Tofu? What is it?
Tofu comes from the soybean and it was first used in China and Korea. It was introduced to the USA population in 1906 when Sing Hau Lee opened a Tofu shop in San Francisco, California. Tofu can also be called doufu, tahu or tohu. Today, as it also was back then, tofu is not only used for its nutritional value but also as a “natural medicine”. Tofu can help the body get rid of toxins and cleanses the intestines. The Chinese also uses tofu to cure dysentery and jaundice. It also helps lower the risk of heart disease because as it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure!1,2,6.
Why is it good?
Today, because of its texture and protein value, tofu is used to produce many meat-replacement foods such as ground veggie meats, hamburgers, hotdogs, cheeses and more. Tofu and soy products in general became the favorite ingredient to most meat-like vegetarian dishes. Tofu is also great substitute to dairy products. Nowadays, there’s tofu cheesecake, ice cream, soymilk, cheese, cream cheese, lasagna, pastas, tofu everything! Tofu is very versatile and useful. In addition, if you are allergic to lactose, soy products are a great option.1,2.
What is its nutritional value?
The nutritional value of tofu can vary depending on the type of tofu and its brand, but here are some general facts: in 4oz (112g) of firm tofu there is 114 calories (4oz of cooked chicken breast is about 220kcal; 4oz of filet mignon about 360kcal); 11.7g of protein (about the same as 2oz of meat or 4oz of egg whites); 6.8g of the called “good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) because they don’t harm our blood vessels (opposite of saturated found in meats); 2.5mg of sodium (compare to cottage cheese that has about 256mg!); 2mg of iron (about the same as an egg or tuna fish) and 57.2mg of calcium (about 4 times more than 4oz of steak or a hamburger!). Also, the soybean is one of the few legumes that have a complete protein; in other words, it has all the essential amino acids our body needs. Also, the percentage that the body utilizes for tissue building (Net Protein Utilization or NPU) is 65% only 2% less than meat.1,2.
How does it lower cholesterol?
Tofu has two substances called Lecithin and Linoleic acid, which that help break down cholesterol and fat deposits in the organs and blood. So we can say that tofu not only has no cholesterol whatsoever but can also help lower cholesterol levels. A study case that shows it, involved a man from Tennessee who had a total cholesterol level of 300 and dropped it to 220 by only adding tofu to his diet. Another case with hospitalized patients showed that in 14 days, their cholesterol levels dropped 20% by eating soy-based foods. Tofu, like any other soy product, contains a phytochemical called isoflavones that also lowers total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in plasma. There are several studies that affirm this. One of them was done in Japan with 115 women who had tofu in their diets and showed a lower incidence of coronary heart disease than women from other countries.1, 5.
Varieties: How can I use them?
There are three types of tofu: silken, soft and firm. Silken and soft tofu have fewer calories than firm but also fewer proteins and calcium. Silken is usually used in creamy sweet desserts such as cheesecakes, sauces, smoothies or soups. Soft is used in fillings for lasagnas, quiches, frittatas, sandwiches or purees. Firm tofu is used for hamburgers, veggie meats and patties, and recipes that need a firmer texture such as egg-like scramble, breaded tofu, stir-fry, etc. My favorite property is the fact that tofu has a very bland flavor and its texture is porous, so it takes on any flavor you add with ease. You can make it taste like chicken, beef or fish and it’s perfect for sweet or spicy dishes.1,2
How to store it?
Tofu can be stored in the refrigerator for about 4 months from the production date printed on the package (if not opened). However, you should always check the container for an expiration date. If at any point you open the package and you were not able to cook it, you can store it by putting it in a covered container with cold water in the refrigerator; but you will need to change the water daily until cooked. Do not do this for more than 10 days. Cooked tofu (according to the “text books”) can be stored for 24hrs but deep-fried only up to 10 days.It can also be frozen for about 3 months but you need to be aware of the defrosting process. When you freeze the tofu in its container you need to know that the tofu will expand. Now, to defrost the tofu soak the container in warm water for a couple of minutes. After that, open the container and drain the water. Be mindful that the tofu will have a strong ammonia smell; that means its fresh. Place the tofu in a bowl and cover with hot water (do not pour it directly to the tofu), let soak for just 4 minutes. Pour off the hot water and add new warm water. Press tofu several times under water with your hands so all the “milky” ammonia comes out. Do this gently; you do not want the tofu to break apart. Discard that water and repeat until no more “white water” residue comes out. Take tofu out of the water and press one more time. After that, how you cook it is your choice!3,4.
What tofu is the best to buy?
The tofu I like to use is Nasoya because I love the fact that it is certified organic; by the way, did you know it was one of the first commercial tofu in the USA? Also, be conscious of other soy products, there are a lot of Genetically Modified soy out there, read labels and choose organic and GMO free! Now, if you buy it and the container is already expanded like about to burst, do not eat it as this usually indicates that something in the refrigeration process something went wrong.
So, what to remember?
Tofu is a great source of protein, calcium, and it is low in calories and do to the types of fats and phytochemicals that it contains, it reduces the risk of heart disease! It is a very versatile ingredient; it can be used in a lot of dishes and take on a lot of flavors. It’s a great option to substitute meat!
What to do?
Go ahead and make this tasty tofu no-egg frittata or just sauté tofu with veggies and eat it with rice or noodles. Deep-fry it or use it in a lasagna or smoothie. Bake a cheesecake! Be adventurous; try new flavors, research for recipes and enjoy!2
1 John Paino/Lisa Messinger. The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine. Avery 1991. United States of America. Pgs. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15, 17, 18, 21, 23.
2 Jack Norris/ Virginia Messina. Vegan for Life. First Da Capo Press Edition 2011. United States of America. Pgs. 19, 44, 121.
3 William Shurtleff/Akiko Aoyagi. The Book of Tofu: Food for Mankind, Volume 1. Autumn Press Inc. MA, USA. Pgs.30, 230.
4 Alimentos: Introduccion Tecnica y Seguridad. 2 Edicion 2003. Buenos Aires Argentina. Pg.34, 269.
5 Yusuke Arai/Shaw Watanabe/Mitsuru Kimira/Kayoko Shimoi/Rika Mochizuki/Naohide Kinae. Dietary Intakes of Flavonols, Flavones and Isoflavones by Japanese Women and the Inverse Correlation between Quercetin Intake and Plasma LDL Cholesterol Concentration. –The Journal of Nutrition: Human Nutrition and Metabolism. Downloaded on August 5, 2013 from: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/9/2243.full.pdf+html
6An Pan/Oscar H. Franco/ Jianping Ye/ Wendy Demark-Wahnefried/Xingwang Ye/Zhijie Yu, Huaixing Li/and Xu Lin. Soy Protein Intake Has Sex-Specific Effects on the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome in Middle-Aged and Elderly Chinese. The Journal of Nutrition: Nutritional Epidemiology. Downloaded on August 5, 2013 from: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/138/12/2413.full.pdf+html