Wow! What is that? Is it the latest supplement that’s guaranteed to burn fat? Or will I lose 20
pounds if I start taking this supplement? Perhaps it’s the latest energy supplement that will
reduce the visible signs of aging and give me the energy of the Energizer Bunny. Well, I hate to
disappoint you but its simply the Gochiso Gourmet’s marketing ploy at renaming that culinary
Velcro of the Asian kitchen, tofu. I guess it’s because no one seems to get excited about tofu.
Mention French fries cooked in duck fat or truffle infused this or that and people’s eyes widen.
Sometimes even sets off that Pavlovian reaction. But mention tofu and you get the same
reaction, “oh”. Poor tofu, a vital protein source in the eastern world but mostly shunned in the
What is Tofu?
Technically, tofu is a protein and fat coagulation from an aqueous medium consisting mainly of
cooked ground soybeans. Huh? Basically tofu is just soy cheese. Like cheese is a coagulation of
milk proteins and fats, tofu is the counterpart in the vegetable world. However unlike cheese
which was produced to store highly perishable milk during an era where refrigeration wasn’t
available, soy “cheese” is also perishable… unless you ferment it but I’ll get back to that later.
Most tofu starts as dried soybeans – some start as fresh but most are the dried variety. After
soaking, steaming and grinding, the resultant soy milk is then coagulated with a variety of
coagulants. The most common coagulants are calcium or magnesium chloride (nigari) though
calcium sulfate is also employed – if calcium sulfate sounds familiar to you carpenter types, it’s
the same thing that’s in drywall (gypsum). But before you throw out the tofu in your house,
let me remind you that it is food grade calcium sulfate; it isn’t simply ground up recycled
drywall. And these salts do fortify tofu with a good source of dietary calcium.
Sometimes a naturally occurring acid called glucono delta lactone - which is also used in cheese
making - is employed. This acid coagulation is commonly used with the softer versions of tofu.
Lastly, natural enzymes such as papain (from the papaya) are also used to coagulate the soy
milk to start the tofu process. Some tofu producers use a mixture of different coagulants since
each one gives a slightly different texture to the final product.
After the coagulated soy milk forms curds, the curds are pressed to remove excess moisture. The
remaining moisture content determines whether the final product is a silken soft tofu versus a
medium to a firm block of tofu.
Post Curd Manipulation
Other than various degrees of firmness (or softness) in the final product, tofu can also be
processed further – namely by frying to produce aburage, atsuage and namaage. Thin slices of
tofu that are fried produce aburage while frying whole blocks of tofu gives you namaage with
atsuage being a half to quarter block of fried tofu. While atsuage and namaage are simply oil
seared tofu, aburage looks totally different from the original slice of fresh tofu. It also produces
a pouch that’s the perfect purse for vinegared rice aka inarizushi.
Sometimes the tofu manipulation takes place before the final fresh block of tofu is completed.
In the case of yuba, the skin that forms on the surface of the soy milk is skimmed off. This
“tofu skin” (not really tofu at this point) can be eaten fresh or folded and dried. After
rehydrating, it is commonly used in simmered dishes or used as a wrap for Chinese dim sum or as
a vegetarian “chicken” or “duck” skin. It does have a firmer consistency than tofu – even firm
tofu – so it’s often used as an animal protein replacement in vegetarian dishes (about the same
mouth feel and bite as chicken).
Finally, tofu is also pickled and fermented to create unique flavor sensations. That’s unique with
a CAPITAL and bolded “U”. The Chinese produce both a yellow and red pickled tofu that’s used
as the gravy base for the popular New Year’s dish, jai. The first time I made jai, I had to visit a
small Chinese grocery store to have the owner translate my ingredient list (it was listed by their
Chinese names). When it came to the pickled tofu, the owner presented a small bottle of red
tofu that looked a little slimy. The bottle also wasn’t vacuumed sealed and looked like it simply
was filled and capped. Mmm, very appetizing! Since the recipe only called for 2 small pieces, I
put the bottle back on the shelf thinking I could do without it. The owner promptly put the
bottle back in my basket and stated that it was essential to the gravy of jai. Every time I tried to
lift it back out of my basket, he pushed it back in. I gave in and tried it. Think natto mixed
with stinky cheese and a touch of fermented fish sauce. I later learned that the pickled red tofu
was a lot stronger in aroma and flavor than the white pickled tofu but they ARE essential flavor
components in proper jai.
Then there’s “stinky tofu” (I guess pickled tofu isn’t considered stinky) which is soft tofu
fermented in a vegetable and fish brine. Not even Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel could
stomach it. Have I tried it? Like I say, “he, who turns from stinky tofu and runs away, lives to
eat another day”!
Tofu for Dessert Anyone?
Because of its silken texture and neutral taste, tofu actually makes a great base for desserts. The
Mori-Nu company produces package mixes that you combine with
silken tofu to make your own vegan pudding. Tofu often replaces the
eggs in dessert recipes – mainly since it’s high in protein and because
it has a natural custard-like texture. If you are using tofu in baked
goodies, I would use cake flour in place of regular flour since the
additional protein in tofu might give your final product a little
tougher texture (cake flour has less protein than regular flour).
Too much protein can toughen baked goods.
Tofu can also fortify smoothies with additional protein and give that
rich almost-dairy-like texture to blended drinks. The key to using
tofu in desserts and smoothies is a good blender or food processor.
If you’re making these goodies for your monthly vegan club meal,
hiding the tofu isn’t critical. If you’re trying to substitute a healthier
ingredient in goodies for the family, you might want to hide (disguise) those white silken
pillows or you might get expressions of suspicion – “what are these small white chunks in the
chocolate mousse”? Blend well my friend.
If you think you’re tofu dessert is the greatest dish, you still have 9 days to submit it to the
Nichi Bei Times for their Tofu Dessert Competition and Festival.
Humble bean, grind, squeeze
Nigari then mame cheese
Who cares “where’s the beef”?
Glycine max Custard