Tofu is one of the most popular soy products in the world. But have you ever wondered what tofu truly is? Is Tofu vegan? Well, to put it simply, it is just condensed soy milk. Yes, that’s it! Similarly to cheese, tofu is pressed into a solid block thanks to a coagulant. This is often nigari, a mineral-rich liquid that can be obtained after evaporating salt from seawater.
Nigari is often used in tofu as its bitterness helps bring out the umami and savory flavors of the soybeans. Not by chance, nigari literally means ‘bitter’ in Japanese.
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Tofu, is it vegan?
Now that we know what tofu is, it’s time to discuss whether it is vegan or not. Considering that tofu is simply made from soy milk and nigari, it seems pretty obvious that this product is suitable for a plant-based diet. However, the situation is slightly more complicated than this.
Even though standard tofu is fully suitable for vegans, some manufacturers and popular tofu recipes feature ingredients that are not plant-based. A famous example is Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China’s stinky tofu, which is made by fermenting dairy milk or shrimp brine. You should also pay attention to the famous ‘egg tofu’, a Japanese meal which, despite its name, has nothing to do with tofu and is made from eggs and stock.
So, are there any ingredients in tofu you should watch out for?
What are the main ingredients of tofu?
As we said, tofu is mainly made of soy milk, consisting of soybeans and water, and a coagulant. This is often nigari but can also be replaced by other options such as calcium sulfate, gypsum, as well as enzyme coagulants.
So, which are the ingredients you should pay attention to? Apart from the stinky tofu and the Japanese egg tofu we mentioned earlier, some brands like to add natural and artificial flavors to their products.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know whether these have been produced using animal derivatives or not. For this reason, if you follow a strictly vegan diet, you may want to avoid brands listing these among their ingredients.
So, is tofu vegan or not?
To summarize, standard tofu is fully vegan and you can eat it without worry. However, some brands may add artificial or natural flavors to their mix that may contain animal products. For this reason, it is always better to avoid companies listing these among their ingredients. Don’t forget to also pay attention to ‘stinky tofu’ sold in several areas in Asia and the Japanese ‘egg tofu’. Despite their names, both of these are not suitable for a plant-based diet.
What are the different types of tofu?
You may be surprised to know that there are several types of tofu on the market. These are often categorized based on their firmness. In general, the more water, the less firm the final product will be.
Tofu is categorized as
Silken tofu is the softest type and is similar to young white cheese in texture. Firm tofu is the most common and its texture may remind you of feta, while super-firm tofu is, obviously, extremely firm and its consistency is similar to meat.
Soft tofu is often used for sweets such as cheesecakes and chocolate mousse, while the super firm one is ideal for main dishes as it can be used as a meat substitute.
Is tofu healthy?
For some reason, tofu is one of the most dreaded ingredients in the vegan diet. Several people are, in fact, concerned about its nutritional value and wonder whether it is safe to consume this product often. The truth is that the benefits of tofu are endless!
Tofu is high in protein, meaning that it is extremely beneficial for both vegetarian and vegan diets. It also contains all the essential amino acids as well as a wide variety of minerals and vitamins. One hundred grams of tofu contains roughly 144 calories, 17 grams of protein, nine grams of fat, two of fiber, and three of carbs, making this a pretty healthy choice.
However, as with everything, there are downsides to it too. Tofu, in fact, also contains a few anti-nutrients. In particular, phytates and trypsin inhibitors. Phytates are compounds that can reduce the absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron, and calcium, while trypsin inhibitors can block the work of an enzyme known as trypsin that helps with the digestion of proteins. However, this shouldn’t be a concern for you if you have a varied and healthy diet. In general, the regular consumption of tofu is considered extremely safe.
How to eat tofu
Tofu can be eaten in all sorts of ways. You can enjoy it raw or cooked. In the first case, you may want to use it for sweets such as chocolate mousse or cheesecakes, or even a salad! In the latter, you can prepare tofu by seasoning it with your favorite spices and sauces and then cook it either in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil or in the oven. In both cases, before using your tofu, make sure to remove all the excess water by squeezing it with your hands.
You can also do so by wrapping your tofu block in a clean towel and putting something heavy on top, such as a large plate or a can of beans. You will then wait for roughly 30 minutes and use your tofu in whatever way you like.
Frequently Asked Questions
Agedashi tofu is a popular Japanese appetizer. Unfortunately, the original recipe uses tsuyu and katsuobushi, which are not vegan. However, you can ask your waiter or waitress to simply avoid these ingredients for a plant-based option.
Unfortunately, mapo tofu is not vegan-friendly as it contains minced meat.
Of course, fried tofu is vegan! However, if you want to be hundred percent sure that your meal is cruelty-free, you may want to ask whether any animal product was fried in the same oil.
No. Unfortunately, the original recipe contains chicken. However, you can easily make your own version at home without this product.
Yes! Kung pao tofu is generally suitable for a vegan diet. However, it is important to specify that kung pao sauce may contain sugar that could have been processed with bone char. So, whether or not you decide to eat this meal depends on how strict you are with your diet.
It depends. In fact, some versions use dashi which may or may not contain bonito flakes, simmered, smoked, and fermented skipjack tuna. When in doubt, it’s always better to ask your waiter or waitress.
Yes, raw tofu is vegan! However, always check the label for ingredients such as natural and artificial flavors, that may contain animal products.
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