Tofu or bean curd as many people call it is a very nutritious and delicious food staple in China that is made from soybeans and water. Along with dishes such as Beijing Duck and Jiaozi, Tofu is one of those great Chinese foods you can enjoy during your travels here.
What exactly is Tofu?
An excellent question. Basic tofu is soft white blocks that are made from curds produced when soy juice is coagulated. Don’t’ be fooled by appearances, tofu is MUCH more than just soft white blocks. Tofu is
-full of calcium and protein
-absorbs flavours like a sponge
-comes in many different forms
-has a long and distinguished history
-can be cooked in many different ways
Soy Milk & Soy Beans – The basic ingredient of making tofu is soy beans, a legume native to East Asia. Soy milk is made from soy beans by soaking, grinding, boiling and straining the beans. Some tofu manufacturers use prepared soy milk but most produce their soy milk from raw soy beans.
Coagulation – the soymilk is boiled and the suspended protein and oil are coagulated to produce the curds that make up tofu. The two main types of coagulants used are salts and acids. The most common coagulant is a salt called calcium nitrate which produces a tofu that is high in dietary calcium and has no perceived taste or smell
Processing Curds – When soft tofu is made, the curds are packed and ready to sell. For firm tofu that is standard in China, the curds are cut, strained to remove excess liquid then lightly pressed into soft blocks or cakes.
Types of tofu
The many different types of tofu are be divided into two main groups, fresh tofu and processed tofu.
This is the basic tofu you in the white blocks or cakes after it has been produced. The main categories of fresh tofu are
-soft or silken tofu which is undrained or pressed and has a high water content like custard
-firm tofu that is pressed and drained but still has a lot of water. The skin of this tofu has the firmness of raw meat and can be handled by chopsticks
-dry tofu which is very firm like cooked meat
Fermented – tofu that has been pickled by drying, fermentation and soaking, and stinky tofu that has been fermented in a vegetable and fish brine and smells disgusting.
Flavoured – tofu that has had a flavouring agent mixed in with the curdling soy milk. Is either sweet such as mango or coconut tofu or savoury with eggs normally added.
Dry Tofu – A Japanese type of tofu where the tofu is dry and rehydrated before eating. This type does not require refrigeration.
Fried Tofu – All but the softest tofu can be fried
There are several theories on the origin of tofu but not enough historical evidence to say where exactly tofu came from and when it was first developed. Roughly speaking, tofu developed in China at least 2200 years ago and spread to Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia in the eight century.
Tofu is an excellent source of protein and tofu was adopted as a part of the Buddhist vegetarian diet which helped tofu become a staple in so many Asian countries where Buddhism developed and flourished.
Tofu and Health
Tofu is very healthy because it is high in both protein and in calcium. Approximately 10.7% of firm tofu and 5.3% of soft tofu by weight is made up of protein. Research has also shown that the soy protein in tofu can help lower the cholesterol LDL (the bad one) and reduce cardiovascular disease.
Don’t automatically assume though that all the tofu you eat during your travels in China will be healthy. The tofu itself is healthy but it is often cooked with way too much oil, salt and/or MSG.
Recommended Tofu Dishes
Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐) – A spicy Sichuan dish made in a chilli sauce and normally topped with minced pork or beef.
Vegetarian Tie Ban or Hot Plate Tofu (铁板豆腐) – Normally cooked with a mild chilli sauce and mushrooms. This dish is served on a sizzling hotplate and still cooking when it is set on your table.