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Taho: A Sweet Vegan Filipino Tofu Dessert

This taho Filipino Taho recipe is delicious and oh-so-simple. Made with only three ingredients, it's easy to see why this dish is a popular Filipino choice for breakfast or a sweet afternoon snack. 

Asian cultures are historically experts at using tofu to make some dynamite dishes, from savory BBQ tofu to sweet desserts, like Taho. The Philippines' inhabitants enjoy this tasty dish daily, along with neighboring countries Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, who all have their versions of this Taho drink. 

Taho, a silken tofu dessert, is an excellent vegan option for breakfast or dessert that is surprisingly creamy, considering it is entirely dairy-free. 

Thinly layered ingredients in a glass serving dish make this beautiful dessert look complicated and challenging to make. No one needs to know that this homemade Taho is a low-effort, simple recipe. 

What is Taho?

Taho is a signature staple in the Philippines, with vendors carrying buckets on practically every street corner in the mornings, yelling "Tahooooo" to attract their customers.

It's most similar to a custard, with a texture that falls somewhere between a pudding and a beverage. Some eat it with a spoon, while some use a straw. It's a sweet, rich, and creamy way to start the day. 

Taho contains only three ingredients - sago pearls, silken tofu, and arnibal. 

Why is it called Taho?

The name "Taho" comes from the Malaysian word "Tauhue," meaning "tofu pudding."

Malaysians made this snack with more medicinal qualities, using sweet chili water and ginkgo seeds. Filipinos adjusted this recipe to their tastes and created their sweeter version by replacing the chili water and ginkgo with arnibal and sago seeds. 

Choosing tofu for Taho

When it comes to making your taho recipe, silken tofu is the only choice. It has a velvety texture because of its higher water content. Regular, firm, or extra-firm tofu has a lot of the water pressed out. These tofus are all far too firm to use for making Taho. 

If you can't find silken tofu, you can use soft tofu instead, which is a little firmer than silken but won't completely throw off the texture of the Taho. 

Sago pearls and arnibal for Taho

Sago pearls vs. boba

Taho is traditionally made with sago pearls, which are balls made of tropical palm starch. They're similar to tapioca pearls, like boba, used in popular beverages like bubble tea. 

You can find both kinds of pearls dried in most Asian supermarkets, although boba tends to be a little more readily available. 

These little pearls expand to almost twice their size once cooked, so keep that in mind when you're choosing a cooking pot - don't go too small!

If you can't find sago or prefer the texture boba, you can substitute them into your recipe instead. They require the same preparation as sago, so it's an easy switch to make. Make sure you get dried boba, as it gives this taho Filipino dessert a much better texture than the partially cooked varieties you can find in the supermarket.

Arnibal

Arnibal translates to "simple syrup," and that's precisely what it is. Arnibal is a raw, simple syrup made with brown sugar instead of white for added nutrients and a subtly caramelized flavor. 

Instead of brown sugar, you can also use dark sugar cane or unrefined sugar instead. White sugar is too refined to make arnibal and results in a bland syrup with very little depth. 

Feel free to make a batch of arnibal to keep in the fridge. It'll be ready for use the next time you make Taho and is great splashed in coffee, tea, oatmeal, or any dish you'd generally sweeten with honey or maple syrup.

How to make Taho

Ingredients

Sweet tapioca

  • 1 cup sago pearls, dried
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar

 Silken tofu

  • One package (14 oz) silken tofu

Arnibal

  • ½ cup of filtered water
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar

Cooking directions

Sweet tapioca

  1. Pour 5 cups of filtered water into a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring the water to a boil. 
  2. Once the pot of filtered water is boiling, add in the dried sago pearls. Stir to prevent pearls from sticking together. Soft boil the mixture for approximately 40 minutes.
  3. At this point, the pearls should look smooth and gelatinous. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for another 15 minutes, or until pearls are soft and chewy.
  4. Add in dark brown sugar and continue to simmer until the sugar has dissolved. 
  5. Remove the mixture from the heat. Allow the tapioca pearls to soak in the sugar mixture for 15-20 minutes. 
  6. Taste the pearls to ensure you've achieved the right texture. The pearls should be soft and fully cooked. If they're still chewy, continue to simmer until softened.
  7. As your mixture cools, the syrup thickens. Keep the tapioca mixture warm until you're ready to assemble the rest of the dish.

Tofu

  1. Steam the silken tofu for 10 minutes until cooked throughout in a steamer basket over a boiling pot. 
  2. Remove the tofu from your steamer basket and allow to cool slightly. Set tofu aside.

Arnibal

  1. In a small saucepot, bring the filtered water and brown sugar to a boil. 
  2. Reduce heat to medium and simmer the mixture until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  3. Remove the syrup from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Steep vanilla leaves or pandan in arnibal for extra flavor. Alternatively, you can use a small amount of pandan or vanilla extract.

Taho: Assembly time!

  1. Scoop up thin layers of the steamed silken tofu with a slotted spoon and place them in a serving dish. A narrow glass works well so that you can see the beautiful layers. 
  2. Drizzle 1 to 2 tsp of arnibal over the tofu. 
  3. Follow with a small scoop of the tapioca. 
  4. Repeat layering until you've filled your serving dish.
  5. Serve and enjoy your Taho!

Taho dessert - FAQ

Is Taho made of soy?

The base of Taho is soft silken tofu, which is a soy-bean product. Tofu is made with cooked and coagulated soy milk, which turns into soy curds. The manufacturer then presses the curds into a block. 

Because of its soy content, Taho has 5.1 g of protein per serving, making it an excellent way for vegans and vegetarians to slip a bit more protein into their diet. 

What are the benefits of eating Taho?

As a tofu-based dessert, eating or drinking Taho can give you the same benefits that eating tofu provides. 

Soy can help reduce harmful cholesterol levels (LDL) and other cardiovascular disease markers in our bodies. Tofu also contains antioxidants, which fight free radicals, known cancer-causing agents. Antioxidants help to slow the aging process and prevent disease. 

Soy has also been shown to positively affect kidney function, which may help with diabetes symptoms. 

Tofu is stuffed full of minerals, like potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and zinc. These are essential minerals that we need to ingest through diet as our bodies cannot create them. 

Can I refrigerate or freeze this recipe?

Enjoy your Taho immediately after cooking - it does not freeze or refrigerate well. Sago and tapioca pearls harden in the fridge and will not return to their soft texture. 

You can prepare the arnibal ahead of time, but the tofu and sago need to be made shortly before eating your Taho.

What is pandan?

Pandan is a tropical plant found in Southeast Asia. The flavor is naturally sweet, grassy, and has hints of almond, rose, vanilla, and coconut.

You can add pandan or vanilla into your arnibal to give the syrup some extra depth.

Can I substitute another sweetener?

We recommend using arnibal to get the proper authentic flavor or Taho, but you can substitute the arnibal for pure maple syrup if you prefer!

Final notes: Making the perfect homemade Taho

Taho is an excellent vegan dessert or sweet breakfast that won't weigh you down for the rest of the day - soft, fluffy silken tofu makes this dessert a little healthier than most with this protein-rich ingredient. 

Though Taho is a relatively healthy dessert, it still contains sugar and is best enjoyed in moderation. 

Experiment with different kinds of pearls to see which textures you like the best. While traditionally sago is used, don't be afraid to make this dessert your own and customize it as you want. 

Enjoy your Taho!

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