Tofu (aka 豆腐 or とうふ in Japanese), also known as bean curd, is a popular Asian food staple created by fermenting soybeans. Originating from China some 2,000 years ago or more, it has now become a popular component of both Asian and South East Asian cuisine. Think dishes like Laksa from Malaysia, Pad Thai from Thailand and Mapo Tofu from China.
Tofu more specifically was introduced into Japan around the 8th Century, also labelled the Nara Period, from Buddhist monks. Initially, used as a meat substitute for vegetarians by the monks, it is now a common ingredient in many Japanese dishes you see today.
The Health Benefits
Tofu is a common go-to food for vegetarians and vegans, especially for its high protein, iron and calcium content. People often use it as a substitute for meat, because of its similar nutritional value. Additionally, it is rich in amino acids, magnesium, copper, zinc and Vitamin B1, thus why it is considered such a health-orientated and nutritional food.
A typical serving of Tofu (100g) represents about 70 calories in total, and contains the following:
- Protein: 8.2 grams.
- Carbs: 1.5 grams.
- Fibre: 1.2 gram.
- Fat: 3.5 grams.
This demonstrates the nutritional value and health benefits associated with eating this soy-based miracle on a regular basis.
Protection Against Disease
Some of the longer term benefits of consuming Tofu have been linked with reducing the risk of heart disease, a variety of cancers and even helping to manage and decrease people with high levels of cholesterol.
In terms of helping to protect the heart against illness, there are a number of factors that contribute to its overall benefits. Tofu is made from soybeans, which is part of the legume family of foods, and consumption of legumes has been linked to a lower rate of heart disease. The high content of protein also has a positive impact on blood fats and blood flow helping to reduce the chances of people who may be prone to suffering a stroke.
Several studies have also linked Tofu’s positive impact on reducing the potential for cancer. For example, studies have observed lower risks of breast cancer in women due to Tofu’s positive influence on the menstrual cycle and blood estrogen levels. Furthermore, it has been linked to increasing protection in the bodies digestive system, with studies suggesting that it can assist in decreasing the likelihood of stomach cancer in both men and woman.
Finally, the presence of proteins in Soya beans are believed to help manage and reduce higher levels of cholesterol.
The Types of Tofu Available
The different type of Tofu available, especially the types you can find in supermarkets are listed as follows:
The soft or silken type of Tofu, aka 絹漉し豆腐 (きぬごしどうふ or Kinugoshi Dofu), is not drained and unpressed, containing the highest levels of moisture. It is made by coagulating soy milk without curdling it and is usually available in consistencies of soft to firm. It can often be used as a dairy substitute or eggs as an ingredient in smoothies.
The firmer version of Tofu, called 木綿豆腐 (もめんどうふ or Momen Dofu) in Japanese, is drained and pressed variety, although it still contains a lot of moisture. Its firmness is similar to that of jelly, in that when you press its skin it bounces are wobbles in reaction to the pressure.
The deep-fried and thicker type of Tofu, commonly referred to as 油揚げ (あぶらあげ or Abura-age) or the even thicker variety 厚揚げ (あつあげ or Atsu-age) is made from deep frying strips of Tofu twice, initially at 110-120 degrees, and then higher at approx. 180 degrees. They are a common ingredient in Miso soup and Udon dishes.
Common Uses of Tofu in Japan
Some of the more common Tofu dishes you will find in Japan are:
Agedashi (Fried) Tofu