6 Facts About Tofu

Tofu is a staple ingredient in Chinoy cuisine, but it’s also one of the most underrated dishes, since people tend to assume that tofu is bland and boring. But the recent rise in popularity of plant-based food has changed people’s perception of tofu, as it proves to have countless health benefits and can be just as delicious as any dish depending on how you prepare it. Regardless of whether you’ve always been a tofu-lover or you just recently joined the bandwagon, here are 6 tofu facts that you might not know about. 


1. No one knows how tofu was invented

Like many other things that existed before the time of technology, tofu also has conflicting origin stories. The most famous version involves Prince Liu An of the Han Dynasty (179-122 B.C.), who accidentally created tofu in the process of making an elixir to immortality, but some sources point out that it’s not likely true, as historical records about Prince Liu An tend to be exaggerated. There’s even a story about him sprouting wings and flying to eternal life.. 


Another origin story states that the Chinese learned how to make cheese from the Mongolians and applied the same technique to soy milk to make tofu. Given China’s proximity to Mongolia and the similarities between tofu and cheese, tofu historians William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi believe that this theory is credible. 


The last origin story proposes that tofu was accidentally invented by a Chinese chef who was experimenting in the kitchen. This theory is both plausible and unlikely, as you need a coagulant to make tofu, and it’s not something you will stumble upon by accident. But then again, the salt that was used during that time was unrefined sea salt, which contains a natural coagulant called nigari. 


Despite the conflicting origin stories for tofu, one thing is for sure: it originated from China. It was then introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks around the 8th century. The English word for tofu was actually derived from the Japanese word tōfu, which was borrowed from the Chinese word dòufu.


2. Making tofu is a simple process

Photo from China Sichaun Food

Despite how sophisticated a block of tofu looks, it’s actually only made with three base ingredients: water, soybeans, and a coagulant. The soybeans are soaked, crushed, and boiled to create soy milk. After the solids are strained out of the soy milk, a salt coagulant is added to allow the soy milk to form curds. The curds are then poured into a mold and pressed until it forms the familiar tofu shape. You might have noticed that tofu always comes with water in the packaging, and that’s because the structure of tofu is very delicate, and the water prevents it from collapsing under its own weight. 


3. You can eat tofu raw

The Unlikely Baker

With the abundance of tofu recipes on the internet, you tend to forget that tofu can be eaten raw. It’s technically already cooked since it came from boiled soybeans, so all you have to do is drain the liquid, and you can enjoy it straight from the packaging. Although raw tofu by itself doesn’t seem very appetizing, you can always add a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil to it or if you have a sweet tooth, add syrup and make it into taho. 


4. There are different types of tofu

Photo from Tofupedia

For those of you who only order tofu from restaurants and haven’t tried to make it yourself yet, you might not be aware that there are different types of tofu: silken, regular firm, extra firm, and super firm. Silken tofu is ideal for stews and soups since it’s the most delicate, while the firm ones are  more suitable for frying. The firmness of tofu varies depending on how much water is pressed out of it during the factory process. There’s also another variety of tofu called tofu skin, which is a layer of skin that forms on top of soy milk while it’s being boiled. It can be used in stir-fried dishes or spring rolls.


5. Low quality tofu can taste sour

When tofu tastes or smells sour, you would immediately assume that it has already gone bad. But there are some cases where the tofu has been stored properly and hasn’t reached its expiration date yet but still has a sour flavor to it.  If that’s the case, then it’s probably because the tofu you bought isn’t made with the best ingredients. Low quality tofu may overuse nigari as the coagulant, which lends a sour flavor to the tofu, while good quality tofu will use an alternative coagulant to eliminate the sourness.


6. There are different ways to cook tofu

Photo from Chez Jorge

This one might be obvious, but a lot of people don’t realize the versatility of tofu. It’s naturally bland, so it basically soaks up flavor like a sponge. All you have to do is press out the excess moisture from the tofu to maximize its absorbability. You can use it for dessert as well. The most obvious dessert is taho, but you can also use it to make chocolate mousse, lattes, and even donuts. You can also use tofu as a substitute for chicken. It might sound impossible at first, but once tofu has been pressed, frozen, and thawed, it yields a texture that’s similar to chicken. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that show you how to do this.

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