Also known as vegetable cheese due to its production method, tofu is a food derived from soy milk with numerous beneficial properties for human health and in particular for the cardiovascular system.
In recent years, thanks to globalization and the spread of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and food, tofu has also spread to the tables of Italians. Many of us will have wondered “what is tofu?” Or “What does tofu taste like?” And others will have tried to introduce it into their own kitchen driven by simple curiosity.
However, tofu is a food with multiple nutritional properties and its inclusion in our diet can have beneficial effects for our health. It is also an extremely versatile food: different recipes allow us to fully appreciate it. In this article we would like to learn with you about tofu, its properties and its use in cooking.
What is tofu
First let’s try to explain what tofu is. It is a food derived from soy milk and therefore also known as soy cheese or vegetable cheese. The production process, in fact, recalls that necessary to obtain common cheeses. In particular, as we will see in the next paragraphs, tofu is obtained from the curdling of soy milk, after the addition of magnesium chloride or lemon juice.
Tofu: calories and nutritional values
Tofu, as we have seen, derives from the soy-based drink (called “soy milk” even if incorrectly as it is not a real milk) therefore the nutritional values of this food are similar to those of drink itself.
Soy is a legume very rich in proteins and, unlike the more well-known legumes, low in carbohydrates: tofu is therefore a food with a moderate amount of protein. Precisely for this reason it is frequently used in vegetarian or vegan diets to replace animal-derived protein sources (meat, fish).
From the point of view of micronutrients we must underline the important contribution of calcium offered by tofu: 100 g of food, in fact, provide 105 mg of calcium (about 10% of our daily requirement). The contribution of iron is also very consistent. 100 g of tofu provides 5.4 mg of iron and the average requirement of an adult man is equal to 10 mg per day!
From an energy point of view, it appears to be a super light food: the calories of tofu are just 81 for a 100 gram portion.
Nutritional values per 100g of tofu:
- Power: 81 kcal
- Proteins: 8.1 g
- Lipids: 4.8 g
- Carbohydrates: 0.7 g
- Fiber: 1.2 g
- Iron: 5.4 mg
- Soccer: 105 mg
- Phosphorus: 97 mg
- Sodium: 7 mg
- Potassium: 121 mg
- Zinc: 0.80 mg
- Vitamin B1: 0.08 mg
- Vitamin B2: 0.05 mg
- Niacin: 1.2 mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.05 mg
- Total folate: 15 ug
The health benefits of tofu
In addition to the benefits that tofu can bring in terms of nutrients (eg calcium and iron), this food appears to be beneficial for human health above all thanks to the content of isoflavones, substances with a chemical structure similar to estrogens, whose role has been extensively studied over the past few years.
In particular, it seems that products deriving from soy (therefore also tofu) have a beneficial effect on our cardiovascular system and on the possibility of improving blood levels of “bad” cholesterol. This effect seems to be due to the presence of soy proteins, the isoflavones already mentioned and probably from the interaction of these with other components of the soy itself (eg lecithins). In fact, it is important to underline that the use of isolated isoflavones alone in postmenopausal women has not reported any beneficial effect on reducing cholesterol.
The properties of tofu also seem to be linked to reducing the risk of developing certain oncological diseases such as cancer of the prostate, colon, breast and ovary. Furthermore, the consumption of tofu could improve symptoms related to menopause in women and a possible condition of osteoporosis.
How to use tofu in the kitchen: practical tips and combinations
Once you have learned its nutritional properties, all that remains is to learn how to cook tofu! First of all, we reiterate that it can be included in any diet (with the exception of some contraindications that you can read in the last paragraph) as a substitute for any protein-rich foods, such as meat, fish, eggs or cheeses.
In a healthy diet, the meal should always be organized by always providing an abundant portion of seasonal vegetables, a portion of preferably whole grains and a portion of proteins which, in our case, could be given precisely by tofu. Finally, the “healthy dish” is completed by adding a good extra virgin olive oil.
With this scheme in mind we can unleash our imagination and prepare unique dishes using minced tofu together with vegetables for the preparation of sauces for pasta, spelled, barley or other first courses.
Tofu is generally cooked using a grill or plate or we can use any marinade to flavor it more: with spices (such as paprika and turmeric), with oil seeds or with a sweet and sour sauce prepared with onions, citrus fruits and honey. Tofu is in fact a very variable food, with a neutral flavor, which is well suited to very different recipes.
Another idea for the consumption of tofu is to add it to soups, taking a cue from the famous miso soup, now widespread in all Japanese restaurants. In some recipes, tofu is also used in desserts, instead of cheese, such as in the preparation of a vegan cheesecake.
How to make tofu at home
If we have intrigued you enough and you are ready to try tofu in some of your recipes, you may be happy to know that tofu can be made at home in a few simple steps.
The ingredients for making tofu at home are few: 200 g of soy beans, 2 liters of water and the curdling agent. The most frequently used curdling agent is magnesium chloride, which can be purchased in organic shops under the name of “ nigari ” (in this case, 2 teaspoons dissolved in 150 ml of water will be needed). Alternatively, lemon juice is often used.
- After leaving the soy beans to soak overnight, we proceed with boiling them in boiling water for about 30 minutes.
- At this point with an immersion blender we will blend the beans and heat the liquid obtained again on the fire.
- When it is hot again we will move on to the next step: filter the liquid obtained through a narrow mesh strainer to divide the whitish liquid that we will use for the preparation of tofu: here is the famous soy milk!
If you want to skip this first part of the recipe, you can buy 1 liter of sugar-free soy milk directly from the supermarket and heat it in a saucepan. At this point we continue our preparation as follows:
- Taking care not to let the soy drink (both prepared at home and purchased) get too cold, we will finally add the nigari, previously dissolved in water. At this point the tofu formation process will begin!
- All we have to do is pour our product into a special mold and cover it with a weight of about 1 kg, which will help eliminate excess water and allow us to obtain, in about 1 hour, our tofu stick.
Contraindications of tofu
Concerns about soy overuse have been numerous in recent years, but these have been disproved by the most recent research. In any case, it is always good to pay attention to any allergies: all those who are allergic to soy should not even consume tofu.
Furthermore, in the review that we have already mentioned in the course of the article, there is a concern related to the consumption of excessive quantities of soy in infants as it could affect hormonal balance.
Finally, excessive consumption of soy is connected to thyroid problems: those suffering from hypothyroidism should therefore limit their consumption. Surely in the coming years we will have more in-depth information and we will know precisely when it is good to consume tofu and when it is important to limit its intake. As always, however, the rule of moderation applies!