What Is Bean Curd?
Bean curd is growing in popularity as an ingredient in kitchens across the globe, from the South-East Asian countries where it first became known, to the booming vegan restaurants of Europe and the United States. If you're new to eating or cooking with bean curd, this article will give you the confidence you need to start experimenting with it in all types of dishes.
Is bean curd Chinese food?
Well, historically, yes it is. Bean curd is believed to have been invented in China around 2,000 years ago, at the time of the Han dynasty. According to legend, its inventor was a Chinese prince from the Anhui province. However, the secret of bean curd production spread quickly throughout South East Asia, with some historians theorizing that bean curds were brought from China to other countries alongside the spread of Buddhism, as it was a favored food of the vegetarian Buddhist adherents.
Now, it is a staple food in a number of countries in the region, including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand, with each culture having their own unique methods of preparing and flavoring the dish. Although bean curd was introduced to the West as early as the late eighteenth century (when it was mentioned in a letter by Benjamin Franklin as a form of "Chinese cheese") it wasn't until the later part of the twentieth century that bean curd became popular among western consumers, led particularly by the growth of health food shops showing people where to buy tofu, and the wider acceptance of vegetarianism and veganism.
Is bean curd the same as tofu or tempeh?
Bean curd is simply the English name for tofu. There's no difference between the two. However, you may be more likely to hear bean curd used to describe firmer forms of tofu.
Tempeh, on the other hand, is different from tofu/bean curd in its method of preparation as well as its resulting texture and flavor. While bean curd is made from the pressed curds of coagulated soy milk, tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans and then pressing them into a dense compact cake form, often with the addition of spices, as well as sometimes quinoa or rice. This gives it a distinctly nutty, earthy flavor, in comparison to bean curd's neutral taste.
What does bean curd taste like?
What does tofu taste like? It's a common question from people who haven't tried it yet, and the answer we give is always the same: whatever you want it to! The reason that bean curd or tofu is so popular in such a wide range of national cuisines is in part due to its neutral flavor, which allows it to absorb the flavors of whatever it is marinated in or cooked with. Eaten on its own, bean curd has a slightly sweet, slightly salty flavor with a texture similar to soft cheese.
What can you cook with bean curd?
It might be easier to answer the question "what can't you cook with it"! Bean curd is such a versatile ingredient and used in such a variety of cuisines, that there are hundreds if not thousands of recipes in which it plays a central role. Raw or fried bean curd is perfect in salads or as a side dish on its own.
Bean curd is frequently added to stir fries, stews, curries, and casseroles as a source of protein in place of meat. Breaded and deep-fried bean curd makes delicious fritters. Chefs who are experts in how to prepare tofu are finding new and exciting uses for bean curd every day, adding it to smoothies, ice creams, and desserts, as well as new savory dishes or alternate, takes on an existing national favorite.
How long does tofu last?
Knowing how to store tofu safely is important in order to avoid waste. While bean curd is a fairly stable food compared to ingredients such as fresh fish or meat, you still need to practice proper food hygiene and stock control to avoid contamination. A lot of people new to eating bean curd ask us "Does tofu go bad?" which seems like a naive question, but is understandable. Prepacked and sealed bean curd is shelf stable, and doesn't require refrigeration, so you could be forgiven for assuming it won't go off. But you do have to pay attention to the use by dates, and, once you've opened a pack, you should keep it in the fridge and consume it within three or four days.
Can you eat tofu raw?
Technically it's impossible, just think "How is tofu made?" Making tofu or bean curd involves boiling the soybeans, so in that sense, there's no such thing as "raw" bean curd. It's perfectly fine to eat straight out of the pack, or chopped into a salad. But for the most part people prefer to cook with bean curd, as that's where you have the opportunity to add flavor - on its own it's almost like eating a very mild, slightly sweet cheese.
What nutrition does bean curd provide?
When it comes to bean curds or tofu, nutrition is one of the key reasons that it's such a popular food. It's very low in fat and an excellent source of protein, which has led to its adoption by millions of people who want to eat less meat for environmental or health reasons, or who don't eat meat at all, on religious or ethical grounds.
Hopefully, you've learned a lot more about bean curd than you knew when you started reading. It's a brilliant and versatile ingredient, which will add an extra dimension to many home cooked dishes. As long as you follow the tips and information we've given above, you'll be preparing new and exciting bean curd dishes in no time!