A Vegan’s Guide to Tofu
There are a lot of myths still flying around about soya and tofu which is such a shame as it’s an amazing food for lots of reasons. Here are some of the most common ones:
Myth 1: Soya isn’t healthy
Soya is a great source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids and providing more protein than most other pulses. It’s also a source of ‘good fats’ (omega-3 and 6), antioxidants, calcium, B vitamins and iron. It lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of certain cancers and other diseases.
Myth 2: Soya messes with men’s hormones
Be reassured – the man-boob jokes are nonsense! Soya contains phytoestrogens, natural substances also found in many fruits, vegetables, beans, peas and wholegrains. Their chemical structure is similar, but not identical, to the oestrogen found in animals, including humans.
However, they are 100 to 100,000 times weaker and therefore have very little oestrogenic effect, if any.1Messina M, McCaskill-Stevens W and Lampe JW. 2006. Addressing the soy and breast cancer relationship: review, commentary, and workshop proceedings. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 98 (18) 1275-1284. Studies on humans concur that phytoestrogens from soya foods are completely safe.2Messina M. 2016. Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature. Nutrients. 8 (12) 754. In fact, men may even benefit from eating more as studies suggest that soya consumption is linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer.3Yan L and Spitznagel EL. 2009. Soy consumption and prostate cancer risk in men: a revisit of a meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 89 (4) 1155-1163.
And don’t forget, cow’s milk and dairy products contain actual oestrogen!4Ganmaa D and Sato A. 2005. The possible role of female sex hormones in milk from pregnant cows in the development of breast, ovarian and corpus uteri cancers. Medical Hypotheses. 65 (6) 1028-1037.
Myth 3: Vegans are destroying the rainforest
Around three-quarters of soya worldwide is used for animal feed5WWF. 2014. The Growth of Soy, Impacts and Solutions. https://wwf.panda.org/?214091/The-Growth-of-Soy-Impacts-and-Solutions – for cows, pigs and chickens – so that people can eat meat, dairy and eggs. Most of it comes from the Amazon and other places facing environmental destruction, with only around six per cent of global soya production being eaten by humans.5WWF. 2014. The Growth of Soy, Impacts and Solutions. https://wwf.panda.org/?214091/The-Growth-of-Soy-Impacts-and-Solutions
Many of the soya foods consumed in the UK are made with organic beans sourced from Europe and the US, unlike the genetically-modified types grown for animal feed. If you want to see less destruction of the rainforest, switch to a vegan diet and eat MORE soya!
Want to know your silken from your firm, your marinated from your tempeh?
We’re here to clear up the confusion and help you decide what type of tofu works with which dish. Lots of people have a ‘bad experience’ with cooking tofu from scratch and get the impression that they don’t like it. However, it is really simple and can taste incredible once you know a few basics. And of course, there are plenty of ready-cooked flavoured varieties now so don’t worry!
Did you know?
Tofu is the Japanese word for beancurd and has been used widely in countries like China, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam etc for thousands of years.
Tofu is made by making soya milk from ground up soya beans then setting it with a natural setting agent and pressing to remove excess liquid. The process is very similar to cheese-making. This creates a food that is very high in protein and generally low in fat. It is one of the richest and cheapest sources of protein available in the world. It comes in several varieties, textures and flavours.
All tofu is sold in packets or cartons, either fresh or longlife. Cauldron Foods is the most well-known brand in supermarkets in the chilled cabinets but there are more and more coming out all of the time including the fantastic ToFoo. There are equally good or better varieties in health food shops and Oriental supermarkets. We like to buy tofu made from organic or clearly labelled non-GM beans (which nearly all brands in the UK are), but it all depends on your budget.
Plain – usually medium, firm or very firm
Firm/very firm is best for stir-fries, frying in cubes and oven roasting. It has a very subtle taste, but because it absorbs flavours so well it has many uses from savoury to sweet. Drain, press with weights and dab with a clean cloth or kitchen towel before frying up or roasting – this helps it to crisp up more. You can press it like this or buy a dedicated tofu press for a few quid!
If you’re feeling lazy or short of time then just drain the liquid from the tofu and wrap it in some kitchen roll for a few minutes.
Pre-marinated and / or deep-fried pieces
Cauldron, Taifun and other brands
Deep fried pieces/puffs from Oriental supermarkets are amazing, tasty and quite cheap – they can be added whole or sliced to dishes (eg stir fries or curries) and heated up. Just be careful not to cook them on a high heat as they burn quite easily.
Marinated – there is lots of pre-marinated tofu out there now which is great for pack/office lunches, sandwiches and quick meals. You can find it in health food shops and supermarkets and there are lots of great flavours out there. Taifun has the most variety and Cauldron marinated pieces can be found in nearly every supermarket. Also look out for Clearspot, Dragonfly and ToFoo.
You can marinate plain tofu yourself using soya sauce, garlic, grated ginger and/or spices, which is cheaper than buying it ready-made.
The easiest and quickest way to cook tofu is to fry it in a little oil with soy sauce and then at the end add in some (optional) nutritional yeast… simple and delicious!
Silken – firm or soft
Silken tofu is sold in longlife tetra packs in health food shops and most supermarkets (look in world foods or free from sections), e.g. Clearspring, Blue Dragon or Morinaga brands. It can also be bought fresh, e.g. Taifun or Unicurd. Both longlife and fresh silken tofu are available in Oriental stores.
It is particularly good as an egg substitute in quiches, cakes and puddings (eg cheesecake or chocolate mousse) and makes very good mayonnaise and sour cream. However, it doesn’t fry well, so don’t try using it for a stir-fry (unless you really like a sloppy, scrambled addition!).
Firm silken works well in our super-fast scrambled tofu recipe.
Tempeh is made slightly differently to tofu but we wanted to include it as it’s got a higher content of fibre, protein, vitamins and friendly bacteria. It’s made from fermented soya beans and is made by a natural culturing and fermentation process that binds the soya beans into a cake-like substance.
Tempeh is becoming a lot more popular and it’s now available in some supermarkets as well as health food shops. You can buy pre-marinated, marinate it yourself at home (soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, ginger and garlic is lovely) or just fry it up super-quick with a little oil and a pinch of salt.
Easiest Tofu Recipe Ever
Use this anytime you’d like to add tofu to a dish – think Buddha bowls, stir fries, rice and veg, salad, sandwiches… or just for eating as a snack… we can’t get enough of it!
Sumac & Ginger-Garlic Pan-fried Tofu
This is grrrrrreat! Even if you aren’t a big fan of plain tofu you’ll enjoy this.
Tofu Satay Skewers
These are really good – try on a barbecue as well as in the kitchen.
Black Sesame Tofu (Guest Recipe)
This sesame-crusted marinated tofu is very popular, even with people who thought they didn’t like tofu.
Quinoa & Smoked Tofu Salad
A simple and lovely recipe – quinoa and smoked tofu are a good taste combo, as well as being very nutritious.
Spinach & Potato Rosti with Tofu
We can’t get enough of these potato rosti! They’re cheap, delicious, easy and a great source of protein. Perfect for people on a budget.
Tofu Egg Mayo Sandwiches
These magical sandwiches look and taste pretty much like the traditional egg mayonnaise equivalent – and the filling takes but a moment to make!
Cheese & Broccoli Tomato Quiche
A few new twists on our old deluxe quiche recipe to make it super delicious.
10 Minute Tofish
This tofish recipe is a revelation as it really only takes 10 minutes!
Luxury Chocolate Mousse
The Big Mama of all mousses! This is a rich, sophisticated dessert.