Is tofu healthier than meat and what is the best way to cook it to ensure the perfect taste and texture? Find out with our ultimate guide to tofu.
A favourite in Japanese and Chinese cooking for centuries, tofu sometimes gets a bad rep in the UK.
This is down to the fact that many vegans and vegetarians have been subjected to bad preparation and cooking of it.
This often results in soggy, tasteless dishes, which has naturally put them off trying it again.
But as a vegan-friendly ingredient that’s packed with nutritional benefits, we want to help get it back on the menu in your house.
Follow our expert advice and you’ll soon fall back in love with it and perfect your tofu recipes.
What is tofu made of?
Tofu is made from soybeans.
The soybeans are ground into water along with a curdling agent, which tends to either be a salt-like nigari or an acid like lemon juice.
The soybeans, water and curdling agent are then heated up to create a bean curd. This is pressed into blocks and sold as tofu in its various textures and formats.
Find out how to make your own at home with this handy video:
What are the nutritional benefits of tofu?
Aside from tasting great, it is high in protein which comes from the soybean content. It is also relatively low in calories.
It’s high in iron too, which is a vitamin that’s important for active and sporty vegans.
Tofu is one of the few plant-based foods that’s a complete protein. This means that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids which are vital for nutrient absorption, tissue repair and protein synthesis.
It is also rich in soy-isoflavones, which have actually been proven to reduce the bad cholesterol in our bodies.
Plus it’s a cholesterol-free food, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
What more could you ask for?
Is tofu healthier than meat?
As one of the most popular and well-known meat substitutes out there, tofu often gets compared to meat.
So how does it stack up against animal protein when it comes to your health?
Firstly it has a lower saturated fat – up to 3.5 times less than chicken. It is also free from cholesterol, unlike its animal-based alternatives.
Tofu tends to be higher in calcium than meat, especially if the coagulation agent used is calcium sulphate.
It also has more iron than beef and double the amount of magnesium too.
So, it’s safe to say that tofu comes out top when compared to meats.
Some argue that because it has a slightly lower protein content, it’s not as superior as meat.
However, it has been argued that there is a fixation with protein intake and we really don’t require as much as we think.
This makes tofu the perfect overall winner.
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What’s the secret to cooking tofu so it has the perfect texture?
The first thing to mention is that you need to buy the right tofu for the right recipe.
Once you have decided on what to make, the most important thing to remember is to drain and press it as much as possible to remove the water that it contains. (And it does contain a lot).
You can purchase tofu presses or just use paper towels and weighty tins of vegetables or books.
Either way, if you want to avoid the slimy texture and get it to be more like mock meat, pressing is an essential part.
You can also take this a step further by freezing the tofu before you press it. Take it out of the freezer, let it defrost and then press it for an extra firm texture.
It’s also important to move on to flavouring the tofu once the water content is removed. This is what gives the often bland product its flavour. Skip this step and you probably won’t be making it again!
Think about what you want to serve with it and what will go well – options include tamari, paprika, basil, garlic, tomato, or lemon.
Then you can start putting a few small cuts/holes in the tofu to let the flavours marinate all the way through and not just linger on the top.
Next, pat it dry and give it a further optional dry rub with some herbs to add a further layer of crispiness.
Finally, it’s time for the cooking – be sure not to over or undercook.
Cook/bake/fry until brown or crispy if you want it that way.
You can also add an additional hot sauce at this stage, but make sure it’s cooked to a crispy state and don’t use too much as it will make it too soggy.
What’s the difference between soft tofu, extra firm tofu, and silken tofu?
Soft tofu is basically the variety that still has quite a high-water content. It has undergone the least about of pressing to give a soft but complete texture.
This one is best either deep-fried, pureed, or even used as vegan ice cream. It’s also quite nice in stews if you are looking for that softer bite.
Extra-firm tofu is the hardest version. It has a nice chunky chew so it’s great in curries or as a crispy fried option. It also performs well when baked and glazed to give it a more meat-like texture.
Silken tofu is the smoothest variety you will find. You can get the soft version of silken, which hasn’t been pressed and curdling hasn’t taken place. This makes it extremely fragile but perfect for creamy textures.
Silken tofu is ideal for creating vegan versions of egg mayonnaise, scrambled egg, and cheesecake. It’s also great to make dips and yoghurts with and to add to smoothies.
Soft silken tofu is the one to use if you are trying to create creaminess in recipes.
There is also a firmer option that has less water added during the fermentation process. It allows this version to be lightly fried.
What’s the perfect tofu marinade?
Marinade is often down to personal choice.
However, if it’s the first time you have cooked tofu, a good place to start is to just opt for tamari or soy sauce with water.
The next time you cook it you could start experimenting by adding some different herbs and flavours to match the rest of your meal.
If you’re struggling for time, let the tofu marinate for at least half an hour. If you have more time, overnight marinating does give the most wonderful, tasty results.
Check out our helpful list of tofu marinade recipes here.
How do I make baked tofu and crispy tofu?
For baked tofu, either buy or make you own firm or extra firm tofu. Preheat the oven to 400ºF or 200ºC and cut it into cubes.
Once pressed and drained, add the cubes along with your choice of marinade to a bowl. Mix well, then leave for a few minutes.
Drain the cubes. Put the cubes into a food preparation bag or another bowl with 1-2 tbsp corn-starch and toss to coat.
Place the cubes onto a lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
Flip them all over, then bake for a further 15 minutes or until golden brown.
For more of a crispy texture, you can follow the same method but pan fry in some oil instead of putting it in the oven.
Fry for about 2-4 minutes or until you are happy with the crispy texture. This allows you to secure the crispiness on all sides.
A little tip – extra firm tofu tends to work best when creating a crispy texture.
6 recipes to make with tofu
1. Miso-Roasted Broccoli & Tofu Buddha Bowl with Sesame Dressing
This delicious Buddha bowl recipe is perfect for a quick dinner because it’s ready to eat in just 30 minutes.
2. Black Pepper Stir Fry
Skip the takeout and make this classic Asian-inspired recipe that’s brimming with fresh veggies and umami flavours.
3. Tofu Egg Salad
Packed with protein-rich and antioxidant ingredients including sweet pickle relish, turmeric and sweet paprika, this vegan egg salad can be enjoyed on its own or used as a delicious sandwich filling.
4. Tofu ‘Egg’ Patty Breakfast Sandwich
Looking for a portable savoury sandwich that you can enjoy on the go? Look no further than this veggie-loaded vegan ‘egg’ breakfast sandwich recipe!
5. Tofu Scramble
Cutting eggs from your diet doesn’t mean missing out on classic breakfast dishes. This high-protein vegan scramble recipe is quick and easy to make and tastes so much better than traditional scrambled eggs!
6. Crispy Tofu Nuggets
These nuggets are crispy and golden brown on the outside and perfectly soft on the inside. Serve them with a soy and chilli dip for a simple meal everyone will enjoy.
Now you’ve mastered this popular vegan meat alternative, get to grips with another – seitan!
Find out everything you need to know about seitan and what recipes to use it in with our vegan guide to seitan.