“I’m a vegan.”
I’ve said this phrase so many times to others that it has without a doubt become a way to identify myself. After I tell people that I’m a vegan, the question I need to answer next is “what do you eat?”
Tofu is always on my list whenever I need to answer that question. I love baked tofu actually! I prepare myself tofu sandwiches almost everyday for lunch.
However, for some, the question of “is tofu vegan?” begs to be asked. To be honest, I can’t blame those who might be wondering if it’s truly something that can be considered a great substitute to food we normally ate before we made the switch to the vegan life.
To answer the question and to satisfy wondering minds, tofu is actually vegan!
Now before you bring out the confetti and what not, let’s get to know what tofu is all about and what makes it a viable choice for vegans everywhere!
Tofu, or also known as “bean curd”, is made of soybeans. It is prepared by using condensed soy milk that is pressed to make white blocks.
For thousands of years, tofu has been part of Asian cuisine. The name “tofu” was derived from the Japanese tōfu which came from the Chinese word dòufǔ. The literal translation of the characters is actually “bean” and “curdled”.
There have been theories surrounding the origin of Tofu. It is said to have originated from China around the Second Century B.C.E.
Around the 8th Century (Nara Period), the making of Tofu and its technique were brought to Japan and to other parts of East Asia, including countries like Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Tofu was brought to Southeast Asia by a Chinese immigrant from the Fujian Province. As for the introduction of Tofu to the United States, Benjamin Franklin (yes…the man who invented the lightning rod) might have had a hand in this!
Today tofu is everywhere – from specialty stores to your favorite supermarket chain! It has become part of vegans everyday diet! Even those who are not vegan enjoy it.
How Is Tofu Made?
The making of tofu is akin to cheesemaking. While there are some producers who would opt to use commercial soy milk, the majority are actually using soy milk that they have produced themselves.
It is done by using dried soybeans. and then the following processes need to be executed:
1. Soaking, Grinding and Cooking Tofu
During this stage, soybeans are soaked for either about 9 to 10 hours or 4 to 6 hours at 22°C or 32°C respectively. If the soybeans that you have were grounded beforehand, you can reduce the amount of time you soak them.
In some cases, sodium bicarbonate is added to reduce the strong beany flavor that comes with the tofu. It’s also added to give the tofu a smoother finish.
Once soaking is done, the next step is grinding wherein specific equipment is used, such as micro-cutters, hammer mills and the like.
The more you ground the mixture, the more protein will be extracted from it. The mix is then cooked for about 3 to 10 minutes between 100°C to 110°C. The process changes the nature of the soybeans by removing the beany flavor.
2. Adding Coagulants To Soy Milk
As part of the process of the commercial production of tofu, protein and oil are added as coagulant and emulsion respectively. This is usually done while the soy milk is boiling.
In the tofu-making process, there are two types of coagulants being used. And these are – salts and acids. Another type of coagulant being used is enzymes but this is not usually used in commercial production.
- Salt Coagulants
Calcium Sulfate – Also known as Gypsum, this coagulant is perhaps the most widely used in the making of Chinese style tofu.
While it does not have a noticeable or distinct taste, the tofu it produces usually has a soft and somehow brittle texture.
One of the advantages of adding this to the tofu is that the product can have added calcium content.
Chloride-type Nigari salts (or Lushui) – The other coagulants that are most often used in the making of tofu are Magnesium Chloride and Calcium Chloride.
When added to the mix, these coagulants give tofu its tender and smooth texture.
In the Japanese way of making tofu, they also make use of nigari, which is a white powder made from removing Sodium Chloride and evaporating water from seawater.
Apart from the Magnesium Chloride found in nigari, traces of the following can be found in nigari:
- Potassium Chloride
- Magnesium Sulfate (also known as Epsom salt)
- Calcium Chloride
- Other naturally occurring salts
- Acid Coagulants
Glucono delta-lactone (GDL) – Another coagulant added to give tofu its soft and “silken” texture is GDL. Also, when added, it also makes tofu jelly-like.
Considered as an organic acid that occurs naturally, it is also used in the process of cheese making.
- Enzyme Coagulant
In tofu production, some producers are also making use of enzymes like papain, alkaline and neutral proteases.
These enzymes are used to catalyze the crosslinking of amino acids in the proteins found in the soybeans.
3. Pressing Tofu
In the traditional way of making tofu, curds were usually pressed using a lever or hand-turned presses.
However, with the rise of the commercial production of tofu and growing demands, producers are now using centrifuges and/or hydraulic presses.
What Are The Different Tofu Varieties?
Now that we understand how tofu is made, let’s look into the different types. Yes, there are many different tofu varieties.
While from afar they may all look alike, the truth of the matter is they come in different textures and colors. These varieties are most likely available in supermarkets near you!
Before we get into the specifics, it’s important to note that there are two categories, namely fresh tofu from soy milk and processed tofu which comes from fresh tofu.
1. Fresh Tofu
When it comes to fresh tofu, there are four varieties you can choose from. If you’re wondering what makes these varieties differ from each other, it has something to do with the amount of water that is removed from the tofu curds.
To maintain its freshness, fresh tofu is usually sold dunked in water.
- Extra Soft
To make this variety of tofu, either seawater or saline water containing sea salt is added to soy milk. This makes it curdle, giving you a soft and loose tofu.
In Chinese culture, extra soft tofu is usually eaten during breakfast or dinner. In Korea, it is usually added to their soft tofu stew.
Also known as “silken tofu”, this type has a high moisture content. It is usually unpressed and undrained. As for its texture, it’s firm and soft, making it ideal for a variety of dishes.
In countries like Korea and Japan, soft tofu is usually made with seawater.
Firm Tofu is another variety that has a high moisture content. Its firmness can be compared to that of raw meat. When you check its texture inside, it’s comparable to custard.
In some parts of Japan, they have a firm type of tofu made of seawater instead of the usual nigari that the Japanese normally use for making tofu.
- Extra firm
In the process of making Extra Firm tofu, a large volume of water is removed from it, making it the variety with the least amount of moisture.
2. Processed Tofu
As I have mentioned before, processed Tofu stems from Fresh Tofu but it too has its own varieties.
- Pickled Tofu – This is made of dried tofu that has been air dried and has been fermented in the aid of aerial bacteria.
Once dried, it is then soaked in either Chinese wine, salt water, vinegar or in a mixture that’s made of rice, soybeans, and bean paste.
- Stinky Tofu -Prepare your nostrils for the pungent smell that this type of soft tofu has. It is made from fermenting the soft tofu in a fish and vegetable brine mixture.
I tried stinky tofu in Taiwan. In its defense I will say that it tastes better than it smells!
What Are The Nutritional Benefits Of Tofu?
For vegans like us, it’s important that we get all the vitamins and nutrients that we need. Here we take a look at the nutritional benefits that we can get from adding tofu to our diets.
Apart from being vegan, tofu is also:
It is also a good source of the following:
Apart from these, tofu is also low in sodium, and traces of zinc can also be found.
BONUS: To learn how to make some awesome tofu recipes, check out the view below.
What Are The Health Benefits?
Given the nutritional benefits that I have mentioned, I feel like it’s also important to highlight the health benefits of tofu. Here they are:
- Lowers Cholesterol Level
One of the benefits of consuming tofu is that it helps lower the body’s cholesterol level. It reduces the level of LDL or Low-density Lipoprotein which is the bad cholesterol in our bodies.
Eating Tofu also helps in decreasing the risks of high blood pressure and/or atherosclerosis.
Tofu has a high level of unsaturated fatty acids and a low level of saturated fatty acids.
- Weight Management
According to a study, having a low-calorie soy-based diet can help reduce the body’s weight and blood lipids as well as maintain one’s weight.
Tofu contains isoflavones which are a class of phytoestrogens.
According to a study, isoflavones help reduce the risks of some cancers including breast and endometrial cancer in women, as well as prostate and lung cancer.
- Helps Ease Symptoms Of Menopause
Isoflavones have the ability to imitate estrogen in the body. By adding tofu to the diet, it can help balance the levels of estrogen during the menopausal period.
There have been several studies out there that say that protein helps lower the sugar and insulin levels in the body. This, in turn, reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
- Kidney Function
Soy protein found in tofu can be beneficial to those people who have renal function issues. Apart from the protein, tofu is also rich in phosphorus which can help prevent the development of kidney diseases.
- Prevent Anemia
When our bodies are low in red blood cells, this can lead to anemia. To prevent this, simply by adding tofu to our diet.
In a study that was made in China, they discovered that due to its rich iron content, tofu helped lower the risk of anemia among those involved in the research.
- Keep Your Brain Healthy
As we age, our cognitive function and memory disintegrate. However, the lecithin that can be found in tofu can help our bodies produce phosphatidylserine (PS) and phospholipids phosphatidic acid (PA) which can help in the way our neurons function normally.
- Prevent Osteoporosis
Calcium is an important factor in growing and keeping bones strong. When we lack the needed calcium in our bodies, this can lead to osteoporosis when we get older.
Including tofu in your diet is a great way to get some calcium in the body.
- Prevent Hair Loss
Tofu is a good source of Keratin which is an important protein needed for hair growth.
How To Make Tofu Taste Good?
Given all its health benefits, it only makes sense for vegans to consider adding tofu to their diets. However, there might be some of you out there who may not favor its taste and flavor.
To be honest, I can’t blame you! It’s “to each his or her own” after all. But if you don’t like tofu, what if I tell you that there are actually ways to make tofu taste good?
Yes, that’s right! Say goodbye to blandness and hello to tasty and savory!
If you’re wondering how you can possibly do this, here are some simple tips. It is something that you can easily whip out in your kitchen and make the most out of your tofu purchase!
- Don’t forget to drain it!
Most of the tofu on sale are packed in water. One of the very things you should do when you have plans to cook it is to drain the block of tofu as much as you can.
If you are thinking marinating or frying your tofu to a crisp (I highly recommend not frying your food if you are looking to lose weight), make sure that the block doesn’t have a lot of water content or moisture.
To maximize the draining process, you can slice the tofu block and arrange the slices on any flat sheet. You can then use a paper towel or thin cloth so the water can be absorbed even more. It is preferred that you let the tofu drain for about an hour or two.
- Marinate And Never Add Oil
While draining the tofu will get rid of most of the water content, there will still be some moisture left in there. So if you’re thinking of marinating it, avoid anything oily.
- Make It Crispy, add Cornstarch
Before throwing your tofu into the fryer (try an air fryer to avoid consuming too much oil), try dipping it in vegan cornstarch. This will ensure that your tofu will get a crispy finish.
- Don’t Forget To Season
To enhance the flavor, make sure you season your tofu with salt or your seasoning of choice.
Don't Eat Too Much Tofu!
While tofu is a healthy option that vegans should incorporate in their diet, remember that too much of anything is not good at all. Everything should be done in moderation.
While you may not eat tofu every day, soy is in almost everything we consume these days.
So don’t solely rely on tofu! You can mix and match it with your other vegan diet staple to make more exciting meal experiences. This way, you will be able to get the vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
It’s all about having a balanced vegan diet!
Organic Tofu VS Non-Organic Tofu
With the popularity of tofu these days, don’t be surprised if you run into both the organic and non-organic varieties at the store.
If you’re a vegan, the kind of tofu you should be getting is rather important!
Do take note that soy is one of the most genetically modified crops in the world today. However, in the US, all organic soy being sold or processed is required to be non-GMO.
I ALWAYS buy organic! And I highly recommend that you do the same.
I promise you won’t pay much more, and your body will thank you for it. But of course, the decision solely lies in you!
Living a vegan lifestyle means making the necessary adjustments particularly in our diets. As there are various plant-based alternatives for us, it’s best to find food items that are not only healthy, but also that are pretty versatile.
This is what tofu can be to our vegan diet. It’s not only healthy but you can do a lot of things with it. As a flexible vegan option, you can make new and exciting dishes with you!
And in case you scrolled down to the conclusion and you are still asking yourself ‘is tofu vegan?’, here it is again, YES! Tofu is vegan.
If you have a favorite tofu dish, drop the recipe on the comment section below! Or if you know someone who needs to know all these about tofu, don’t forget to share this with your family and friends on your socials!