FOOD making carbs count
The plant-based powerhouse that packs a protein
punch, by Judith Ozkan.
Tofu, which has captured the culinary imagination
of many cultures and palates across the world
over the years, has surprisingly humble origins.
The 'white stuff' that regularly takes centre
stage in stir-fries is in fact the result of coagulated soy
milk. Most people know soy milk as a vegan staple, or a
milk substitute for those who are lactose intolerant, but
few realise that it's the same substance that mystically
morphs from a liquid to the squidgy white solid which is
then formed into tofu.
Legend has it that the origins of tofu can be traced back
to ancient China, where it was accidentally discovered by
a resourceful cook during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220
AD). It is said the cook accidentally left some soy milk to
sit overnight and the next morning, discovered that it
had coagulated into a solid mass which could be used in a
range of dishes. As the popularity of the foodstuff spread
across continents, it reached Japan where it acquired the
name 'tofu' during the Nara period, (AD 710 to 794), after
the characters for 'bean' and 'curd' were combined.
Buddhist monks played a vital role in popularising and
promoting tofu after they adopted it into their vegetarian
diets and went on to refine it as a valuable source of
protein. As tofu spread through countries such as Korea,
Vietnam, and Thailand, each culture put their own
unique twist on the food item, refining the production
techniques which resulted in the array of different
textures and flavours we see today.
Nowadays, tofu is valued around the world as a blank
canvas with a mild taste which can absorb the flavours of
any dish it encounters. From crispy tofu nuggets to silky
smooth desserts, this culinary chameleon is popular with
vegetarians and vegans due to its high protein content
and as a meat substitute. It is also sought after by foodies
as a healthy and versatile 'go to' ingredient. Although
tofu resembles a block of white cheese at first glance, it's
actually the result of a remarkable journey and well-worth
letting your taste buds put it to the test.
Tofu is made by crushing and boiling dried soybeans
that have been soaked in water. Coagulants are added
to separate the curds from the whey and the mixture
is poured into moulds to allow the carbohydrate-laden
whey to drain off. The remaining solids are cut into
squares and stored under water until they need to be
used. Tofu can be made into a variety of textures and is
also available dried.
It's not just foodies and vegans that swear by the
wobbly white stuff, health enthusiasts and people who
need to stick to special diets have also caused it to soar
in popularity. It's worth taking a look at what makes tofu
Its nutritional profile makes tofu an excellent source
of plant-based protein for anyone who is looking to
reduce their meat intake. The low fat, low carb content is
a bonus and tofu contains all nine essential amino acids
required by the body. A 100g serving of tofu provides
approximately 8g of protein, which contributes to muscle
development, tissue repair, and overall growth. Calcium
levels of tofu vary, so check labels.
• Tofu is relatively low in saturated fat and is
cholesterol-free, making it a heart-healthy alternative
to animal-based protein.
• Tofu contains a small amount of dietary fibre, which
can vary depending on the type and processing
method. On average, a 100g serving of tofu provides
between 0.5g and 2 g of fibre.
• Although tofu contains a small amount of
carbohydrate, its glycaemic index is low, meaning it
has a low impact on blood glucose levels.
• Tofu is a good source of essential vitamins and
minerals. It is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium,
phosphorus, manganese, selenium, and zinc.
• Tofu contains natural plant compounds called
isoflavones. These have been linked to potential
health benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain
cancers, improving cardiovascular health, and
helping to alleviate some symptoms associated