Food in focus: Tofu
Delicious and protein-rich tofu is made from the curd of soy milk.
It comes in a variety of textures from silky to firm making it an incredibly versatile ingredient and a simple way to load your dishes with extra nutrients.
Tofu sometimes gets a bad rap for being bland but this neutral flavour is its biggest asset. Whether it’s the zesty tang of lemon, the bite of a chilli or the aromatic flavour of garlic, tofu soaks up flavours, making it the perfect protein base for any dish.
So what makes tofu so good for you?
As a soy food, tofu has all the health benefits of soy.
It is high in protein and is a source of iron and calcium. Tofu also contains isoflavones – a naturally occurring, hormone-like compounds. Isoflavones have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They also mimic some of the positive effects of the hormone oestrogen like reducing cholesterol and hot flushes.
A growing number of studies have linked eating soy foods, like tofu, soy milk and miso, with increased protection from breast cancer and better survival rates. Eating more soy foods has also been shown to help with lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and risk of heart disease.
Is tofu bad for the environment?
One question that tends to come up when talking about the plant-based diet is, “is tofu really worse than meat for the environment?".
The short answer is – no.
It’s true that tofu is made from the curd of soy milk, which is made from soybeans and the majority of deforestation is caused by soybean production. But tofu – as well as other soy-based products – are not to blame. While this is one of the biggest misconceptions, the truth is that actually around 80% of the world’s soy is fed to livestock and only 6% of soy is turned into human food.
Soy is cheap and effective as well as the largest source of protein for the world’s farm animals, which is why it’s used. But the truth is soy-fed livestock foods and livestock-free soy foods have wildly different environmental footprints. Research shows that if humans’ protein needs were met strictly by soy foods, instead of animals, deforestation would decline by 94%.
It’s best to go for organic or GMO-free tofu that’s not extracted from rainforest regions and is as local as possible.
What is the best type of tofu to buy?
If you haven’t used tofu it can be a daunting ingredient to try because there are so many options. The success of your recipe will come down to choosing the right variety of tofu for the dish. There are four main varieties of tofu – extra firm, firm, soft and silken. Most recipes will specify which type you need.
- Extra firm and firm tofu hold their shape well for cooking. As these varieties contain less water, they are also denser in nutrients making them higher in protein and calcium. Choose firm or extra firm tofu for barbequing, stir fries, deep frying, laksas and curries.
- Soft tofu has a crumbly texture that makes it an ideal substitute for ricotta cheese. Use it as a swap for mincemeat to make your own meat-free burgers, scramble it like eggs or use it as a filling for dumplings and pastas.
- Silken tofu has an almost custard-like consistency which makes it perfect to blend and use in sweet dishes like vegan ice cream and cheesecakes. It’s a great base to hold flavours for dips, it can be used in soups or even your morning smoothie to make them extra creamy, and is also the style of tofu you often see at restaurants simply drizzled with delicious dressings and sauces.
- Marinated tofu, now readily available in supermarkets, can be diced or cubed and added into a salad as a swap for cold chicken or fish, providing an excellent source of protein.
How do you to store tofu?
No matter the variety, keep tofu in the fridge. Once opened, if you have any left over, drain it of any liquid that it comes with and place it in an airtight container and cover with fresh cold water. Drain and replace the water daily to keep it at its best. Use within a week.