Tofu History-Chinese Cuisine

Chinese bean curds introduction and how to use them
Chinese bean curds introduction and how to use them. Maximilian Stock Ltd. Getty Images

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.


According to one Chinese legend, tofu was invented when a cook decided to experiment with flavouring a batch of cooked soy beans 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 favourite is about a man who loved his parents very much but they had turned old and lost the function of their teeth. They could only eat really soft food so the man decided to cook some soybeans for his parents. Because his parents’ teeth were useless he blended the soybeans and made them like a soup.


His parents tasted a bit of the soy bean soup and spat it out because there were too many soy bean 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.


This is the story I was told when I was a little girl. I have no idea if the story is true but it’s very interesting.


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 also many different kinds of tofu products including Douhua (豆花) which is one of my favourite 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.


If you are interested in learning about how to cook different kinds of bean curds you can have a look at the article “Different Kind of Bean Curds and How to Use Them”.


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. Serveral types of coagulant are used, from the above-mentioned nagari to calcium sulfate.


To learn more about tofu types and cooking with tofu please have a look of one of our former Chinese food expert’s article “Terrific Tofu”.


Edited by Liv Wan