posted November 28, 2023
Tofu is a versatile, nutrition-packed, and inexpensive soybean product and a healthy addition to a vegan diet. In my early years of veganism, I found tofu intimidating, but with practice I conquered my fears. Once you’ve read this article, I’m confident you will be tofu savvy and inspired to tackle new recipes.
1. Explore Cultural Origins
According to Soyinfo Center, several theories exist about tofu’s origins. One theory suggests it was discovered by a Chinese prince during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE) when pureed soybeans curdled with the addition of refined sea salt. Another posits it was invented in India or Mongolia using cheesemaking techniques. Regardless, historical documents reveal tofu was a regular part of the Chinese diet by 1000 CE. Benjamin Franklin mentions tofu in a letter home to botanist John Bartram in the 1700s, however, commercial production didn’t begin in the US until 1920.
2. Bone Up on Nutritional Value
A 3 oz. serving of tofu is a nutritional powerhouse packing 9 grams of protein in just 94 calories, as well as fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and zinc. Fat content is 5 grams, and mostly unsaturated! In a 2021 study by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, participants who ate tofu more than once a week lowered their risk of heart disease by 18%. Tofu may also reduce women’s menopausal symptoms. Purchase organic and non-GMO whenever possible.
3. Unpack Concerns about Cancer
There is a common misperception that soy promotes breast cancer. While mammary tumors occurred in early research involving rats, numerous follow-up studies on humans have failed to yield the same results. In addition, minimally-processed, whole food soy products (like tofu, tempeh, edamame, natto, and tamari) were found to be protective against breast cancer. Japanese women following a diet rich in soy have a 1 in 38 risk of breast cancer, compared to 1 in 8 in the US. If you desire more information, Dr. Kristi Funk is a well-informed source.
4. Invest In an Easy-To-Use Tofu Press
Tofu comes in a variety of firmness options from silken (soft) to extra-firm. Silken tofu is best for desserts and dressings and requires no pressing. Press medium, firm, and extra-firm varieties to remove liquid the tofu is stored in, allowing tofu to soak up marinades and seasonings.
For years, I used the pot-balancing-on-tofu, paper-towel-lined-plate method. This yielded an unsightly amoeba-like shape that lacked density. Once I bought a spring-loaded enclosed press, I was ready to play with the big kids! Pressing went from hours to minutes, and I could cut dense symmetrical cubes that held their shape and absorbed flavors well. Some stores now offer extra firm varieties that do not require pressing.
5. Experiment with New Recipes
Tofu is highly versatile and can be marinated, seasoned, baked, fried, and used as a filling in tacos, burritos, stir fry, bowls, and more. It can also be seasoned to replace ricotta in Italian dishes.
Baked Teriyaki Tofu Cubes
These easy to prepare Baked Teriyaki Tofu cubes from Jane and Ann Esselstyn are often the basis of my lunch or dinner and can be mixed with greens, grains, veggies, seeds/nuts and dressings. You simply toss cubes in a marinade made with a few pantry ingredients. Allow the tofu to soak up the liquid then bake until brown. Use an air fryer for an extra crispy texture.
Tofu Egg Salad
My teen daughter and I spread this easy seven ingredient tofu-based Vegan Egg Salad on rice cakes for breakfast. It’s a great filling for sandwiches or served as a dip for crackers/veggies. My non-vegan friends love it! I like to add a splash of vinegar, chopped celery, grated carrot, and olives. Kala Namak (Indian black salt) provides an eggy taste and can be purchased at an International store or Amazon.
Silken Tofu Chocolate Mousse
If it’s dessert you’re craving, silken tofu stars in this decadent company-worthy dessert. Pair with fresh berries for color and added nutrition!
I hope you are inspired to invest some time in the kitchen creating staple recipes that you enjoy. Your body will thank you!
Jill Hughes is a Pilates instructor living in Northern Virginia. She is a graduate of ECornell’s Plant Based Nutrition Certificate program and is currently completing the Main Street Vegan Academy. Jill is passionate about equipping others to lean into a healthy vegan diet. She is moving to Charleston, South Carolina next summer with her family.