Tofu is virtually no-fat protein – it’s hard to think of a more diet and health-friendly form of food and yet many people don’t eat it. But just think of how different your figure or waistline might look if you could replace some of the high-fat high-calorie foods you eat with this simple foodstuff.
Read our guide to 10 healthy swaps you'll hardly notice
What exactly is tofu?
The first time you see uncooked, unprepared tofu, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of clay rather than something to eat. Its off-white colour doesn’t exactly make your mouth water.
Tofu, or bean curd, is made from soya milk. In fact, it’s rather like cheese made from non-dairy milk – salts or acids are added to the soya milk to help it curdle and then the water is removed leaving a block of tofu.
Fermented tofu has more flavour because of the process it goes through (usually the addition of rice wine, salt and spices) but it’s also higher in salt and may contain added oil, too. Chao is the Vietnamese name for tofu fermented in brine for about a month.
Non-fermented tofu doesn’t usually have anything added and is milder in flavour as a result.
Is tofu healthy?
Yes, tofu has a lot of health benefits. Tofu contains all nine essential amino acids - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Our muscles, cells and tissues are made up of amino acids and they’re necessary for healing and organ function, too. It also contains useful amounts of iron, calcium and magnesium.
Tofu a useful food to add to your diet during and after menopause, too, as, like soya beans and soya milk, tofu contains isoflavones, which can help regulate oestrogen and reduce hot flushes.
Research has found that soya bean peptides, found in tofu as well as other soya products, helped slow the growth of cancer tumours.
But the main way tofu is healthy for you is in how you can use it to replace other higher-calorie or higher-fat foods.
How many calories are in a block of tofu?
Half a cup of tofu (about 100g) contains only around 80 calories, while an average sized block of around 350g contains 290 calories.
Tofu protein content
100g of tofu contains about 10g of protein, so an average sized-block of 350g has 35g of protein.
Other good things in tofu
100g of tofu provides almost a quarter of your calcium needs for the day, as well as 11% of your iron. So by replacing cheese with tofu, for example, you’ll ingest fewer calories without going hungry.
Tofu also contains absolutely no cholesterol or sodium, making it a good option for anyone watching their heart health. It's such a versatile food it can replace eggs in a lot of recipes, including scramble, quiche and desserts.
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How to flavour tofu
The biggest mistake you can make with tofu is to expect it to stand up on its own. Unless you’re someone who just loves plain rice or pasta, then plain tofu will leave you feeling equally disappointed.
The good news is, though, that tofu can take any flavouring you care to add, at any intensity. Add a hint of turmeric to make tasty scrambled tofu, mix with basil pesto and add to pasta to give your meal a protein boost, or even go sweet – you can add honey to it for a delicious treat a bit like panacotta.
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When to choose firm, soft or silken tofu
If you’re after something to replace meat in a dish, for example, then go for firm tofu which will hold its shape better during the cooking process.
- Soft tofu is ideal for scrambled dishes or where you’re looking for soft textures.
- Smoother silken tofu is better for those dishes where the tofu is to be mixed in.
Tofu as a meat replacement
When you remove meat from a dish you remove a lot of flavour, sometimes all the flavour, so if you’re replacing with tofu it’s important to take that into account. Marinating it can really help. Prick it many times with a fork to allow the marinade to penetrate and try flavours such as soya sauce, ginger, garlic, for example. Frying or baking tofu helps make it firmer and crisper and so gives it a more meaty texture and makes it easier to absorb flavour.
Read our guide to cooking tofu
Add tofu to...
You can use tofu as a straightforward replacement for meat, as outlined above, or to salads to make them more satisfying. Use soft tofu to boost the protein content of soups or smoothies. And if you want to give yourself a treat, you can even use it to make very-nearly healthy puddings and desserts.
Visit our tofu recipe section for some delicious ways to serve tofu