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Also known as soybean curd, tofu is a soft, cheese-like ingredient made from soy milk and is a dietary staple throughout Asia as well as being an invaluable ingredient for vegetarians and vegans due to its richness in high-quality protein as well as having a good source of B-vitamins and iron. But that's not all . It is low in saturated fat, contains no cholesterol, is very low in sodium and is an excellent substitute for many dairy products, especially useful for those with a lactose intolerance. Altogether, tofu is a nutritious, healthy and valuable protein source for everyone.


Origin and History of Tofu


Tofu was first used in China around 200 B.C. Although the exact history of the making of tofu isn't know, Chinese legend has it that the first batch of tofu was made by accident. A Chinese cook added nigari to flavor a batch of pureéd, cooked soybeans; the nigari produced curds which we now call tofu.


Tofu was first used in Japan in about 761-793 and was called "okabe" or "kabe" which translates to wall, also "shirakabe" which means white wall. In became popular in the Edo period (1603-1867). It was also during this period that westerners were made aware of the ingredient, partly due to Jesuits living in Japan who compiled a dictionary of the Japanese language.


With an influx of Chinese immigrants to American in the 1800's came the introduction of tofu to the US. Wo Sing & Co., was founded in 1878 in San Francisco and was the first tofu manufacturer in the US catering for the demand.


In Europe, whilst Paillieux of France was the first to make tofu in 1880, the first commercial manufacturer of tofu was a company called Caséo-Sojaïne, which was founded in about 1911 by Li Yu-ying.

Processing of Tofu


Commercially Made Tofu

Tofu is made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. Traditionally, the curdling agent used to make tofu is nigari, a substance found in sea water, or calcium sulfate, which is a naturally occurring mineral. In today's manufacture of tofu, soybeans are soaked in water and then ground to a puree with a small amount of water. This is then boiled and strained to produce soy milk which is in turn simmered for a short time before a coagulant is added, causing it to separate into curds and whey. The curds are then pressed into moulds.

Homemade Tofu

Soak raw soybeans until they're fully plumped up for 6-8 hours, place them in a blender in small batches with twice their volume of water and process until they're well mashed but not too smooth then strain. Bring the strained liquid to the boil in a large saucepan and continue to boil rapidly for 3-5 minutes, then add either 5 drops vegetable rennet OR 1 tablespoon epsom salts OR 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice. Turn off the heat and leave for several hours. Strain the curdled material onto a piece of cheesecloth, wrap securely, place in a colander in the sink or a large bowl and top with a heavy weight. Leave for several hours.

Buying & Storing Tofu




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What is Block Tofu?

Block Tofu is sold in water-filled tubs, vacuum packs, or in aseptic packets and is often found in the dairy or deli sections. Unless it is aseptically packaged, tofu should be kept cold and treated as a perishable product.


Once the package is open, leftover tofu should be rinsed, covered with fresh water and refrigerated, changing the water daily and is best used within a week. It can also be frozen for up to 5 months. Defrosted tofu has a caramel colour and a chewy, spongy texture that lends itself to more "meaty" recipes.


What is Tofu powder ?

Tofu powder is ground from dried tofu, which can be made into tofu, but is best used as a protein-loaded addition for snacks and baked products.


What is Freeze-dried tofu ?

Freeze-dried Tofu has over seven times the protein and energy value of a similar weight of regular tofu. Once rehydrated by a brief soaking in water it has great capacity to absorb flavours.


What are Tofu noodles ?

Tofu Noodles are made from ground or shredded tofu and are also known as soybean curd noodles, tofu shreds, gan si, bean curd noodles, soy noodles and soy vermicelli. These chewy noodles are usually served in salads, soups, or stir-fries. They are usually to be found in the refrigerated or frozen foods section. Dried tofu noodles are also available. These need to be soaked in water mixed with baking soda until they soften, then rinsed.


Cooking with Tofu


What is Extra firm tofu?

Extra firm tofu has the least water which enables it to hold its shape very well, making it ideal for slicing, cubing, baking, frying and grilling. It also has a higher level of protein. When frozen and thawed, the texture becomes very "meaty" and it's ideal for making "meaty" dishes such as casseroles, pasta sauces and stir-fries.


What is Firm tofu?

Firm Tofu is not as dense, although it still holds its shape well for slicing, dicing and frying. It works particularly well in desserts and dressings and as cottage cheese, ricotta or cream cheese substitutes.


What is Soft tofu?

Soft tofu is much less dense - ideal for blending into dressings and sauces. It can be used to reduce the amount of egg used in a recipe and to replace sour cream or yoghurt. Soft tofu also is lower in both protein and fat.


What is Silken tofu?

Silken tofu is made by a slightly different method producing a creamy, custard-like product. You can buy Extra Firm, Firm and Soft tofu. It is very delicate and works well in pureed or blended dishes such as soups and dips however it can also be eaten straight from the packet. In Japan they just add a little soy sauce and chopped spring onions.



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