The Ultimate Tofu Cheat Sheet

Tofu is one of those foods that can spark a heated debate. There are some who love tofu for its versatility and impressive nutrition profile, while others avoid it because they believe it’s a genetically-modified, cancer-inducing poison. With so much conflicting information available, you may be wondering whether tofu should be a part of your diet.

Here’s an in-depth look at one of the most controversial foods.

The Tradition of Tofu

Traditional soy tofu, aka bean curd, originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. It is made by curdling milk made from soybeans, similar to how cheese is made. Making soy tofu begins with grinding whole soybeans with water and heating them up to separate the soymilk from the solids. Next, a natural firming agent is added to the hot soymilk, causing curds to form. The curds are then pressed into blocks to create the familiar block shape.

Soy has long been recognized as a nutrient-dense food and an excellent source of protein by registered dietitians and medical doctors. Soybeans contain all of the essential amino acids as well as an impressive list of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C and zinc. Not to mention that soy also contains fiber and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. While these nutrients vary among preparations, consuming whole soy foods like tofu will guarantee the highest amount.

Genetically-Modified (GMO) Soy

Some people avoid tofu because they fear consuming GMOs. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory using genetic engineering techniques. Scientists alter genes with DNA from different species of living organisms, bacteria or viruses to get desired traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides and herbicides.

Soybeans are now one of the top genetically-modified crops in the country. But more than half of the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than people. Currently, 85 percent of all GMO soybeans end up in farmed animal feed. The feed is then consumed by the animal and used as a source of protein. As a result, it ends up on your plate.

Not all soy is GMO though, non-GMO soy tofu is widely available in stores, and is clearly labeled non-GMO.

Related: Which is More Important: Organic or Non-GMO?

There are criticisms about the production of genetically modified organisms. In more than 60 countries around the world, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of genetically modified organisms. Here in the U.S., the government has approved the use of GMOs, and as a result, they are ubiquitous in our food supply. If you want to take action on the issue of GMOs in our food supply or want to see GMOs clearly listed on labels, you can start a petition.

Soy Isoflavones & Cancer

Soybeans contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones. There are claims that these soy isoflavones act as the female sex hormone, estrogen and potentially increase the risk of cancer (especially breast cancer), as well as reduce testosterone levels in men. But science, based on well-planned research studies, has yet to uphold any of these claims.

The Ultimate Tofu Cheat Sheet

Buying, Storing & Cooking Soy Tofu

Cooking with tofu couldn’t be easier, but there are a few tricks to getting the perfectly cooked tofu dish that tastes good to the dinner table. From draining to pressing to storing, there’s some things you need to know. Traditional soy tofu comes in several different styles and textures based on the amount of natural coagulants and water used in its production. The key to a successful tofu recipe is choosing the right style for the dish.

Extra Firm or Firm: Both have a firm to very firm texture and can be used interchangeably. Use in stir fries, baked dishes, barbecued or braised dishes, and scrambles.

Medium Firm: Has a soft texture and breaks apart easily. Use in soups, non-dairy cheese or smoothies.

Soft & Silken: Unlike the other styles, soft and silken styles—the softest of all textures—comes in three additional varieties: soft, firm and extra firm. There is very little difference between the three, they all break apart very easily and can be used interchangeably. Use in desserts, creamy dips, soups, smoothies or even in egg-free mayo.

Here are a few tips on storing soy tofu:

  • Tofu that is packed in water needs to be drained prior to use. It can also be pressed to add additional firmness. Pressing also helps the blocks soak up marinades better than non-pressed.
  • Typically, store bought tofu is packaged in water. The water keeps the tofu fresh and prevents it from drying out. Once opened, tofu should be stored in fresh water and kept refrigerated in an air tight container. The storing water will need to be changed daily.
  • Freezing tofu changes its consistency and texture, making it more firm and dense.

For a primer on marinating, baking, frying or scrambling tofu check out this Guide to Tofu - Cooking Tofu.

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Soy-Free Tofu

While traditional soy-based tofu is the most common form of tofu eaten today, not all tofu is made from soy. Burmese tofu is made from water and chickpea flour known as besan flour. The flour is mixed with water, turmeric and salt and heated until it reaches a creamy consistency. It is then transferred to a pan and set aside to set. Unlike the bright white of traditional soy-based tofu, Burmese tofu is matte yellow and has a delicate but firm consistency and kind of melts in your mouth. Hemp tofu is made using shelled hemp seeds in place of soybeans. Both Burmese and hemp tofu are great soy-free alternatives to traditional soy tofu.

10 Delicious Tofu Recipes

Are you ready to add this nutritional powerhouse to your diet? Here are ten recipes to get you inspired!

The Ultimate Tofu Cheat Sheet

Recipes to try:

99 comments

John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Paola S
Past Member 1 years ago

thanks

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Janet B
Janet B1 years ago

Thanks

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 years ago

Good to know

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Sonia M

Thanks for sharing

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John B
John B1 years ago

Thanks for sharing the info.

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John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks KD for sharing the info and links to the recipes.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Thanks

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