Tofu vs Paneer - Break Down the Similarities and Differences
As we're sure you'll be aware, there's a lot of talk in healthy eating circles about the relative merits of these two foods: tofu and paneer. Before we dive into comparing them, and working out which one might be a better option for you, let's make a quick recap of what the two foods are.
What is tofu?
Tofu is a plant-based food made from soybean milk (hence its alternative name - bean curd). It is produced in a few different varieties with their own individual textures and their own uses, including soft tofu, silken tofu, firm tofu and fermented tofu.
Originating in China, it quickly became a staple food in a range of Southeast Asian cuisines, and more recently has become a common sight in Western supermarkets, and on restaurant menus.
What is paneer?
Paneer is a cheese, sometimes referred to as Indian cheese due to its place of origin. It is made from cow, goat, or buffalo milk, and uses lemon juice to start the curdling process (so unlike many Western traditional cheeses which use animal rennet for this purpose, it is vegetarian friendly).
Sold fresh in market stalls across India for generations, it has become more widely available in recent years, particularly in specialist Indian food shops.
Can tofu be used as paneer?
So, now we know what we're comparing, let's get down to the key questions. Can tofu and paneer be used in place of one another? They certainly look similar in their raw form, even if one is plant-based and one is dairy. For most recipes, the two ingredients are fairly interchangeable.
Both have a relatively neutral taste but are good at absorbing the flavors of whatever sauce or spices they are cooked in. Both have a similar texture, and both can be stored in the same way.
So in general, it's fine to substitute one for the other in most recipes. However, there are some important differences between tofu and paneer nutrition, which we'll look at in more detail below.
Does tofu have more protein than paneer?
No, it does not. As a dairy product, it's perhaps unsurprising that paneer is in the lead when it comes to protein content.
Like with many cheeses, the protein content by weight is increased during the production process the more water is removed, and as a relatively firm cheese, the protein in paneer outweighs the protein in tofu by a factor of around 3 (18.3g per 100g versus 6.9g per 100g).
It is worth mentioning though, that as it is plant-based, tofu protein is suitable for consumption by those following a vegan diet, which is not the case for traditional paneer (although more recently vegan paneer has started to become available).
What is better, tofu or paneer?
Whether paneer or tofu is better depends on what we mean by better. The two foods have a number of nutritional differences, so depending on your dietary requirement, your training regime or your fitness goals, you may be better advised to use one rather than the other.
For example, as we've seen above, paneer is a better source of protein than tofu, gram for gram. Let's look at some of the other nutrients in each of these ingredients.
Carbs in tofu vs paneer
Tofu contains around double the number of carbohydrates when compared to paneer, so the latter is certainly a better option for those people following a low carb or keto diet, or for people with diabetes looking to minimize their intake of carbs.
Fat in tofu vs paneer
On the other hand, tofu has a much lower fat content than paneer, which is due to it being prepared from soybeans rather than whole animal milk. This makes it the most popular choice for low-fat diets, whether for weight loss or medical reasons.
Calcium in tofu vs paneer
Paneer, as a milk based food, has quite high levels of calcium, which are vital for the growth of healthy teeth and bones, particularly for children or breastfeeding mothers. Tofu has lower levels of this mineral, so it's a slightly less healthy choice for people in those groups.
Calories in tofu vs paneer
When it comes to calories overall, it's not surprising that paneer, with its higher levels of fat, comes out on top, with around 265 calories per 100 g serving compared to only 62 calories for the same sized serving of tofu. So anyone on a strict calorie counting diet or an intermittent fasting plan may find tofu easier to fit into their meal planning.
What about weight loss?
As the lower fat, lower calorie option, tofu is well suited to any weight loss regime which involves total calorie counting, or restricted calorie days. However, paneer is better for those diets which restrict carbs, as it is lower than tofu in this respect.
Ultimately both foods are relatively healthy when eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet, and can both be used to assist weight loss in different ways.