What is tofu?

TofuOver the recent couple of years, tofu has become a popular product. Tofu is considered to be great source of iron, calcium and amino acids. It is also considered to be a very versatile ingredient since you can combine it with a wide variety of dishes. Besides the fact that it is very versatile, it also provides many health benefits. If you want to find out more about this food product, keep reading!


Even though tofu has only become more popular over the last couple of years, it has been around for a very long time. The product originally comes from China. It was found more than a thousand years ago. The next section will talk about the history of tofu more specifically. Tofu is made from curdling soymilk. During the preparation process of tofu, soymilk proteins become coagulated. The soy curds which can emerge are then pressed together and become a sliceable cake. One of the names which is often used for tofu is “nigari” tofu. This type of tofu is soymilk which has been coagulated, and magnesium chloride has been added to is. Another item which is often used to curdle soymilk is called gypsum. Gypsum is actually calcium sulfate. Both calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride are known for being “salt” coagulants. However, it is important to note that the term “salt” in this case is not salt as we know it. In this context it is used in a chemical way. In this way is refers to the ionic compound.

Coagulants in tofu

Another type of coagulant which is used to coagulate tofu is called glucono delta-lactone. This compound is also referred to as GDL. When this coagulant is added, the tofu usually becomes softer compared to other types of tofu. This softer type of tofu is also known as “silken” tofu. Moreover, since tofu is actually curded soymilk, it is sometimes also referred to as “bean curd”. In the Chinese language, tofu would be pronounced differently as most people do. Instead of saying “tofu”, people in China commonly refer to the product as “doufu”. Today, there are more than 200,000 different manufacturers of tofu in the entire world. The majority of tofu which is sold in The United States and many European countries has not been fermented. However, in many countries in the world fermented tofu is also widely available. There are many different types of fermented tofu. For example, you will be able to find pickled tofu, tofu which has been preserved, Chinese cheese and stinky tofu. Whenever you find one of these types of tofu, you can be sure that it has been fermented. The fermentation of tofu can be done using a wide variety of methods. For example, in some cases bacteria are added to the tofu. In other cases, molds or special types of brines will be added to the food product.


Tofu, or “doufu” as it is called by the Chinese, was first found in China. It is estimated that the first time tofu was used was during the Han Dynasty. It is said that this was more than 2,000 years ago. There are different stories suggesting who found tofu and about its first use. One story is that tofu was accidently discovered. The story is that a Chinese cook accidently curdled soy milk when he was adding nigari seaweed. Tofu spread to Japan hundreds of years later. The Japanese were the first ones who called the product “tofu” instead of “doufu”. “Tofu” is now also the most commonly used name in the Western world. Over the years, the use of tofu spread to many different countries in Asia. The product corresponded well with the spread of Buddhism. This is because many people who practice Buddhism follow a vegetarian diet which is required by the East Asian form of Buddhism. Tofu is a good substitute for meat since it is a common source of protein.

Tofu in the United States

It was only until around 1765 that tofu was introduced to the United States. The sailor Samuel Bowen was the first person to plant soybeans for his employer at the time. He did this near Savannah. Not many years later did Ben Franklin send soybeans to his friend who was living in France. Ben Franklin called the soybeans  “Chinese caravances”. In the 1920s did soybeans become a crop which was commercially produced. However, during this time soy was not being consumed. Instead, soy was used as hay and it was also used as green manure. The actual consumption of soybean products only started during the time of the Second World War. During this time soybeans replaced imported oils and fats. These imported fats and oils were blocked by various trade routes due to the war. During the 1960s, the production of soybeans was booming in the United States. At this time, the United States was producing more than 75 percent of the total supply of the world’s tofu. It was also during this time that various studies were being conducted on the use of tofu. The production of soybeans has ever since been considered to be big business. The annual sale of soy foods has increased to 4,5 billion dollars in 2013.

Health benefits

One of the health benefits of tofu is that it can help to the reduce the risk of heart diseases. There are a few studies which have been conducted on this topic. These studies found that consuming soy, and other types of legumes, can help to reduce the risk of different types of heart diseases. Other studies found that soy also contains soy isoflavones. These isoflavones can help to reduce the inflammation of blood vessels. At the same time, these soy isoflavones can also help to improve the elasticity of blood vessels. One study was conducted among people who have an increased risk of a stroke. The participants in the study consumed 80 mg of isoflavones on a daily basis for a period of 12 weeks. The results show that the blood flow of the participants was improved by 68 percent. Other studies which have been conducted on the link between soy and heart health found that consuming 50 grams of soy protein is also healthy. The consumption of this amount of soy protein has been associated with improved blood fats. Also, it was found that it will  lower the risk of heart diseases by ten percent. Studies have also been conducted among post-menopausal women. The intake of soy isoflavone was linked to protective factors of the heart. For example, is was linked to fasting insulin, improvements of the body mass index and the waist circumference. Another compound which has been found in tofu is saponins. These compounds have been thought to have protective effects on heart health. Currently, studies are still being conducted on the effects of tofu on the human body.

Health risks

While tofu is said to have many health benefits, especially on the cardiovascular system, other studies show opposite results. For example, tofu contains phytoestrogens. These are also known to be plant-based estrogens. These compounds are said to have a similar effect as estrogen. This implies that they can block the normal estrogen production in the body. The consumption of this compound has been associated with breast cancer. Various scientific studies which have been conducted on soy and its potential effect on breast cancer found that soy might “feed” certain breast cancers. This is due to the fact that soy can similar characteristics as estrogen. However, this is of course also dependent on the overall health of the woman and on how much soy you consume. If you have been a survivor of breast cancer, or you have a family history of breast cancer, it is best to avoid tofu. If you still want to add tofu, it is recommended to consume soy products which are unfermented. Tofu has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and with dementia. These two cognitive health diseases do not only have an impact on the brain but they also influence a person’s daily cognitive functioning. One study which is being conducted in Hawaii found that there is a link between consuming tofu twice a week and accelerated aging of the brain. The participants in this study who consumed tofu in their mid-life did not only have lower cognitive functions, but they also had an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Another study which was conducted on this similar topic was published in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. This study found that consuming tofu regularly was linked to a worse memory. This was compared to eating tempeh on a regular basis. Tempeh, on the other hand, improves memory. Tempeh is therefore considered  to be a good alternative for tofu, as will be addressed in the next section.

Alternatives for tofu

As has become clear throughout this article, there is no consensus on whether tofu is considered to be a good and healthy product. While tofu provides some health benefits, there are also some health risks related to it. If you prefer consuming an alternative for tofu, luckily there are various alternatives. One of the alternatives for tofu is natto. Natto is a fermented soy product. Many people refer to the food product as a super-food since it provides great health benefits. One of the health benefits of natto is that is lowers blood pressure. Natto is also a source of protein and fiber. It also includes a great set of healthy minerals and vitamins which contribute to your overall health. Another compound which natto contains is called Bacillus subtilis. This compound is a good bacteria which contributes to the creation of the enzyme nattokinase. This enzyme plays an important role in the production of vitamin K2. Another alternative for tofu is tempeh. As mentioned above, tempeh has been found to have more health benefits compared to tofu. Similar to natto, tempeh is also made from soybeans which are fermented. The fermentation process and the fact that the soybean is used as a whole contributes to tempeh having a high content of vitamins, minerals and protein. One of the health benefits of tempeh is that it plays a role in reducing cholesterol. It also helps to increase bone density and reduce the symptoms which are related to the menopause. Moreover, tempeh has also been found to play a role in the promotion of muscle recovery. Tempeh is a great substitute for meat since it has the same protein quality as meat.


Article written by: SarahAjaoud
Times read: 1646x
Added: 12-02-2017 16:52
Last modified: 01-05-2017 23:15

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