Tofu is made from the “milk” of the glycine soya bean (Fabaceae). Its production is very similar to cheese made from cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk. Tofu is made by curdling soya milk, which is why tofu is often referred to as “soy cheese”.
Its origins date back to ancient times in China, thousands of years ago. Soy was highly valued as a food but it was hard to digest. The aim of tofu was to make soya more digestible. Tofu making involves soaking, mixing and cooking the soya beans and separating the rennet from the whey by adding a natural solidifier (nigari -magnesium chloride- or lemon juice), similar to cheese production, as mentioned above. More recently, the food industry has produced poorer quality commercial tofu made with chemical nigari, calcium sulphate or vinegar. Also, bear in mind that the vast majority of glycine max soya is GMO (more than 3/4 of global soya production is GMO), that´s why it is essential your tofu is organic .
Today, glycine soya has become a highly manipulated product that is widely used as animal feed by the livestock industry and in processed foods by the food industry, and its mass production is directly linked to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
RICH IN NUTRIENTS
Tofu contains proteins of high biological value (it contains all 8 essential amino acids). It also contains B vitamins (essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system) and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium and potassium). It is cheap and low in calories. Depending on how it is made, the amount of calcium in tofu can be similar to that of milk (whose calcium, by the way, is not fully absorbed).
ITS THERAPEUTIC USE
Tofu is cooling. It benefits the lungs and the large intestine, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition, it moistens dry conditions, soothes the stomach when it is swollen, neutralises toxins and is used to treat alcoholism, dysentery, reactions to cures, dietary changes, etc. It is also often used as an external treatment when there is “heat” to neutralise (bruises, swelling, burns, etc.). In these cases it is usually used in the form of plasters applied on the affected area.
Tofu is concentrated protein and we can benefit from it by consuming it in moderate amounts, especially in hot weather and in people with “heat” symptoms (red tongue, redenned face, heat aversion or a constant feeling of heat). It is sometimes used to mitigate the heat that comes with heart disease and hypertension. For most people, the yin-cooling quality of tofu needs to be counteracted by cooking and adding warming spices such as ginger, which is especially good for people who feel the cold.
Although tofu is totally tasteless, it is quite versatile, because it can absorb many flavours with which we can “marinate” it. As its nature is subtly mild, it balances extreme flavours and counteracts the salty and spicy flavours. When using it in cooking, we must bear in mind that it “kills” flavours, i.e. whatever it accompanies should be tastier than if it did not contain tofu.
It can be cooked as if it were meat. You can bake it, steam it, grill it, roast it, fry it, sauté it, boil it, etc. If you eat it raw, make sure you feel hot and/or dry, and you are in summer or it is a particularly hot day… and don’t forget to marinate it, even if you don’t cook it, otherwise it will taste absolutely nothing.
When I use tofu in the kitchen and I don’t use it all, I put it in an airtight jar filled with water and leave it in the fridge. Ideally, the water should be changed every day.
Finally, bear in mind that tofu is very yin (cooling), so if you abuse it you will start showing “yin” symptoms (depending, logically, on your overall diet, your constitution and condition), you will probably have weaker kidneys and adrenals, you will have more grey hairs, your hair will fall out, you may experience sexual impotence, frigidity, decreased sexual sensitivity, etc. All these are symptoms related to the water element, where the kidney and bladder are important, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Enjoy tofu responsibly and see you soon!
(Source: “Healing with Whole Foods”, Paul Pitchford, Gaia Editions, 2009).