, tofu can be a very handy way to bump up your protein intake whilst keeping carbohydrate intake low.
If you are following a plant based keto program (and chances are that, as you’re visiting us here at Happy Happy Vegan, you are sticking to a plant based diet!) you will want to go for the best quality tofu you can find and afford. Ideally, you should only be consuming organic and fermented types, in order to avoid GMOs, especially if you’re planning to eat such a large quantity of protein as a keto diet demands.
Tofu is keto friendly, but is not the best source of ketogenic friendly protein – only include it when your options are more limited.
The tofu buyer’s guide: What to look for in your tofu
We know by now that most tofu will be sold in blocks packed in water. You will find them in the refrigerator section of your local supermarket (or in a Chinese supermarket for some of the less common varieties.)
Tofu should be a uniform colour, all white, with a fresh smell. Opt for the package with the farthest away use-by date you can find, as freshness will mean a lot. If there is any sourness to its odour or discolouration to the block then you will know it’s no good – your tofu has either been on the shelf for too long or has been spoiled at some point in the distribution process.
One option to make sure you have fresh tofu is to buy it in an aseptic carton which will have a much longer shelf life. However, be aware if you do this that the flavour and texture will not be as good.
The main thing you want to concern yourself with when it comes to buying tofu is the presence of GMOs in the soy industry. Most of the soy you can buy commercially is genetically modified and a lot of people actually swear off tofu for this reason – the benefits are just not worth the heavy amounts of GMO that you will likely get with eating it if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
However, you can buy organic tofu. If your local supermarket doesn’t sell it, try either a health food shop or an online retailer – it’s readily available if you’re willing to look for it.
How to prepare tofu
The simplest way to prepare tofu these days is with the help of a tofu press. You can still prepare tofu without one, but it will be a lot messier and use up a whole heap of kitchen towels…not good for your pocket or the environment.
If you don’t have a tofu press in your kitchen, here’s how you’d go about getting rid of any excess water:
- Once you’ve taken the tofu out of its packaging and drained away the water it comes in, place it on some paper towels or a tea towel.
- Put another layer of paper towels, or another tea towel, on top and then weigh it down with a heavy plate.
- Every half hour or so, drain the water from these towels, or replace them, until the tofu is dry.
This is very common practice for preparing tofu for cooking. However, it’s worth noting that not all traditional preparation methods call for it – many Chinese sources say that just patting a tofu block down before use will suffice.
Try both and see which works for you! Either way, the tofu will now be ready for use.
A few points to consider:
There are various types of tofu, which will all require slightly different considerations during preparation. Silken tofu contains a lot more moisture than other types – you will not want to drain it so thoroughly, as this moisture is its main advantage!
It is perfect for recipes where it is blended or creamed, such as smoothies or desserts, or where it can be used as a substitute for eggs. You will want to keep it fairly well how you buy it for these purposes.
Firmer types of tofu, on the other hand, are meant to be dry – to use them as decent meat alternatives, the dryer the better, so make sure you get all that excess water from them. This is especially true if you’re shallow frying, as the water will pop and hiss and cool down the oil otherwise, making the task very hard to accomplish.
For a more convenient, polished option, instead of using towels as a makeshift press, try buying and using a proper tofu press, as mentioned above. These will allow you to get the job done well, with little hassle, leaving you free to focus on perfecting your recipes without having to worry about getting your tofu dry.
After exploring tofu in such depth, it would be criminal not to include a few recipes, wouldn’t it?
High Protein Vegan Tofu Milkshake
There is more to tofu than mere stir fries, as this vegan high protein smoothie shows! Blended with fruit, in this recipe the tofu tastes sweet, delivering a lovely creamy consistency. Though it’s completely vegan – and thus dairy free! – it comes together more like a lovely smooth yoghurt than anything else.
For a super-smooth consistency, you would probably most likely consider using silken tofu. However, this recipe suggests that soft tofu is equally smooth if you blend it thoroughly. It also offers more protein than silken tofu.
Tofu Chocolate Pudding
Let’s stop talking about health for the moment and focus in more on wellbeing, with this soul feeding tofu chocolate pudding. You will feel great for dipping into something a little bit more indulgent than usual every once in a while – though it’s still pretty damn healthy, all things considered.
This pudding is incredibly easy to make, with minimal ingredients. Thanks to the tofu, it’s also packed with protein and is the perfect healthy treat that takes about five minutes to throw together!
Vegan coconut curry with crispy tofu
Though it can be easily used in sweeter dishes, tofu is completely at home in richer, deeper, more savoury dishes like this coconut curry with crispy tofu. Made with delicious and healthy sweet potato and broccoli, it’s quick and easy to make.
Curries like this are great, warming dishes, filling you with nourishing, comforting goodness. The recipe suggests that it’s best served with basmati rice, giving it even more hearty bulk.
How to store your tofu: Storing it at home
In terms of storage, you really want to treat your tofu as you would fresh vegetables, especially once its packaging has been opened. It’s fresh and perishable, so you will want to keep it in the fridge and use it relatively quickly.
After you’ve opened the tofu packaging, transfer the contents to an airtight container like Tupperware. Cover it in water and then seal it. You will want to change the water fairly often – every couple of days should do it. This will allow you to keep the tofu fresh for up to a week.
You can also freeze tofu, as I mentioned above, both for storage and to add texture and taste. Cut your tofu into chunks or slices, place the pieces into baking sheets and freeze them until they are firm. Then place the whole lot into a freezer bag for storage.
Once you have thawed your frozen tofu, squeeze out the excess liquid and pat dry. Consider using a tofu press to lightly press the water out.
Are there any downsides to tofu?
We’ve seen the good side of tofu, but are there any dark secrets we need to know about?
Should we be eating tofu at all?
This is a big one, with health food enthusiasts split down the middle as to whether or not tofu is healthy.
Yes, I would say we should be eating it – as I’ve outlined above, tofu comes with an impressive nutritional profile and can be incorporated easily into a range of different dish styles and cuisines.
However, we can’t say this without qualification, as there are most definitely a few things to bear in mind:
Monsanto introduced the first genetically modified soybeans to the US in the early nineties. The rest of the world’s soybean producers took their cue and promptly followed suit.
Ever since then, the availability of non-GMO soybeans has been decreasing. At least 90 percent of today’s soybean crops in the US are GMO; because of this trend, most tofu manufacturers use GMO beans.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find soy products like tofu that are non-GMO.
Monsanto are the leading producer of GMO foods in the US, and most soy products in large parts of the West, and certainly in North America, are made using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Soybeans – genetically engineered soybeans with their DNA changed so that the soybean plants can withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
GMO foods have been linked to a variety of health problems. This is in large part because they have a damaging effect both on the healthy bacteria in your gut and on your digestive system as a whole. Trials using GMO foods have linked them to liver and kidney problems.
Tofu’s health benefits have been drastically oversold
Soy’s first venture into the mainstream of western cuisine was as a superfood: it was publicised widely as some sort of panacea miracle cure for a range of health issues, including such major diseases as cancer and conditions like osteoporosis.
I’ve run through these above, and there is a fair degree of scientific data to back up such claims, but to nowhere near the degree that tofu zealots have claimed.
It is not a cure, it just enjoys correlations for a variety of reasons to some health benefits.
More recent academic consensus is that these claims should be downplayed, with some authorities even going so far as to place great emphasis on a range of potential health problems that soy might cause.
The amounts cited as giving such benefits as a reduction in the risk of heart disease and lowering cholesterol is incredibly high – 50g to be precise. This is an untenable amount of tofu to regularly consume, far more than is traditionally eaten in Asian cuisine.
Studies on people who have grown up on such cuisines have often overlooked the additional variables involved, including various lifestyle and other dietary choices, and have drastically overestimated how much soy or tofu is normally eaten.
I mentioned soy’s ivoflavine content before as one of its main health benefits. However, this is not such a simple claim to make and is even quite controversial in various circles. There is a great deal of debate revolving around how healthy isoflavines really are.
Isoflavines are a phytoestrogen that mimic the body’s oestrogen. If you consume them in large quantities – 50g daily, for instance – they can disrupt your natural hormonal balance.
This can lead to some very major health concerns, not least of all the over-expression of breast cancer cells in some women. Such overconsumption can lead to menstrual cycles being interrupted or closed down altogether. In men, it can lead to lowered testosterone levels and all the health issues that can come with it.
Moderation and good quality products are key when it comes to eating tofu. Use it to supplement your dietary protein intake by all means, but it might be best to avoid eating it in the quantities needed for some of the health claims touted by enthusiasts to kick in.
Always try to avoid products that include tofu or soybeans in an inorganic state – readymade meals, fake meats, microwave meals and so on. These will almost certainly contain a great deal of unwanted GMO produce. Opt instead for them in their most natural state – tofu, for starters, along with raw beans or edamame – and make sure that you get them from a trusted source.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more substantial amount of plant based protein from your tofu, it could be worth looking at using tempeh instead…
Tempeh as a possible alternative
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans that have been cooked and pressed. It is versatile as it can be shaped however you want it, whilst retaining a lot of the culinary features of tofu. Tofu and tempeh also have quite similar nutrient profiles, and either would mark a similar addition to your dietary regime, but they do have some differences.
Tempeh and tofu aren’t too different in terms of their nutritional profiles. A 100 gram serving of cooked tempeh brings with it 11 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates and an impressive 20 grams of protein.
The same sized portion of tofu delivers 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein. Both contain comparable micronutrients as well. Tempeh is obviously more nutritionally dense – this portion will contain 195 calories to the tofu’s 75 – but that just means that you will eat less for the same results, whilst still achieving the same satiation.
Crucially, however, tempeh has a much lower dose of phytoestrogens, leading many practitioners to recommend it either as a tofu replacement, or at least as a supplement.
Therefore, if you want to ditch the tofu – or at least eat it more moderately – tempeh will give you a similar experience and nutritional impact, without many of the negatives that a lot of people have been granting tofu in recent years.
When you’re shopping for tempeh aim for one that is as simple as possible. Pre-flavoured tempeh often contains a lot of added sugar and salt. Oh, and always check the labelling if you’re gluten free, as many brands vary in their gluten content.
For something different, try tofu wine!
Before we wrap up this discussion, let’s take a minute to look at the antics of some researchers at the National University of Singapore – they have used tofu to create an entirely novel type of wine that is apparently very tasty, but that comes with the health benefits of soy into the bargain.
It’s called sachi, and it is made in a three week process from soybeans.
The result is a sweet drink that has around seven to eight percent alcohol, with apparently fruity notes and a hint of soybean.
Its creators, Associate Professor Liu Shao Quan and PhD student Chua Jian Yong, claim that the base ingredient, ie. tofu, remains nutritionally significant throughout the process, so the wine comes with the high levels of calcium and nutrients unique to soy.
Tofu 101… done!
Well, that’s me finished on tofu for the time being.
We’ve hopefully gone through everything you need to know about this popular ancient dish. Its status as a health food has been threatened in recent years due to ongoing negative attention from nutritionists, with some potential downsides that are fairly significant if you overindulge.
So, moderation is, as ever, king.
There are some fantastic, traditional ways of eating tofu as part of a healthy, balanced diet, alongside some more modern, inventive creations. However you decide to enjoy your tofu – or tempeh! – why don’t you let us know what works best for you?
Don’t forget to share in the comments down below.
About The Author:
James Dixon lives, works, and trains in Glasgow, Scotland.
He is an active freelance health and fitness writer, fully qualified personal trainer and veggie athlete. He holds several black belts and is currently training in both strength/barbell athletics and kickboxing. He has had an interest in animal welfare all his life, having been raised vegetarian, and has trained numerous athletes on plant based diets to great effect in recent years. Writing on vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and training is a passion for him.
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- Tim Newman | Benefits and sources of calcium | https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248958
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- Alina Petre, MS, RD (NL) | What Is Tofu, and Is It Good for You? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-tofu
- Sharon Liao | Soy and Breast Cancer: 5 Myths and Facts | https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/features/soy-effects-on-breast-cancer
- Eileen Durward | Are soya foods beneficial during menopause? | https://www.avogel.co.uk/health/menopause/videos/are-soya-foods-beneficial-during-menopause/
- Dan Myers | The 12 Best Foods for Diabetics | https://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/12-best-foods-diabetics-slideshow
- Mahmoud Rafieian-Kopaei, Sara Beigrezaei, Hamid Nasri, and Marzieh Kafeshani | Soy Protein and Chronic Kidney Disease: An Updated Review | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760843/