The health benefits of tofu

Want to go meatless more often? Tofu is a great low-fat option that’s also packed with protein. Here’s why it’s great and how to prepare it

The health benefits of tofu

Source: Best Health Magazine, September 2012, Image: Lehner/iStock

Made from soybeans, tofu is a great protein source that is low in fat. (Eight ounces [240 g] of firm tofu provide the same protein as eating 2½ ounces [75 g] of steak or three ounces [90 g] of ground beef). And it’s low in calories and high in calcium: A four-ounce (½ cup) serving of extra-firm tofu contains only 120 calories and as much calcium as an eight-ounce (1 cup) serving of cow’s milk. Bonus: It contains isoflavones that may help ease the symptoms of menopause.

When it comes to cooking, tofu is versatile. Yes, its taste is bland, but the porous texture of firm tofu means it easily absorbs whatever flavours it’s cooked with (blend soft tofu with chocolate to make a dessert, or with garlic, lemon juice and basil to make a dip). It can’be added to recipes in a number of ways. Try it crumbled, mashed, sliced, braised, baked, poached, fried, puréed or diced. You can also buy it baked, smoked, fermented or fried.

How it’s made

Tofu is made in a similar way to simple cheeses, such as ricotta. A mineral salt- or acid-based coagulant is stirred into heated soy liquid. The liquid separates into curds and whey. The curds are then pressed into a block; the longer it’s pressed, the firmer it becomes.

What to look for when buying

You will find tofu in supermarkets, in either the produce section or the refrigerated food cases. It’s sold immersed in water and you’ll need to rinse it before you cook with it. Here are the textures you’ll find and the meals most suited for each:

Firm (or regular) tofu

This is an all-purpose tofu. It’s not as smooth as silken tofu or as grainy as extra-firm. When fried, it is creamy on the inside. Use it as a topping on pizza, or in chili and tacos.

Extra-Firm tofu

This is tofu that was pressed the longest; it won’t fall apart during cooking. There are many ways to enjoy extra-firm tofu: Marinate it, grill it, or crumble it up to make it resemble ground hamburger.

Silken tofu

This is soft and silky with a custard-like texture. (Silken comes in soft, firm and extra-firm, but they’re all soft tofus.) Use it in salad dressings, pie fillings, puddings and smoothies.

Storage tips

To store unused firm, extra-firm or silken tofu, put it in a container filled with cold water, then cover and refrigerate for up to seven days ‘but be sure to change the water daily to keep it fresh.

Leftover firm or extra-firm tofu can be wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to five months. But be aware that freezing tofu changes its texture and colour, making it chewy and turning its colour from white to amber. To defrost, remove the plastic wrap and place the tofu in a deep bowl. Cover it with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Before using, press it firmly between your palms and squeeze out excess water.

This article was originally titled "Tofu, anyone?" in the September 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!