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Posted by: Ayla Marika Category: Plant Proteins

What is Tofu made out of?

Once considered a strange food only eaten by vegetarians and vegans, tofu is now a fashionable food appearing in a range of meals for meat-eaters and vegos alike. Traditionally an Asian food, tofu these days appears in a range of modern cuisines, no longer tied down to laksas and stir-fries.

Tofu has secured a place in our everyday diets, yet we still wonder what is tofu made out of?

In this article I’ll share with you:

  • What is Tofu exactly?
  • What is Tofu made out of? (ingredients, processing aids)
  • How is Tofu made? (infographic)
  • When was Tofu invented?

What is Tofu exactly?

Tofu is a plant protein made from soy milk that has been curdled and formed into blocks. Other names for tofu include bean curd and doufu.

Although once considered a protein source enjoyed only by vegetarians, tofu is now popular with meat-eaters as well. Tofu appears most in East and South-East Asian cuisine, where it is used in stir-fries, soups, curries and even desserts. It has little flavour, instead taking on the flavours of other ingredients it is cooked with.

Different types of tofu

Tofu comes in many varieties including silken, soft, firm and extra firm. Silken tofu is very delicate and best suited to desserts and drinks, whereas firm tofu holds its shape and is better for frying and baking. Fresh tofu from the supermarket fridge section is the best quality; however, long-life tofu is also available in UHT cartons and vacuum-sealed bags.

Nutritional value of tofu

The nutritional value of tofu is similar to other soy foods. Tofu is high in protein, calcium and iron, low in saturated fat, and rich in isoflavones. Isoflavones are not well understood and are surrounded by intense debate. Many health experts claim that isoflavones reduce bad cholesterol and assist with weight loss, alongside other health benefits; while others claim that they have a negative impact on the body.

What is Tofu made out of?

Even though tofu makes a regular appearance in many of our diets, many of us still wonder what is tofu made out of. While writing my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced (more about the book here) I researched a ton of food science and food industry books, magazines and journals to get the real answer to this question ‘What is Tofu made out of?’, which I give to you now.

The following is an extract from my book How Food is Made

Nutritional value of tofu

Tofu is high in protein, calcium and iron, low in saturated fat, and rich in isoflavones.

Tofu is made out of soy beans. It is made from soy milk that has been curdled and formed into blocks, using a process very similar to cheese-making. In fact, some people consider fermented tofu to be the first vegan cheese!

Although tofu is usually made from soybeans, some types do not contain soy. These include almond tofu, which is served with fruit as a dessert, Burmese chickpea tofu and egg tofu. Lesser known varieties include fermented tofu, which is inoculated with mould then pickled, and ‘stinky tofu’, which is pickled in brine comprised of fermented vegetables.

Tofu ingredient

  • Soy Bean
  • Water    

Tofu processing aid

The processing aid used in making tofu is ‘coagulant’. Coagulant causes the soy milk to coagulate (curdle), thereby forming solid bean curd. Below is a list of common coagulants used in tofu-making.

  • Gypsum calcium sulfate (coagulant)               
  • Epsom Salts magnesium sulfate (coagulant) 
  • Nigari magnesium chloride (coagulant)
  • Glucono Delta-Lactone (coagulant)
  • Calcium Chloride (coagulant)

How is Tofu made?

Find out how tofu is made step-by-step in this fun tofu infographic.

how tofu is made infographic

When was Tofu invented?

The detailed history of tofu is largely unknown; however, it is generally agreed that tofu originated in China. From China, tofu is believed to have been spread by Buddhist monks to Japan around 800 CE, then throughout the rest of Asia.

There are several conflicting theories relating to tofu’s origin. Chinese legend states that it was invented by Lord Liu An around 164 BCE, but it is widely thought that this is probably a myth and that tofu has existed much longer than this.

What is a bean curd?

Bean curd (or beancurd) is another name for tofu. Tofu is sometimes also called doufu.

Another theory suggests that tofu was created accidently, by mixing soybean puree with seawater (the source of the coagulant ‘nigari’), which caused the mixture to curdle. Yet another theory claims that the Chinese learnt techniques for curdling dairy milk from neighbouring Mongolia or India and applied those techniques to soy milk, thereby creating tofu.

In China, tofu is traditionally offered to the spirits of deceased friends and relatives when visiting graves. The reason tofu is chosen over other foods for this purpose is because of its soft texture. In Chinese culture, it is believed that ghosts are jawless, therefore, soft tofu is easier for them to chew than other foods.

Knowledge of tofu was first brought to America in 1770 through the writings of Benjamin Franklin. It was two whole centuries later that tofu finally found acceptance amongst Americans as a result of growing interest in vegetarianism, health food and ethnic cuisine in the 1970s.

Did you enjoy this article ‘What is Tofu made out of’?

If you’d like to learn more about the processed foods we eat everyday, please check out my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced. The book features 60 common foods, detailing their history and manufacturing process using illustrations and food infographics.

If you have ever wondered where factory food really comes from and how it is made, this book is for you. Don’t just take my word for it. The press and readers love the book too – check out media and reviews here. Find out more about the book here and view a free sample from the book here.

Thanks for reading!

-Ayla Marika

Credits: Featured image photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

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