Tofu Demystified!Mar 02, 2016
— This article appeared in the March 2016 Bamboo Times, Singapore
While Benjamin Franklin was the first American known to talk about tofu in 1770, Chinese used tofu as early as 950 A.D. Tofu is a staple in Asian cuisine. High in protein and a good source of iron and magnesium, its variety and availability abound in Singapore.
Tofu is made from soybeans. Soybeans are first soaked in water, eventually doubling in size, and then crushed creating a pulpy mixture of milk and meal. The milk is then coagulated, pressed, cut, packaged and pasteurized.
The term tofu has also been extended to other types of curdled pressed items like egg tofu, sesame or peanut tofu, almond tofu and Burmese tofu which is made from chickpeas.
Since tofu is flavourless (unless you purchase a pre-flavoured variety), it is best to season tofu prior to using it or use it in dishes with lots of flavour. To marinade, pan fry until golden first and then place in your marinade. If you are going to stir fry it, try pressing your block of tofu for 15 minutes. Simply place the block between some paper towels and put a couple of plates on top. This will ensure the tofu doesn’t crumble when cooked. Try tofu from your local wet market, it is fresh made and a real treat.
In general terms, tofu is available as soft (silken), regular (varying degrees of firmness) or extra firm. The type of tofu you use depends on the dish you make. Firm tofu is best suited for stir fries, deep frying, pan frying, baking, glazing, batter/fry; silken or soft tofu is best for smoothies, desserts, dips or sauces. Firm tofu is the most versatile. It freezes well and once thawed the consistency will be more firm. If you see firm tofu on sale, buy up!
Tofu choices in Singapore can be overwhelming. Here are some of the varieties you will find:
- Tau Kwa – Firm tofu best for stir fries and deep frying.
- Tofu Puff – A spongy tofu ‘pocket’, already deep fried; stuff with rice, vegetables or meat.
- Egg tofu – Made from egg and dashi; use in stir fry, steam or claypot recipes. Note, this is not vegetarian friendly.
- Silken tofu – Very soft, add to smoothies for a creamy texture, or use in desserts.
- Chinese/Japanese tofu – Some tofu is labeled “Chinese” or “Japanese”. There are some small differences in how the tofu is made, however generally speaking the Chinese tofu is firm and the Japanese tofu is soft.
- Sprouted Tofu – This is made using sprouted soybeans and has more nutritional value. Found in both silken and firm varieties.
- Flavoured Tofu – This tofu has been flavoured after the pressing process. Try seaweed, five spice or smoked. Best used in stir fries, dumplings, soups.
- Black Tofu – Made from black soybeans and higher in antioxidants. Use as you would other firm/silken tofu. It actually appears more grey/purple in colour.
- Edamame tofu – Made from green edamame (young) soy beans. Great for dips.
- Stinky Tofu – Like a good cheese, the stronger the scent the better the tofu. Made by fermenting several months in a strong brine, it is served cold, steamed, stir fried or deep fried. Try it at your local hawker center.