Tofu! The Miracle Food

I'm thinking of something white, squishy, and versatile...

Often called "bland" and "tasteless", tofu has a bad reputation amongst food lovers. But have they given this undervalued bean curd a chance? Tofu is only unappetizing when it hasn't been prepared correctly. I am going to reveal to you not only the ways of cooking with tofu, but other interesting tidbits covering this multifaceted concoction.

Where in the World Did this Weird Stuff Come From?

Excellent question!

Brush painting of Taoist alchemist "One of Liu An's interests was alchemy, an offshoot of Taoist medical arts [...] The goal of alchemy was [...] to produce a formula for a golden potion- the so called "elixir of life"- that would ensure immortality and everlasting youth. Around the fourth century B. C. E. [...] alchemists set about trying to find the specific formula for immortality [...] While hunting for this magical elixir, the Taoist sages discovered many aesthetics and medicines [...] The understanding they gained of practical chemistry far exceeded that of any other culture at that time. Liu An's court may have included hundreds of scientists who worked as alchemists and, by chance, made discoveries that furthered both science and medicine. Among their discoveries was a way to convert soy beans into bean curd, or tofu. While this food product did not prove to be the elixir of life, it did provide a valuable form of vegetable protein for people in a land where there was never enough meat. It also made the killing of animals unnecessary, thus contributing to Taoist principles. " (Hartz, Paula. Taoism: World Religions. New York: Brown Publishing Network Inc. , 1993. Print. )

There you go. Tofu was developed in the process of looking for the potion that will allow the consumer to live forever. That just says loads of good stuff about tofu. I especially like that last sentence, as it connects to vegetarianism/veganism. If you're an omnivore and you're reading this, you're either curious, interested in exotic foods, or health conscious. Kudos to you!

Advantages Over Meat

Yes, smile. Smile as I do, in blissful ignorance of what I'm going to do to your circulatory system.

Congratulations, you managed to make the most important meal of the day very unhealthy! Do not misunderstand me. I'm not saying that even if you eat meat in small amounts that you're at a high risk of heart disease and whatnot; you can still be an omnivore and be very healthy. However, I AM saying that you're at a higher risk than someone who doesn't eat meat at all. Besides, if your diet is the average American diet, chances are that you're eating more meat and dairy than you need and not enough fruit and vegetables. Even the average person is probably aware that tofu is healthier than meat as far as fat, cholesterol, etc. goes. Yes, meat has a higher concentration of protein, and yes it has higher quality protein, but does this outweigh the numerous detrimental side effects? Nope. You can read below about these potential side effects, but for now I just wanted to mention that the quality of protein in tofu is close to that of meat because it contains essential amino acids. You also don't have to make the trade-off, as tofu has no saturated fat or cholesterol.

Let's start with the most commonly known dangers of eating meat: saturated fats and cholesterol. There's one thing you should understand about cholesterol before we move on. Cholesterol is very important. Cholesterol is the building block of cell walls. But, just like fat, there's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Moving on. There are two MAIN groups of fats, saturated (bad) and unsaturated (good). There's also subcategories of unsaturated fats, consisting of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and all that other stuff, but we won't be getting into that. Saturated fat increases the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDLs), also known as bad cholesterol. This cholesterol is bad because it sticks to the walls of your arteries, causing atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. Unsaturated fats increase the amount of high density lipoproteins (HDLs), also known as good cholesterol. HDLs actually remove LDLs from the cell walls and bring them to the liver where they are eliminated in the bile. Saturated fat is found almost exclusively in meat and dairy. Plant-based sources are tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Other than those, plants contain only unsaturated fats. *Note* Recently people have started debating on how "bad" saturated fats actually are for you. Feel free to look this up on your own time. For now, I'm just going with what I was taught in anatomy/physiology class last year.

"Meat and dairy products supply half of the total fat, all of the cholesterol and 75 percent of the saturated fatty acids of the standard American diet [...] Meat contributes about 35 percent of the saturated fat to the typical American diet. In particular, red meat contributes about 49 grams of fat per person per day and accounts for about 30 percent of total fat consumption. Excessive fat is associated with an increased risk of obesity, elevated blood cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease and of cancer." (Ronzio, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health. Second Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc. , 2003. Print. 422.)

Health professionals are more concerned about the overabundance of protein in the standard American diet than lack of protein, which is linked to calcium loss leading to osteoporosis.

Bet you didn't know you were eating these!

They're scheming, man, they're scandalous... Now, let's talk about some substances sometimes found in meat that don't belong there. What do I mean? Contaminants present in the meat due to the consumption of certain drugs by the animal the meat originated from. Livestock and poultry across America are fed growth promoters *cough* often promoting growth at such an unnaturally fast rate that chicken/turkey's legs can't adjust quickly enough, thus crippling them *cough* and antibiotics. When steroid growth promoters are left in the meat, it can increase the risk of cancer. Antibiotics fed to livestock can cause drug-resistant bacteria to form, theoretically lingering in the meat of the slaughtered animal and infecting the consumer.

Europe, 1990's. People started getting symptoms similar to that of a devastating neurological disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The symptoms were relatively minor at first, but they progressed until the victims were completely incapacitated, confined to a wheelchair, mute, and reliant on others to feed them. Within two years they were dead. Autopsies revealed that their brain tissue had disintegrated, taking on the consistency of a sponge. This was eerily similar to the brains of cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). It is suspected that those who contracted vCDJ got it from the meat of BSE-infected cattle.

Although the amounts are low, traces of pesticides are not uncommonly found in beef and pork. Cow milk does not escape this contamination. These pesticides find their way into the flesh of animals when these animals graze on land sprayed with pesticides. From time to time meat is not properly trimmed, and thyroid glands are left in it, causing insomnia, diarrhea, and nervousness. Some drugs that are fed to animals to prevent disease are possibly linked to cancer. A chemical substance called gentian violet causes cancer, but it is still used in animal feed to prevent molding.

Have You Pressed Your Tofu Lately?

I have no problem making tofu taste good, and I'm not exactly a culinary master. If your tofu creations end up tasting bad, then... you suck at cooking, I guess.

Tofu dessert The main complaint about tofu is that it's really... blah. The first time I ate tofu was at my aunt's house, and I felt the same way. It was just this white block topped with soy sauce. I don't even like soy sauce (WAY too strong), and the tofu didn't help. I now know that this isn't the way tofu is supposed to be prepared. But if you like it that way, be my guest... One of the beauties of tofu is its versatility. You can use it in just about anything for any meal. Breakfast? Tofu scramble. Lunch? Miso soup with tofu. Snack? Beer battered tofu sticks. Dinner? Whatever kind of casserole you want. Dessert? Whatever kind of pie, pudding, etc. that you want! You cannot say that you don't like tofu because it takes on the flavor of whatever you use on it. It's like saying you don't like wheat; you're not supposed to eat it by yourself, you're supposed to make stuff with it!

One thing you can do to help your tofu absorb more flavor is to press it. If you're rich, you can buy a tofu presser. If you're like me and don't have one, it's as simple as putting it between two plates and putting a heavy book or whatever on top for 15-20 minutes. This squeezes out some of the excess moisture, allowing more flavor to seep in. You might even want to freeze your tofu afterwards. This further removes moisture. Just make sure you press it THEN freeze it to prevent the formation of ice. Now, you're ready to put it in some tupperware with marinade and let it soak up the flavor. Or you can just do whatever.

Note that pressing is only necessary for firm or extra firm tofu. Soft or silken tofu is generally used for liquid and semi-liquid things such as smoothies and pudding. The tofu is mostly present to thicken watery things. Makes pudding more gelatinous, makes smoothies less juicy, etc. Firm and extra firm tofu is the only tofu meant to add flavor.

There's Good News and Bad News: Dangers of Eating Too Much Soy

Actually, there's just bad news.

Would you like some estrogen with that? Soy is used as a replacement for many dairy products. Vegans, individuals with lactose-intolerance, and other people who don't consume dairy for various reasons rely on soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, and soy margarine for dairy-like flavors. But that's ok, because soy is healthy, right? Well, not exactly...

Soy beans naturally contain many toxins that are detrimental to human health. These can be eliminated, however, through a very long process of fermentation. Soy producers think that this takes too long, so instead their soy products undergo chemical processes to replace fermentation. Does this work? Not really! Many toxins are left in the soy. Some health effects associated with a high soy diet are thyroid problems, breast cancer, and hormonal imbalances (specifically estrogen). But don't fret! You don't have to give up soy completely. Just make sure to eat only whole soy foods like tofu and edamame, and avoid chemically processed ones, such as soy sausages. I love vanilla soy milk as much as the next person, but there are plenty of other milk substitutes. There's almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, hazelnut milk, and probably some others that I'm not aware of. Rice is my favorite as far as similarity to dairy milk goes.

*UPDATE* Amy's now has soy-free vegan macaroni and cheese! Hallelujah!

List of Recipe Websites

Can't be bothered to go out and by a vegan/vegetarian cookbook? Then check out these websites!

Tofu Recipes on VegWeb
The tofu section of this butt-load of vegan recipes. Feel free to check out the other recipes. Includes raw vegan recipes!
A Collection of Tofu Recipes
Like what the name says. Also has recipes for different kinds of non-dairy milk.
Fat-Free Tofu Recipes
Got some healthy, fat-free tofu recipes! UP IN HERE! UP IN HERE!

Meat vs. Tofu

Considering that meat is more protein rich than tofu, but tofu doesn't have all those nasty LDLs and saturated fats, which one's benefits outweigh the negatives?



typinganimal says:

For me ethics weigh heavier than health. Tofu is awesome because no animals are harmed in the making of it. It is gentle protein :) The fact that it's healthier than animal corpses is just a nice bonus but not the main issue. Lovely lens by the way!

priscillaB says:

Tofu wins!

AstroGremlin says:

I like tofu and appreciate your including the downsides. I'm a D cup. says:

The choice is not always that simple. Moderation for both is better option.

KilleenMcG says:

Americans have a huge tendency to worry like crazy about "getting enough protein." I always laugh when people ask me how I get enough... as if it's the only element of concern in our diets! What about the other hundred vitamins, minerals and nutrients that make up a balanced meal? Great lens in support of the curd! :)


im1337mi says:

Prefer meat, but both of them!


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