Tofu is a Healthy (and Tasty!) Alternative for Everyone
May 23, 2012 by Aviva Getschel
Most Americans think tofu is a “new-age fad” but it has been eaten in Asian countries for over 5000 years.
Tofu has been a staple of Asian cuisine for hundreds of years and has held the same importance for Eastern Asian people as meat, milk, and cheese have for Western people. The earliest known appearance of the Japanese word “tofu” occurred in a document from 1182 CE.
Tofu is made from soybeans, water and a coagulant, or curdling, agent. The traditional agent is nigari, found naturally in seawater, but calcium sulfate is also used in modern manufacturing. There are two kinds of tofu: “silken” or soft tofu, and “firm” or regular tofu. Both varieties can be bought in soft, regular, firm, and extra firm varieties. There is no ingredient variation between the different types, just the processing. Note that they are not usually interchangeable in recipes because of their consistencies.
Silken tofu is usually very soft and crumbles easily and is mostly used in salad dressings, soups, sauces, and desserts for its creamy texture. Firm tofu is often used in stir fries, bakes, and dishes where the tofu should keep its shape. I particularly enjoy firm tofu in Asian-style stir fries.
Tofu tends to be flavorless by itself, but has an amazing capacity to take on the flavors of the sauces and spices in which it is cooked. One important thing to know about cooking tofu is that one must sear it on all sides before adding sauces, otherwise it becomes mushy.
Tofu is very nutritious, especially compared to equivalent amounts of animal protein. One half-cup serving of raw firm tofu contains 10.1 grams of protein. The recommended daily consumption of protein is 56 grams for most men and 46 grams for most women. A half-cup of tofu is approximately 4 oz by weight. By comparison, one half-cup dairy milk contains 5.1 grams of protein, one 3 oz egg contains 6 grams, and 4 oz of ground beef contains 26 grams of protein.
For each 100 calorie serving, tofu contains 11 grams of protein. By comparison, 100 calories of ground beef provides 8.9 grams of protein, and a 100 calorie serving of cheese contains 6.2 grams.
A half-cup serving of raw firm tofu contains 5 grams of fat and zero cholesterol. 4 oz of ground beef contains 15 grams of fat and 70-90 milligrams of cholesterol. The same serving of raw firm tofu contains 10 milligrams of sodium, while the 4 oz of ground beef contains 378 mg sodium. Tofu is also high in calcium and iron.
Crispy Tofu in Chili-Soy Sauce
(Recipe courtesy of Cookshelf Thai by Christine France)
- 10 ½ oz. firm tofu
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 1 carrot, julienned
- ½ green bell pepper, julienned
- One 12 oz bag of frozen, mixed vegetables, thawed
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
Drain the tofu and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into ¾ inch cubes. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the garlic for one minute. Remove the garlic and add the tofu, then fry quickly until cubes are well-browned and seared on all sides. Lift out tofu, drain and keep hot. Stir the carrots and green peppers or mixed veggies into the pan and stir-fry for one minute or until cooked. Pile the tofu on to a dish and spoon vegetables on top.
Mix together the chili, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Spoon over the tofu and serve.
My first time trying this, I was intrigued. I had eaten fake meat before, but I didn’t remember tofu outside of miso soup. I really enjoy this main dish. The flavors are really absorbed by the tofu, and its texture is strangely pleasant; which is good, especially because I can be very picky about textures.
I enjoyed trying new dishes with my mom, Susan, and learning about ways to cook an ingredient with which I have little experience. But, as my family is trying to eat vegan dinners once per week because of health concerns, I suppose I’ll have more practice, and recipes, soon.