Tofu, or bean curd, is a popular food derived from soya. It is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it – in much the same way that traditional dairy cheese is made by curdling and solidifying milk. The liquid (whey) is discarded, and the curds are pressed to form a cohesive bond. A staple ingredient in Thai and Chinese cookery, it can be cooked in different ways to change its texture from smooth and soft to crisp and crunchy.
The origins of tofu
Like many soya foods, tofu originated in China. Legend has it that it was discovered about 2000 years ago by a Chinese cook who accidentally curdled soy milk when he added nigari seaweed. Introduced into Japan in the eighth century, tofu was originally called okabe. Its modern name did not come into use until 1400. By the 1960s, interest in healthy eating brought tofu to Western nations. Since that time, countless research has demonstrated the many benefits that soya and tofu can provide.
Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also an excellent source of iron and calcium and the minerals manganese, selenium and phosphorous. In addition, tofu is a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
Tofu is an excellent food from a nutritional and health perspective. It is thought to provide the same sort of protection against cancer and heart disease as soya beans.
|70 kcal||3.5g fat||1.5g carbohydrate||8.2g protein||0.9g fibre|
Soya protein (from which tofu is derived) is believed to help lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). Tofu contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones – a group of chemicals found in plant foods. They have a similar structure to the female hormone oestrogen and therefore mimic the action of oestrogen produced by the body. They naturally bind to oestrogen receptor sites in human cells including breast cells – potentially reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Due to the phytoestrogen content of soya, many women decide to include soya rich foods like tofu in their diet as they enter the menopause. During the menopause, the body’s natural production of oestrogen stops and symptoms may arise. As phytoestrogens act as a weak oestrogen, they may help relieve symptoms by boosting levels slightly, reducing hot flushes in some women.