Tofu is an extremely popular food throughout almost the all of Asia. Tofu was first used in China over 2000 years ago and experts believe that it’s production began sometime during the Han dynasty (206-220BC). From China, tofu was introduced into Korea and reached Japan around the eight century A.D.
Origin of Tofu
According to one Chinese legend, tofu was invented when a cook decided to experiment with flavoring a batch of cooked soybeans with the compound nagari. He ended up making bean curd (tofu) and Nagari is frequently used in the production of tofu today.
Apart from this story about the origin of tofu, there are also so many different kinds of stories about how tofu was invented. One example and a favorite is about a man who loved his parents much but they had turned old and lost the function of their teeth. They could only eat soft food so the man decided to cook some soybeans for his parents. Since his parents’ teeth were useless, he blended the soybeans and made them like a soup.
His parents tasted a bit of the soybean soup and spat it out because there were too many soybean crumbs in the soup. It didn’t taste very nice so he passed the soybean soup through some muslin squares. His parents still didn’t like soup because they thought it was tasteless.
So he added some salt into the soybean soup and heated it up again. Because the soup was too hot he left it to cool down and after it had cooled down he discovered it had become “jelly” like. He was very curious so he had a taste and was completely surprised by the taste and texture. He served some of this “soybean jelly” to his parents, they loved it and this is how tofu was invented.
The West and Tofu
In the West, there is quite a lot of stigma against tofu. Many people don’t know how to cook tofu correctly and indeed my husband had little experience with tofu before meeting him. His parents thought tofu sounded disgusting but the right tofu prepared correctly can be absolutely delicious.
Tofu contains barely any calories, so in the East many ladies like to eat lots of tofu in their diet to help them to lose weight. Tofu also contains high levels of protein and is high in both iron and magnesium.
There are many different kinds of tofu products including Douhua (豆花) which is one of my favorite desserts in Chinese cuisine. There is also soft or silken tofu which is usually used to make soups and salads. Firm tofu is ideal for both stir-frying and deep-frying. Other types of tofu include extra firm tofu, fermented tofu, stinky tofu, dried tofu, frozen tofu, tofu puff and tofu skin. I’m sure there are many other different kinds of tofu products but these are the ones we mainly use in the East.
The process by which tofu is made has a lot in common with making cheese. A coagulant is used to curdle soy milk and the curds are then pressed into a solid block. Several types of coagulant are used, from the above-mentioned nagari to calcium sulfate.