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Tofu: Ultimate meat alternative

19 Nov 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 18 Nov 2022 21:59:42
Tofu: Ultimate meat alternative

Tofu is a protein-rich food product made with curdled soy milk. Tofu is also known as “bean curd,” and is available in various forms, shapes, and textures. The two main types are silken and firm (soft and more rigid, and denser.) There are more, but we’ll get to that a bit later. Let’s first dive into the origin of tofu.

Tofu originated in China more than two centuries ago. The production of tofu first began around 206 to 220BC allegedly during the Han Dynasty. It finally reached Japan in the 8th century AD. 

In the 1960s, the Western world became more conscious of healthy eating, and tofu arrived on its shores. Although it was still an under-rated plant-based protein, tofu steadily began to grow in popularity. 

Tofu became so widely used that by the early 1980s, there were around 245,000 tofu manufacturers globally, over half of which were located in China. Others in Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, and over 200 in the Western world.

Over the years, research revealed the many benefits of tofu, and adventurous cooks worldwide have demonstrated countless ways to enjoy tofu! These days tofu is widely produced and enjoyed in most countries around the world. But where does tofu come from?

Different legends and fables surround the origin of this protein-packed food.

According to the history of tofu in China, tofu was an unplanned invention. A cook experimented with flavouring soybeans with a type of seaweed called Nagari and ended up making bean curd by accident. 

The most common fable about who invented tofu is that it was masterminded by King of Huai-nan, Liu An. Although this is a well-known story, it’s probably not true. Up to around 1,000 years after his death, nothing about tofu was mentioned in relation to King Liu An.

In another tofu origin story, a man invented it after trying all kinds of tricks with cooking soybeans. In his attempt to make it easier to eat for his elderly parents who had issues with their teeth, he discovered something worth even more! He blended the beans, then passed it through a cloth, finally seasoned it, heated it, and cooled it down again.

Yet another legend states that tofu was invented by copying the cheesemaking methods of Mongolian tribes who lived along China’s northern border. These Mongolian tribes were known to drink milk (something quite unusual in most Asian countries!)

No matter who invented it, or where tofu originated from, it’s here, and it’s here to stay! With healthy eating and vegan and vegetarian cuisine more popular than ever before, tofu is rising in the ranks as a prime go-to ingredient. 

Despite its rise in popularity in Western countries, there’s still some stigma against tofu. Most of this has to do with two things: a fear of the unknown and the inability to cook tofu properly! 

This perception is changing quickly, though! Westerners realise that tofu contains minimal calories, is packed with nutrition and protein, and is a super versatile and delicious food. It’s also evolving to suit every taste and a range of dietary preferences.

Making tofu is a simple process, and quite similar to making cheese. To sum it all up, a coagulant like calcium sulfate or nagaris is added to soy milk to make it curdle. These curds are pressed to form a block. Originally stone and cloth were used to press the tofu, but nowadays it’s manufactured with machinery. Soft tofu is primarily used to make soups or salads and can also be used to create a delicious vegan “egg” scramble. Firm tofu can be stir-fried, fried, deep-fried, or baked. Tofu skin is used to wrap dim sum, and tofu pockets are used to make delicious inari sushi. 

Cooking tofu at home is a simple process. Many health-conscious households invest in a handy tofu press to make it even easier and quicker to get their firm tofu into the pan and then into their tummies!

It’s possible to transform a variety of standard dishes into tasty vegan or vegetarian meals using tofu. New cooking techniques and innovative flavour profiles are invented continuously, turning tofu into game-changing savoury dishes and decadent sweet treats.