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Tofu is often known as ‘bean curd’ or ‘cheese of Asia’. Tofu is a soft creamy colored product made by grinding the cooked soya beans. A milk-like substance is obtained from the ground soya bean that is solidified with a mineral i.e. calcium sulphate (coagulant) to make tofu. Tofu dishes are a very useful part of balanced vegetarian diet. Tofu recipes are used to make various side dishes as well as main dishes such as tofu salad, tofu rice pilaf and spinach tofu. It can also be used to substitute meat in many recipes.

History of Tofu

The origin of tofu is believed to be in Han dynasty of ancient China. The original method of making tofu was described in the traditional book of Chinese medicine ‘Bencao Gangmu’. During the Napa period, the various other methods of producing tofu were introduced in Korea, Japan and many other parts of eastern Asia. In Buddhism, tofu dishes were considered as the main source of protein.

Culinary Use of Tofu

Tofu is naturally bland and can therefore be used in both sweet and savory dishes. The tofu that has soft and silken texture is suitable for making dressings, sauces and dairy-free products such as ice-cream or cheesecake. Firm tofu that has less moisture content is often marinated before being added to any dish. Marinade gives some extra flavor to tofu dishes. Tofu dishes also include vegetarian English shepherd’s pie and oriental tofu teriyaki. For vegetarians, tofu dishes are a good source of protein as their diet doesn’t include meat. Tofu is often flavored to make it more delectable. Fruit acids and sugar along with flavors are added to soya milk before starting the process of curdling. Flavored tofu is used in sweet tofu recipes. Soup and stews are also some of the widely served tofu dishes. Pickled tofu or fermented tofu is also one of the most famous tofu recipes that are well-liked in Chinese as well as east Asian cuisine.

Popular Tofu Recipes

A popular oriental-style tofu dish is made with deep-fried tofu triangles, thin slices of pork and vegetables in yellow-bean sauce. Other well-liked tofu recipes are tofu teriyaki, spinach and tofu lasagna and peanut butter tofu pie. ‘Douhua’ is also a very popular breakfast dish made up of tofu. It is a sweet dish that can also be eaten as a dessert. Filipino ‘taho’ is a sweet tofu recipe made with fresh tofu mixed with syrup of brown sugar. Sago is also added to make the dish more delectable.

Cuisines Commonly Making Tofu Dishes

As tofu is popularly known as ‘Asian cheese’, it is extensively used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisines. Deep fried tofu is often called ‘aburage’ in Japanese cuisine and ‘yubu’ in Korea. ‘Kitsune udon’ in Japan and ‘yubu chobap’ in Korean cuisine are tofu dishes that are made up of deep-fried and seasoned tofu. ‘Douhua’ is eaten as a breakfast dish in Chinese cuisines as well as in Malaysian cuisine. In Indian cuisine, tofu is often used to make gravy tofu dishes. Indian ‘paneer’ can be substituted by tofu in various Indian recipes. In western cuisine, firm tofu is basically used to replace meat. Sauces, desserts and shakes are often made with tofu. Puddings and cheesecakes are popular tofu dishes that are well-liked in western cuisines.

Preferable Methods of Making Tofu Dishes

Usually firm tofu is used to make savory dishes whereas soft tofu is used without cooking in salads and desserts. Here are few methods that are used to cook tofu:

• Stir-fried – Tofu can be stir-fried along with vegetables and sauces to make side dishes as well as main tofu dishes.

• Grilled – Like meat, tofu can also be marinated and grilled to make nice appetizers or side dishes.

• Scrambled – Either soft or firm tofu can be scrambled and added to any dry side dish or salad.

• Baked – Tofu dishes such as puddings, cheesecakes are often baked. Baked tofu recipes are a suitable option for vegans, who avoid dairy-products.

• Pickled or Fermented – Tofu is dried and soaked in vinegar, salt, ground chilies and mixture of rice and soya beans. It can be eaten as a condiment.

• Flavored – Flavored tofu is mainly used to make sweet tofu dishes. Mango-flavored and coconut-flavored tofu is extensively used to make desserts.

Nutritive Value of Tofu

Tofu is high in protein, very low in saturated fats and is cholesterol free. Tofu dishes are a useful source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, phosphorus and iron. With all these nutrients, tofu is a highly recommended food item for vegetarians. Tofu is a product of soya beans and all soya bean products are believed to contain properties that protect breast cancer, osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms. Due to reduced amount of soya bean fiber, tofu is an easy to digest food product. As soya is known as one of the most common food allergens, tofu and tofu dishes should be consumed with extra precaution.

Buying and Storing of Tofu and Tofu Dishes

Tofu is a perishable item hence it should be bought with extra care. Here are few points that should be kept in mind while buying and storing tofu. • While buying fresh tofu, it is recommended to smell it to make sure that it is not sour.

• Check the freshness date stamped on the packet while buying packaged tofu.

• Before storing tofu in refrigerator, always rinse it with water. Tofu should be soaked in fresh water and stored.

• Change the water daily and use the tofu within 3-4 days.

• Leftover tofu dishes should be consumed within 1-2 days as tofu may get sour very quickly.

Types of Tofu

Tofu is classified broadly into two types: Silken tofu and Regular or firm tofu. Silken Tofu It is also called ‘Japanese tofu’. It has a silky and creamy texture that makes it an ideal choice for vegan desserts. Cheesecakes, puddings and ice creams are some examples of silken tofu dishes. Salad dressings and sauces also make extensive use of silken tofu. It is not suitable for frying and grilling as it breaks very easily and melts on heating. Regular or Firm Tofu has a cohesive structure that is firm and dry. Regular tofu is used in tofu recipes that call for deep-fried or stir-fried tofu. Baked and grilled tofu dishes also contain regular tofu. Due to its firm texture, it holds its shape and can be processed in many ways, such as pickled and flavored tofu.

Tofu Trivia

• Tofu is often known as ‘meat without bones’ in Chinese cooking.

• Tofu doesn’t have any taste of its own and it take the flavors of other ingredients.