If you have recently embarked on your journey as a vegan or vegetarian, you are likely looking into lots of new foods to include in your new diet. One of these is probably tofu, and with good reason.
Tofu can be an excellent protein source for vegans who will no longer eat any meat or dairy products.
But is tofu vegan or just vegetarian? The answer is yes, the standard tofu you find in grocery and health food stores is vegan!
Let’s dive into tofu with what this protein powerhouse is made of, its health benefits, and how you can prep it properly for use in delicious recipes to include in your new vegan diet!
What is Tofu?
Tofu is a protein made from pressed soybean curds. It has been used in traditional Asian diets for a long time but did not find its way into US culture until the 1960s.
Besides being a substantial source of protein for those who do not eat meat, tofu also has essential minerals and a light flavor that allows it to be used in many different kinds of recipes.
The ingredients in tofu are very short, which makes it a food most vegans feel comfortable with. Tofu is made from:
- Soybeans – Dried beans are the primary ingredient.
- Water – Dried soybeans soak in water and then are crushed and boiled. This creates the soy milk base for the tofu.
- Coagulants – Create the reaction to turn the soymilk into curds. Salt-based coagulants like calcium sulfate (gypsum) and nigari salts are commonly used. Acid coagulants and enzyme coagulants are sometimes used occasionally. All these coagulants are safe for vegans to consume.
The process by which tofu is made is pretty simple. Soy milk is steamed, and then a coagulating or thickening agent is added to the milk. That turns the milk into curds. The curds are pressed to remove as much water as possible and form the tofu into the blocks we find in grocery stores today.
These blocks of tofu come in a few different types. When making recipes with tofu, it is crucial to make sure you are using the right kind to get the optimal flavor and texture.
- Regular firm or extra-firm – dense, meaty texture great for grilling, baking, and stir-frying.
- Silken and soft tofu – creamy, smooth texture that should only be cooked in baked goods. It has a slightly sweet taste that is great as a dairy replacement in soups, smoothies, and dressings.
Almost all recipes you make that include tofu as an ingredient will tell you the best type of tofu to use.
Is Tofu Healthy for You?
Tofu is low in saturated fats and calories. It also has dietary minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
Because it contains all nine essential amino acids, it is a complete protein for vegans or vegetarians. It can also improve blood flow in your blood vessels because it contains heart-healthy isoflavones.
There are even some clinical studies that link these isoflavones, which affect the makeup of breast tissue and mimic the role of estrogen in the body to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.
Tofu is naturally gluten-free, making it great for those living a gluten-free lifestyle or who may have intolerances or allergies. According to Medical News Today, there are several known benefits of eating tofu and soy in general:
- Lower incidence of age-related mental disorders
- Prevent liver damage
- Relieve symptoms of menopause
- Help reduce bone loss
- Inhibit the growth of cancer cells
- Reduce levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol.
Are There Any Unhealthy Aspects of Tofu?
As with many plant-based foods, there are a few things to be aware of about tofu. Tofu contains compounds called antinutrients, which are present in many legumes. They can decrease the body’s ability to absorb essential minerals.
Antinutrients can also block trypsin, an enzyme the body uses to digest protein properly. This is important to vegans as they have to absorb all the protein through plant-based products so as not to develop nutritional deficiencies. But you can help to reduce and eliminate these antinutrients.
You can reduce and eliminate much of the antinutrients by soaking and then cooking soybeans, which is exactly how tofu is made. Another great option is to use sprouted soy tofu. It has almost no antinutrients at all.
When eating tofu in moderate amounts, there is not too much to worry about when it comes to antinutrient consumption.
One thing that is very important to be aware of is that it is extremely common for soybean crops to be genetically modified (GMO) and to be heavily sprayed with pesticides, glyphosate being the most prevalent. Because of this, always try to buy organic tofu and look for labels stating it is non-GMO whenever possible.
Are there Non-vegan Tofus Out There?
If you are newly vegan, it will be essential to become very accustomed to reading labels to ensure the products you purchase and consume are, in fact, vegan. Always look for a brand that states it is certified vegan.
Standard tofu is vegan, but there are a few exceptions to look out for. These tend to be at restaurants, but there are some commercial products to be wary of as well.
- Stinky tofu – This is not vegetarian or vegan. It is tofu that has been fermented with shrimp brine or dairy milk.
- Egg tofu – This dish resembles tofu’s texture, but does not contain tofu at all. It is made with eggs and various kinds of stock.
- Flavored tofu products – They may not contain meat but can contain animal by-products that are not vegan.
Tofu is an incredible source of protein and can easily be incorporated into any diet, but most especially into a vegan or vegetarian diet if you are not consuming meat or animal products.
By following the tips above to purchase the right kind for the recipes or cooking style and by prepping it properly, you will have a delicious alternative to traditional meat in meals.
Double-check your labels to ensure it is vegan and always opt for organic whenever possible. The possibilities of cooking with tofu really are endless. Bon appetit!
How Should you Prep Tofu Before Cooking?
When many people say they do not like the taste or texture of tofu, it is probably because their experience with tofu is that of dishes not prepared correctly.
If you know the right way to prep your tofu before cooking, you will be surprised at how delicious and easy to cook it can be.
Here are some tips & how-tos on prepping your tofu:
Tip #1 Always press your firm or extra-firm tofu!
Pressing your tofu may add about 30 minutes to the cooking process, but it is well worth it.
Pressing helps remove excess water, and when tofu is fried in a pan or baked, it helps the tofu to hold its shape. Excess liquid can make the tofu delicate and can cause it to break up, turning your perfect pieces into a soggy mess. Not only will the texture of your tofu improve, but it will also improve how it absorbs the seasonings and marinades you use.
Tip #2 Press it correctly
If you often cook with tofu, you may want to invest in a tofu press. They are available in different styles and price ranges, but you can find them very reasonably priced at many online retailers. You can find this popular tofu press online for under $20.
Even if you don’t have a press, you can achieve similar results using a clean tea towel, a large plate with a lip, and something heavy to place on top like a frying pan, as well as some cans or jars that are full. The process is straightforward.
- Wrap the block of tofu in a clean towel and place it on a large plate.
- Put a heavy frying pan on the tofu and add cans and jars for extra weight.
- Leave for 30 minutes.
- Tofu should be about two-thirds of its original thickness when it is ready.
- Store in an airtight container up to a day after pressing.
An important note is that this process is for the firm or extra-firm tofu only. It won’t work with any silken tofu. Silken tofu is much too soft, and you will crush it if you try pressing it. That is why as we stated before, silken tofu is best for blending or for using in baked goods.
Tip #3 Season and marinade generously
One of the great things about cooking with tofu is that it does not have a lot of flavor on its own. It is very mild. That means it can absorb almost any flavor you want it to.
The downside is that many people don’t season their tofu correctly, and then they decide they don’t like tofu.
Make sure to thoroughly season it and give your tofu time in its marinade to absorb as much flavor as possible. Don’t rush this process!
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