Is tofu a vegetable? This soybean-based protein falls under the beans and legumes' umbrella, making it a nutritional, plant-based part of any diet. Learn more about this vegan superfood and the few times that tofu isn't vegan-friendly.
What is tofu? Tofu is a soy protein made from pressed soybean curds that's a mainstay in vegetarian and vegan diet culture.
While this plant-based protein has much deeper roots in traditional Asian diets, the natural food movement of the 1960s and 1970s helped make it popular across the ocean in America.
There are plenty of reasons to include tofu as a regular part of your diet - it's high in protein, essential minerals, and its light flavor makes it blend seamlessly into almost any recipe.
Is tofu healthy? Please read below to learn more about its main ingredients, non-vegan versions, and the many tofu benefits and disadvantages.
What is tofu?
Is tofu a vegetable? No, tofu is made from soybeans, which are in the bean family.
The tofu you see in the grocery store contains soybean curds that are pressed into rectangular blocks.
Tofu has a mild flavor, and it mostly takes on the taste of the sauces with which it's cooked. You often see tofu in popular Asian dishes like pad thai, bibimbap, kung pao tofu, mapo tofu, and so much more.
The tofu-making process is quite simple. Tofu-makers steam soy milk and add a coagulating or thickening agent, which turns the milk into curds. Then, they press much of the water out of the curds, turning them into firm blocks.
Types of Tofu
There are a few different tofu types that have very different textures and uses.
Firm, extra-firm, and regular tofu have a dense, somewhat-meaty texture and are the perfect choice for stir-frying, grilling, and baking in all of your favorite recipes.
Silken and soft tofu have a smooth, creamy texture that is too fragile to be cooked, except when mixed into baked goods. With silken's creamy and slightly sweet tofu taste, it's best used as a dairy replacement in dressing, soups, and baking.
What is tofu made of?
Here are the most commonly used ingredients in tofu.
These dried beans are the primary ingredient in every block of tofu.
The dry soybeans are soaked in water, then crushed and boiled to create the tofu's soy milk base.
Coagulants cause the reaction that turns the soymilk into solid curds. The most common coagulants used are salt-based, like calcium sulfate (gypsum) and Nigari salts. Acid coagulants and enzyme coagulants are also used occasionally. These are all safe for vegan consumption.
Can vegans eat tofu?
Yes! Standard tofu is all vegan-friendly. But sometimes manufacturers will add other ingredients into their tofu that no longer make it a vegan food.
Stinky tofu, famous in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, is fermented using dairy milk or a shrimp brine.
Egg tofu is a Japanese dish that resembles tofu's texture but doesn't contain it - it's made with eggs and stock.
For flavored and altered tofu products, always read the label to ensure they didn't add any animal products or by-products.
Health Benefits of tofu: Why eat tofu?
Is tofu good for you?
Tofu is a decent source of vegetarian and vegan protein low in saturated fats, calories, and high in crucial dietary minerals, like calcium and magnesium. It contains all nine essential amino acids, making it what's called a "complete protein" for the body.
Soy contains heart-healthy isoflavones, which benefit blood vessels and can improve blood flow.
It's also inexpensive and readily available compared to some other vegan proteins that you can only find at specialty grocery stores.
Is tofu bad for you?
Is tofu unhealthy? We've heard the warnings about the alleged tofu dangers, but those have been thoroughly debunked.
Soy contains compounds, like isoflavones, that mimic the hormone estrogen, which is not harmful with daily consumption.
Tofu, like many plant foods, contains antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of essential minerals and block trypsin, an enzyme used to digest protein properly.
Soaking and cooking soybeans can reduce and eliminate these antinutrients, both of which happen in the tofu-making process. You can also opt for sprouted soy tofu, which almost wholly removes antinutrients. Overall, they're not an issue when eating a moderate amount of tofu.
Many soy crops are highly-sprayed with pesticides and genetically modified, so for the best quality tofu, stick to organic brands.
How to Prepare Vegan Tofu for Any Recipe
Tofu sometimes has a bad reputation as a bland, soggy, and dull protein.
This misconception comes from those eating tofu that hasn't been adequately prepared. Tofu is a super-easy protein to cook, but a few extra steps are necessary to make perfectly crispy bits of tofu that taste great.
Steps to Prepare Tofu
- Remove the block of firm or extra-firm tofu from the package.
- Press your tofu in a tofu press for 15 mins. This step is crucial, as tofu is a sponge, packed full of water.
*If you don't own a tofu press, wrap your tofu block in a dry paper towel and press between two heavy plates for at least 2-3 hours.
- Marinate your tofu for 30 mins in a sauce or marinade of your choice. Whatever you choose, ensure you use some acid, like vinegar or lemon, to help penetrate the tofu block.
- Remove the tofu from the marinade.
- Cooking options:
Pan-fried - Chop your tofu into 1-inch blocks. Heat a pan or skillet to medium heat, add some cooking oil, and pan-fry on each side until golden-brown, 3-4 mins.
Baked - Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut your tofu into 1-inch blocks, and spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 mins, flipping once halfway.
Grilled - Preheat your grill to medium heat. After 10 mins of heating, use a BBQ brush to scrap your grill thoroughly. Using metal tongs, wipe oil-soaked paper towels on the grill until it's well-oiled to prevent your tofu from sticking. Add your tofu to the grill, turn the heat down to low, and close the lid. Cook your tofu for 20 mins, flipping halfway.
Final Verdict: Do vegans eat tofu?
Eating tofu every day is perfectly safe for vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike. This delicious plant-based protein can be added to just about any stir-fry, soup, or pasta and makes a fantastic replacement for meat in a vegan diet.
Vegan dieters should always read food labels to be safe, but most tofu products are 100% vegan, with very few exceptions.
If you want to reap the biggest health benefits of this tasty superfood, opt for organic and sprouted tofu versions, available at most grocery stores.