Is Tofu Vegan?
Tofu is also vegetarian.
The production of Tofu does not use any animal products at all which makes it vegan. The ingredients are Soybeans, Water, and Calcium Sulfate. The soybeans are cooked and naturally separated into solids and liquids. The mixture is put into molds and out comes tofu.
This meat alternative is easy to cook with and can be used in many dishes. Care must be taken to make sure animal products are not added during the cooking process resulting in a non-vegan food
Tofu has been used as a main ingredient in Chinese cooking for over 2000 years. Only recently has it become more “westernized”.
How is Tofu Made?
Would you believe Tofu is made in a similar way to Cheese? Of course, we know cheese comes from dairy milk, but Tofu comes from plants.
The beans are harvested and removed from their pods. Then they are crushed and boiled to break them down into milk (soymilk) and solids (okara). To speed up the separation, a separation agent is used. Commonly it is Magnesium Chloride or Calcium Sulfate.
Magnesium Chloride is a bitter white powder that can be also used to treat upset stomach or to treat low dietary magnesium.
Calcium sulfate is commonly used in baking as a dough conditioner and strengthener.
Citric Acid (from oranges or lemons) can also be used. There are a few other separation agents used but they are very uncommon.
Occasionally sulfates are used as well as a preservative to keep the even and natural color of Tofu.
The solution of soymilk and oakara (also called Whey) is then poured into the rectangular molds we know as Tofu. The liquid is drained away, and the remaining rectangular cakes are packaged in water and sold in stores.
The process is very simple and hasn’t changed for thousands of years.
Types of Tofu
All the different kinds of tofu are still made from the same 3 ingredients. What makes Tofu firm or soft is the way it is pressed in the molds.
Each type of tofu has a different amount of water in it. The list below shows the order of water content in the different types of tofu products.
- Extra-firm Tofu has almost all of the water pressed out of it.
- Regular or Medium tofu is great for scrambles and soups
- Soft tofu is not pressed at all. Instead, the soy milk is just allowed to solidify in the mold.
Also, tofu is 6-8% soy protein content, which makes a very good protein source. It is also a complete protein, unlike many other plant products. No additives need to be introduced to make it a complete protein like animal protein (eggs, milk, and such). It has sufficient levels of the essential amino acids to be a complete protein.
Organic tofu is not made any differently than regular. Instead, it is the way the soybeans are grown. If they are grown organically, you get Organic Tofu
Not Vegan Tofu
In China Tofu is often fermented with dairy milk or even shrimp brine. This creates Stinky tofu. Stinky tofu starts Vegan, but then after fermentation with Animal products is not vegan nor vegetarian.
As mentioned above, the ingredients that are added to tofu while cooking need to be carefully watched to make sure it remains vegan
One common issue is frying tofu. Has the oil been used to fry other items like chicken nuggets, or fish? Was butter used to sauté the tofu and vegetables? These are all common questions that need to be asked if you are eating out or at a restaurant.
Is Tofu Good for you?
Again the answer is YES.
A once common misconception was that soy products contribute to breast cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Soy contains isoflavones and fiber both of which have amazing health benefits.
The misunderstanding came from the discovery that isoflavones are a plant hormone similar to estrogen. Estrogen, in high enough amounts, has been linked to a higher incidence of breast cancer.
But there just isn’t a high enough concentration of these hormones in tofu to have bad effects, the levels are high enough to have good effects though. Everything in moderation!
Another study from 2020 in the Journal Cardiology said “people who ate at least one weekly serving of tofu or another food containing isoflavones had an 18% lower risk of developing heart disease”.
A vegan diet can be very healthy for you, however, it can be difficult to get enough protein. Consuming Tofu can help increase the amount of protein you get.
At this time there are no known health concerns associated with consuming it, and as such the health benefits of tofu are very high.
Is Tofu Bad for you?
No – Tofu is not bad for you.
The EFSA – European Food Safety Association, similar to the FDA has done extensive studies on the safety of tofu and “that soy and soy isoflavones pose no concerns for thyroid function or breast or uterine cancers”.
Cooking with Tofu
Since tofu alone is naturally vegan and vegetarian food, we need to keep it that way while cooking it.
You can get the plant protein at most grocery stores.
It is typically sold near the produce section in a refrigerated area. It is most often sold as a block of tofu n water in a plastic container.
Not all stores will have all the varieties. Usually, it’s only the firm or extra firm that is available, as people in western countries don’t like the softer varieties.
However Asian grocery or health food stores will have a very large section, and may even have fresh tofu which is sold in large barrels where you need to bring your own packaging.
How to prepare Tofu
If you want to cook with tofu there are many different recipes and techniques you can use:
- Stir Fry
- Deep Frying
- Air fry
Most cooks will drain and press the tofu before cooking with it. This makes it easier to work with as well as helps it absorb whatever seasoning and flavors you want it to have.
Open the plastic tub and drain off the water. Here’s a tip – tofu water can be used for plants!
There is no need to rinse or wash tofu. You can start to work with it right out of the container.
How to Press Tofu
Press the tofu to drain out even more moisture. Take the block and place the entire tofu block it between paper towels or a dishcloth, and put something heavy on it for a few minutes. You can buy tofu presses, but I like to use a heavy cast-iron skillet. You can even use canned food, or a bowl filled with water or rice.
One time I tried to use books, but the moisture coming from the block also got into the book and ruined it.
It is nearly impossible to remove all the water and that’s OK. I usually begin to work with it when I see the towels are slightly damp.
Next cut the tofu into whatever shape you want. Most people simply cut it into cubes or strips.
You can also break it apart into crumbles to be used as ground meat.
Try experimenting with different shapes. I have even used a cookie cutter to make stars and circles.
Now is when you can marinate or season the product. Here are 17 different tofu marinates I have tried that comes out awesome! I have even more vegan tofu recipes coming soon!
Most people use extra firm tofu and simply coat it in a little oil then pan fry it in a skillet.
To make it even crispier, give the tofu a light coating of corn starch and then fry or bake. This simple step can really make it more crunchy.
Some of my favorite recipes are:
- Pad thai (make sure there is no fish sauce)
- Kung Pao Tofu
- Sesame Tofu
- Mapo tofu (make sure it is meat-free)
I don’t’ eat it every day, but have it 3-4 times per week as part of a healthy diet.
It is also possible to freeze tofu. First, take it out of the packaging and drain and press as described above. Then put it into a plastic bag in the freezer overnight, Once it is frozen solid, remove it and let it thaw. It will have a completely different texture and even flavor changes.
What does Tofu taste Like?
If you were to put a piece of raw tofu into your mouth – nothing bad will happen. It has a slightly nutty flavor. I find it a little bit sweet and even earthly. Some say tofu has a smell, but I have never gotten a flavor from smelling it.
Some say it has a bland taste, but I find these people are used to eating over-salted foods and having a lot of oil in their meals.
If your piece goes bad (check the container for the expiration date), it will taste very bitter and sour. Discard and find a fresh container.
Tofu dishes can look like regular food. Obviously, it is most common in Asian foods. But you can put it in spaghetti sauce, soups, salads, noodle dishes, and more!
Why Do Vegans Eat Tofu
Tofu is one of those plant foods that is a great protein base that can be included as a primary ingredient in many different dishes. It is a healthy alternative to meat and can take on the flavors of whatever it is being cooked in.
It’s a great nutrient-dense food that can help with weight loss (if you don’t eat too much) that is affordable and easy to cook with.
Don’t be afraid to try it and experiment with different recipes. With some practice and time, you can incorporate tofu into your diet, have all the health benefits, and know that you are helping the world out!
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