tofu [ toh-foo ]
The world’s most misunderstood plant-based protein.
Most frequent questions and answers
In its simplest form, tofu is bean curd. Think of this like soymilk cheese. Drop something sour or minerally into fresh, hot soymilk and its proteins will coagulate, or bind together, into soft, pillowy curds. These curds can be left as is – to coalesce into silken tofu – or spooned into a mold and pressed into soft tofu, firm tofu, pressed tofu, or tofu sheets. In China, firm and pressed tofu are often smoked, salted, dehydrated, or fermented – which chemically transforms them into several other distinct varieties.
Not all tofu is bean curd, however. Some varieties are made from soy protein, not whole beans (see spongy tofu). Others are biproducts from making bean curd (see yuba and tofu sticks).
While most tofus are made from soybeans, there are also non-soy varieties. These are generally made from rice, almonds, peanuts, chickpeas, oat chestnuts, hemp, sesame, egg, pig’s blood, or milk. Don’t let their name fool you, though – these ingredients taste, feel, and cook up completely differently from the originals.
While firm, soft, and silken tofu are the most popular varieties in Asia, there are over 20 other types. Many of these are specific to China. For a running list of tofu varieties, read this.
Actually, it isn’t. Harvard Nutrition Source puts it this way: Results of recent population studies suggest that soy has either a beneficial or neutral effect on various health conditions. Soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week, and probably more often, and is likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat.”
Some folks worry about soy allergies, but these are incredibly rare. The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases estimates that just .6% of Americans are allergic, and these allergies are largely minor. (For reference, 2-4% are allergic to dairy.) While soy intolerance may be more prevalent than a full-fledged allergy, there is no evidence that this is widespread. In fact, there is strong evidence to the contrary. We tend to overestimate our intolerances by mistakenly associating food with non-dietary issues.
But doesn’t soy contain estrogen??
No! Soy contains phytoestrogens, a class of weak plant hormones, through the form of isoflavones. No, these things won’t make your boobs bigger. No, they won’t cure you of heart disease. No, they won’t give you x-ray vision. Why not? Because to experience any noticeable hormonal change you would need to eat far more tofu than is humanly possible. High quality study after study has looked at soy intake on diverse indicators (testosterone, fertility, etc.) and found that consuming 60-240 milligrams of isoflavones per day has zero downsides. For reference, 240 milligrams of isoflavones is roughly two 14 ounce blocks of firm tofu. That’s over 60 grams of soy protein – in one day! Good luck.
It is! But that soy isn’t being fed to humans–it’s to feed livestock.
Chickens, the most efficient livestock, convert just 11% of the calories they eat into meat. Cows and pigs are even less efficient. That means to produce 110 calories of meat, we need for first produce at least 1000 calories of grain!
Unfortunately, rising demand for meat is requiring us to use more and more land for feed production.
The solution isn’t to avoid soy products. It’s to avoid meat. That way, we can eat their feed directly and begin reforesting our natural habitats.
Imagine your favorite food of all time. Remember the day you savored your first bite? The person who introduced you to it? The place you tried it? Incredible… right?
Now imagine that day never happened. You’re going about your life as if everything is normal, because it is.
It’s normal to be content with what we have, without considering all the incredible foods that we’ve never tasted. But I promise you, while you may not need tofu, life becomes much richer once you know it.
Check out www.brokencuisine.com for more.