Extra Helpings: What is Tofu?


Helen asks: I am trying to eat less meat. Some recipes say I can use tofu instead… but tofu is kind of weird. What is it and how do I use it?

Woody Allen as Zelig

Tofu is made from soybeans, which is why it’s sometimes called bean curd. Tofu is the Japanese translation of the word bean curd. It’s basically a nutritionally complete protein and a fantastic way to get your protein without getting all the fat, calories or cholesterol. It’s also packed with iron.

I like it because it is the Zelig of the food world: it absorbs the flavors, seasonings and sauces of everything with which it is cooked.

Tofu is made in a fashion similar to the way cheese is made: curdled whey is removed from ground-cooked soybeans and pressed into a near-flavorless cake form. You can buy it either silken or in blocks (which come soft, firm or in extra firm textures).

The major difference between the two is that silken tofu is shelf-stable, very soft and falls apart easily… that’s why it’s great in smoothies, salad dressings, dips, sauces and (sometimes) as an egg, sour cream or yogurt substitute in baking.

Block tofu is refrigerated and holds up much better when cooking. It can be crumbled, cubed or sliced and added to a salad, soup, casserole, stir-fry or a pasta dish. Extra firm tofu can even be grilled.

Those recipes you’re reading are right, you can use tofu just like meat, though I’ll admit that the texture of a tofu chili I once made was a bit odd… but it still tasted great!

The one pain about tofu is that it requires special handling after opening because it spoils easily. You have to keep it refrigerated in an airtight container AND change the water everyday. If you don’t think you’ll do this, buy only what you’ll need for the recipe you’re making or freeze it (it will become slightly darker and the texture will be chewier).

Extra Firm Tofu


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  1. Pingback: Mama's High Strung™ » Blog Archive » Plated + Served: Baked Teriyaki Tofu

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: mamashighstrung@gmail.com