In the modern-day, we are all trying to change our diet to accommodate for our troubling climate situation, for ethical sourcing of food, and to champion new, clean ways of production.
A lot of the time, this means broadening our food horizons and eating things that we would have never thought of before.
If you follow veganism as your diet of choice, then this can be a bit of a challenge as there are just not as many options or as many products that you can eat, and often people following a vegan diet will have to search harder across the world’s markets to find something that satisfies their palate.
One of the things that people have found in this quest is tofu.
This east Asian staple has been around for thousands of years and appears in a lot of meals around the far east.
In soups, braised, in curries, you name it, and it can probably have tofu in it.
Why not as well? It is low in calories and rich in protein, a perfect combination for vegetarians among us. But is it vegan?
Can I make tofu and not worry about the ethical ramifications? Today, we are here to find this out.
What Is Tofu?
In essence, tofu is a kind of cheese made from soy milk, although this is not in the traditional western sense.
To make tofu, you use a similar process you would when making cheese, except using soy milk.
The soybeans are cleaned and soaked, before being ground in water and filtered through a fine piece of cloth or, in industrial settings, through a very fine sieve.
This basically produces soy milk, and now you can begin the tofu-making process properly.
The milk is now boiled before beginning the process of coagulation.
Traditionally, to coagulate the milk, gypsum was and still is added. Gypsum takes a long time to dissolve into the tofu, however, when used it makes the tofu smooth, gelatinous and makes the tofu rich in calcium.
It is also very cheap to purchase and is completely tasteless once incorporated, making it perfect for tofu production.
Once the coagulation is complete, the tofu is pressed into shape with any excess water pushed out of the bar and, voilà, a complete bar of tofu ready to be served and eaten.
A point to note is very little is added to the tofu during its manufacture; thus it can seem bland to a lot of people.
Yet, this should not dissuade people as tofu is not really something to eat on its own, instead, it takes on the flavors of whatever dish you add it to while giving the dish a new texture to enjoy at the same time.
So, Is It Vegan?
Tofu is almost always vegan.
There is only one instance where tofu is not vegan, and honestly, it’s pretty obvious when you hear the name: Egg Tofu.
This is a kind of tofu that has become more popular in recent years and is made of egg and dashi, a type of fish broth commonly used in Japanese cooking.
It arose as part of the trend of making products using alternative ingredients to see if you can create a rough approximation, like almond tofu.
This is certainly not a vegan product, after all, it’s core two ingredients are things that vegans shun. However, I can guarantee that pretty much every other kind of tofu is vegan.
The process to make tofu I described earlier is mostly universal and only uses a couple of ingredients: soy milk and one or two additives, like gypsum.
Since the milk and the additives are vegan, then the tofu itself is vegan.
This is perfect for most vegans, especially those just starting out, who are struggling to fill their diet with the necessary nutrients for our survival, as tofu contains a good amount of iron and is rich in calcium, two micronutrients that we sorely need and are hard to find when not eating animal products.
Types Of Tofu
Thanks to its long history and useful food source in leaner times, tofu has many different forms that it takes.
Strangely, once again it is very similar to cheese in the definition of these forms, not in age but in softness and firmness with only a couple of types of tofu not adhering to this pattern.
The determination of a tofu’s firmness regularly comes about during the coagulation process and is determined a lot of the time by the coagulant added and the amount of moisture kept in the tofu.
The softest of the tofu products is, surprisingly, extra soft. This tofu is used mostly in soups, stews, and sauces and has the consistency of a running egg or yogurt.
Silken tofu is next, and it is coagulated in its packaging while being unpressed, uncut, and not drained of any moisture or fluid.
This tofu is most commonly used in sweet desserts but is popular in most other dishes as well. Firm tofu is pressed and drained of liquid, it is probably the most popular tofu in the world today.
This tofu is used in almost any dish that has tofu in it and is particularly popular in Chinese cuisine.
Extra-firm tofu is basically the same as firm tofu, but more moisture has been pressed out. If you are looking for a paneer substitute or a firmer bite in your food, then extra firm tofu is the way to go.
The next two types of tofu are slightly different from the others, thanks to what happens to them after they are made. The first is fermented tofu.
This is firm tofu that is dried and then pickled or fermented, giving the tofu a certain funk to its flavor. This type of tofu is not common in the western world but is very popular around Asia. Finally, we have frozen tofu.
This is where you freeze soft or firm tofu before using it. Normally, this would make the dish less tasty, however, for tofu, it does the opposite.
The formation of ice crystals within the tofu means that it has less moisture and that it is able to absorb flavors better as well.
With so many different kinds of tofu, it can feel a little daunting to try to use them in a recipe.
Yet, there isn’t really much to worry about, tofu is quite a forgiving ingredient and all you have to do is make the rest of the dish taste good and the tofu will absorb the flavor.
Tofu is clearly a product that should be on everyone’s dietary plan, vegan or otherwise.
It is rich in precious nutrients that make life so much easier for those transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, and its ability to be added to almost any dish can really help bulk up something that isn’t very filling or is lacking in nutrients.
If you have never had tofu before, give it a try.
It is not that expensive compared to a lot of foods, it has a variety of culinary applications, and it will almost always leave you feeling satisfied in whatever dish you decide to add it to.
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