Tofu and other soy foods are a hot news item these days. Compounds in the soy protein called isoflavones and phytoestrogens are being studied with promising results. There is evidence that soy foods can reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. They have also been linked to osteoporosis prevention and are thought to play a role in alleviating the symptoms of menopause. (For more refer to the Winter 1998 issue of Today's Nutrition newsletter available at this website.)
Along with the long-term health benefits, tofu is blessed with many nutritional attributes. Generally lower in fat than the meat and dairy products it often replaces, tofu is a good source of protein with very little saturated fat and no cholesterol. Tofu is rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat and is a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. A half cup serving of firm tofu provides approximately 183 calories, 20g of protein, 6.2g polyunsaturated fatty acid, 258 mg calcium and 13 mg iron.
February is Heart Health Month so if you haven't welcomed a couple of tofu dishes into your cooking repertoire - now is the time!
While most of us know it as tofu it is also called soybean or bean curd. Tofu is the product made when soybeans are cooked and the soy milk is extracted. Similar to cheese making, a curdling agent is then added to the soy milk and the curds are compressed, which allows the soy whey to separate out. The firmness of the resulting cake of tofu depends on how much of the whey has been pressed out. Tofu is available in soft, medium, firm and extra firm textures as well as in a dehydrated form and in a growing number of prepared products such as smoked tofu, tofu spreads, cheeses and "meats".
There are two types of tofu commonly available: cotton and silken. Cotton tofu is made when the soybean milk and the coagulant are combined in a cotton-lined container with holes. Weights are applied to the mixture to firm it up and press out the liquid. Cotton tofu is generally available in the fresh produce section at the supermarket. Silken tofu is strained through silk and the liquid is not drained off. The result is a creamy custard-like product that is usually vacuum packed. It is shelf stable for several months.
Tofu is now widely available in health food stores, Asian markets and supermarkets. It is sold in a variety of forms including packaged in water, vacuum-packed in tetra boxes and in bulk. Bulk tofu is usually found in large crocks or jars of water in health food stores. Look for tofu that is a creamy white with no discoloration or off odours. Be sure that the expiry date has not been reached.
Not all tofu is made alike. To ensure that you are buying a tofu containing calcium, look for calcium chloride or calcium sulfate on the label. Although it contains very little saturated fat and no cholesterol, tofu can still be high in fat. Again, check labels for fat content comparison. Some brands do offer a fat-reduced "lite" product.
Tofu is very perishable and should be refrigerated for no more than a week. If you've purchased tofu that's packaged in water, before storing it should be drained and covered with fresh water. All tofu should be stored in water that is changed daily. Be sure to cover tightly with plastic wrap. Tofu that's been vacuum-packed or is in the familiar tetra boxes does not need to be refrigerated or stored in water until it has been opened. Use tofu before the expiry date.
Always start with fresh tofu. Most recipes require that the tofu is drained, either in a sieve or by pressing it. To press tofu, loosely wrap the block of tofu in multiple layers of clean kitchen towels. Set it on a plate and place a 1-pound bag of beans or other suitable weight on top. Let rest for 15 minutes. Rewrap the tofu in a dry towel, set the beans on top and press for another 15 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator. Tofu can be sliced, diced, cubed, crumbled and puréed depending on the firmness chosen. Remember to place any leftovers in fresh water, cover and refrigerate.
The Chinese say that tofu has the "taste of a hundred things." Tofu's bland taste and its ability to absorb the flavours of the foods with which it is cooked make it a versatile addition to any kitchen. Soft tofu is suitable for dips, dressings, sauces, dips, creamed soups and desserts such as mousses. The firm texture works best in cheesecake, puddings and spreads. Extra firm is perfect for marinating, slicing, grilling and stir-frying. It can easily be sliced or cubed and used in stews or crumbled to replace ground meat.
With the continued growing interest in healthy eating, vegetarianism and functional foods, tofu-related websites and cookbooks are plentiful. Tofu is being cooked in every conceivable way. From tofu croutons to tofu cheesecake the possibilities are endless. The best way to get to know tofu is to try it!
Easy Ways to Eat More Tofu Everyday
- Make a tofu smoothie instead of a regular milkshake.
- Use crumbled firm tofu in your breakfast hash or casserole.
- Scramble firm tofu for a soy version of traditional scrambled eggs.
- Top your sandwich with a savory tofu spread instead of mayonnaise.
- Drizzle salad dressing made with tofu over your noontime greens.
- Layer slices of marinated, firm tofu with leftover grilled vegetables for a delicious sandwich.
- Try an "eggless" egg salad sandwich on whole wheat using crumbled firm tofu.
- Use puréed soft silken tofu instead of mayonnaise in pasta salads.
- Use tofu in stir-fries, pasta dishes, stews, chili and casseroles.
- Try tofu burgers with all the fixings.
- Prepare a creamy soup such as tomato or broccoli using silken soft tofu.
- Add tofu cubes to spring rolls and wraps.
- For dessert, tofu cheesecake, pudding or mousse makes for a sweet ending.
- Whip up a flavoured tofu dip to accompany pieces of fresh fruit or raw vegetables for munching on.
- Enjoy some oven-baked crispy tofu sticks instead of the usual chips or nachos
For More Information:
- Indiana Soybean Board
- Mori-Nu brand tofu
- Ontario Soybean Grower's Marketing Board
- Tofu Turkey
- The Beans, Lentils and Tofu Gourmet by the Editors of Robert Rose, Robert Rose, 2000.
- The Book of Tofu by William Shurtlett and Akiko Aoyagi, Ten Speed Press, 1998.
- The Lactose-Free Family Cookbook by Jan Main, MacMillan Canada, 1996.
- This Can't be Tofu! 75 Innovative Recipes by Deborah Madison, Broadway Books, 2000.
- The New Soy Cookbook by Lorna Sass, Chronicle Books, 1998.
- United Soybean Board - 1-800-825-5769 or click here
FYI: Tofu has its own food festival! Taking place in Los Angeles, the Tofu Festival offers an array of international tofu dishes, cooking demonstrations, health information including nutrition counseling, entertainment and more. Check it out at www.tofufest.org.
Tofu Tip: Carefully wrapped tofu can be frozen up to 3 months. Freezing will change its texture making it slightly chewier. Defrost the tofu in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Squeeze out moisture before using.