I don’t think there is a food in existence that can make people passionately argue, shake with fear or turn their stomachs so much as tofu. There are people who don’t just dislike tofu, they absolutely HATE it and heaven help the person who puts it within ten feet of their plate. The funny thing is that I used to be one of those people. Well, kind of…having lived in a world where I didn’t even know one vegetarian (really, I didn’t), I never had the opportunity to try tofu. I didn’t even know what it was. That is until decades into my life when I ordered a mixed vegetable dish from a Chinese restaurant and there were these little white cubes in my dish that tasted like sponge. It was bean curd. I still didn’t know that bean curd was tofu; I just knew I didn’t want it in my food. Every time I ordered Chinese food, I specifically told them to leave the curd at the curb. When I went veg, however, it seemed that tofu and I were going to have to make nice. It took me over a year to learn to like tofu and longer than that to learn to cook it properly. Today, I love tofu. Like chicken used to be for me, tofu is now the food I can’t imagine living without. For a food that has existed for centuries, tofu is still so misunderstood. Let’s take a look at the reasons people think they hate tofu and how to change their minds.
1. It Looks Weird
Some people claim they hate tofu because it looks strange. You open the package, pour out the water and you are left with a spongy white block of curd. And that’s what it is, of course. Tofu is simply soy milk coagulated into curds and then pressed into a block. Hmm…isn’t that kind of what cheese is, coagulated curds of milk. Yet people love cheese and don’t think it looks weird. And how weird does meat look? After all, it’s dismembered body parts!!! Once it’s cooked, however, all people see is the tempting look of seared, caramelized and sauce-covered dishes. The same goes for tofu. No one serves tofu raw and straight out of the package. It gets grilled, fried, baked, breaded and covered in succulent sauces. Look at this Grilled Tofu and Squash with Easy Chimmichurri Sauce and Cous Cous, Pan-Fried Tofu with Zucchini, Carrots and Black Bean Noodles, and Asian Baked Tofu. Do these dishes look weird to you? I didn’t think so. Do you wish you had some right now? Yup, I bet you do.
2. It Has a Bad Reputation
When I say the word “tofu,” what’s the first thought that comes into your mind? Hippie? Health food? Commune? For some people, tofu is the kool-aid that inducts them into a cult they want no part of. Who eats tofu – hippies, health nuts and tree-hugging veg-heads? The truth is that people have been eating tofu since it was invented during the Han dynasty 2000 years ago. Benjamin Franklin ate tofu after he discovered it on a trip to London. People all over the world eat tofu and some on a daily basis. People who are not vegetarian eat tofu, include it in dishes that contain meat and other animal products and write whole cookbooks of non-vegetarian tofu recipes. For them, tofu is just another protein to use in recipes. If you think only health nuts eat tofu, then take a look at these “Chicken-Fried” Tofu Steaks or Tofu Pakoras. Tofu may be healthier than meat since it has no saturated fats but there are plenty of indulgent, decadent ways to eat it.
3. It’s Fake Food
Uh, no, it isn’t. Tofu is made from soy milk which comes from soybeans. Tofu is a vegetable, a plant-based food. It is real food. Yes, tofu is processed a bit but think about what you consider processed. If you are thinking along the line of the processed convenience foods that are nowhere near the original state of their ingredients and can sit on a shelf for months or years, tofu does not fit into that category. Tofu is minimally processed as soy milk has to be rendered from the soybeans and then coagulated and molded into a block. Read the label on a block of tofu. It has soybeans, water and probably, a coagulant like calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride. Yes, tofu can be extremely processed into products that are filled with chemicals but you don’t need to buy or eat those. Make your own veggie burgers like these Game Day Kidney Bean and Tofu Burgers.
4. It Tastes Mushy & Like Eating a Sponge
When you take a block of tofu out of the package, it is wet, mushy and spongy. Now listen closely: YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT IT THAT WAY! If you do, well, it’s no wonder you don’t like tofu. Not pressing the tofu is one of the biggest mistakes people make. Not only does all the water need to get out of the tofu so flavor can get in, but pressing the tofu changes its texture dramatically. The tofu goes from soft and spongy to firm and dense. Freezing the tofu before using can make it even more dense and chewy. You can buy tofu presses that are available or do it yourself with paper towels and heavy objects. Read how to freeze and press tofu in Tofu: How to Avoid 5 Common Cooking Mistakes. You also need to be sure you buy the right tofu for the recipe you are making. Tofu comes in soft, firm, extra-firm and super-firm textures. Don’t buy soft tofu and expect it to be firm and chewy. I buy the firmest tofu I can find so it holds up for dishes like Buffalo Tofu Fries, General Tso’s Tofu, or Spicy Balsamic Tofu Kebabs.
5. It Has No Flavor
A pet peeve of mine has become the way talented chefs treat tofu. Whether I’m watching a cooking show on television or reading recipes in magazines, people are instructed to drain the tofu, cut it up and cook it. Maybe sprinkle some salt and pepper on it at the end. That’s it – no marinating, no spice rubs, no flavor, no chance anyone is going to love it. The funny thing is that they don’t do that to chicken, beef or fish so why do that to tofu? After not pressing the tofu, not seasoning it is a huge mistake that will lead to bland and flavorless food. After the tofu has all the water pressed out of it, fill it with flavor by marinating it or seasoning it. Marinades can be as simple as letting the tofu sit in tamari mixed with water for 15 minutes. Most marinades have some combination of soy sauce, water, oil, and some herbs and spices. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes for ideas and recipes like my Sesame Tofu or Tandoori Tofu. Whether you marinate the tofu or not, a spice rub will help add flavor and texture when you cook it. Choose a mix of your favorite herbs and spices (mine are dried oregano, dried thyme, garlic and paprika) and rub them over the surface of the tofu after you cut the block into your desired shapes. See How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and 10 Ways to Make Awesome BBQ Sauces, Dry Rubs and Marinades for tons of ideas. Take a look at 10 Ways to Cook Tofu with Global Flavors for a culinary trip around the world.
6. The Texture is Strange
Even if you press the tofu and season it, you still have to cook it correctly and part of that is cutting the tofu into pieces appropriate for the dish. I once went to a restaurant that served a tofu club sandwich where the tofu was a giant block stuck between the slices of bread. If you want your tofu to have maximum flavor and texture, it’s best to cut it into smaller pieces. Thin slices are good for making cutlet-type dishes or for sandwiches. Simply cut the block of tofu in half width-wise and then cut each half into 4 rectangles for a total of 8 thin slices. I use slices like these for my Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce and they are the perfect shape for sandwiches like this Bad Ass Vegan Fish Sandwich. Those slices can further be cut into squares or triangles depending on the presentation you want for your dish. Cut the tofu into cubes for stir-fries and salads. Just cut the tofu into 5 even slices width-wise and then 4 slices horizontally. Those 20 pieces can be further cut in half to make smaller cubes if desired. Cut cubes for this Thai Basil Stir-Fry with Tofu and Eggplant and my Pineapple Island Tofu Kabobs. For kids, use cookie cutters to cut tofu into nuggets shaped like hearts or other fun shapes.
Whether you are making a curry or Chinese food, baking or frying, breading, battering or scrambling the tofu, be patient and cook it until it is the consistency that you want. If you are making Chinese food like Kung Pao Tofu, toss the tofu cubes in some seasoned cornstarch or arrowroot powder before pan-frying it so it will be really crispy. If you are planning to cover the tofu in sauce like this Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boy with Apple Slaw, you want to be sure the tofu won’t be soggy once the sauce hits it. For more tips and tricks, see 7 Tips to Make the Perfect Tofu Dish.
7. It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken
Some people eat a tofu dish like these amazing Crispy Tofu Nuggets and declare that it doesn’t take like chicken. No, it doesn’t. That’s because it’s not chicken. Tofu can be used to stand-in for animal foods like chicken, fish and even dairy. You can take any dish you ever loved, swap out the animal product and use tofu instead for a veganized version. You can recreate the flavors and textures that made those dishes your favorites and enjoy them in a healthier and more compassionate way. But don’t expect the tofu to taste EXACTLY like chicken, fish or dairy. It will taste like tofu but based on the flavors and techniques you use to make the recipes, it can be very reminiscent of those foods. I make vegan versions of all my old favorite chicken dishes like Jerk Tofu, Epic BBQ Tofu Wings, and “Chicken” Francaise. You can use tofu to make vegan fish dishes like Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi, Vegan Fish and Chips and Tofu Scallops. Tofu can substitute for ricotta in dishes like Spinach Gnudi Balls, Vegan Lasagna and Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti and for eggs like this Curried Tofu Scramble and Eggless Egg Salad. Make vegan cheese and condiments like Low-Fat Ranch Dip. Tofu even makes delicious desserts like this Cool Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Pecan Pie. The key is to appreciate recipes made with tofu for their own tastes and flavors and not expect it to taste exactly like the non-vegan version. Don’t blame tofu for not meeting your unrealistic expectations.
8. It’s Bad for My Health
Even though soy has been the staple of the diets of many cultures for thousands of years, there are a lot of conflicting opinions out there about the health benefits and consequences of eating soy. Soy foods have lots of benefits including being high in protein, calcium and iron while low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Eating soy can lower cholesterol and reduce the risks of some cancers and heart disease. On the other hand, soy contains isoflavones which can mimic estrogen in the body. These isoflavones, however, are found more in highly processed soy than in blocks of tofu. It is also important to buy tofu that is made from organic and non-GMO soybeans.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) concluded that women can safely eat up to two or three servings of soy foods in their diets each day. If women are receiving anti-estrogen treatments or have hormone-sensitive cancers, however, they should avoid soy supplements and eating too much soy. People who suffer from soy allergies should stay away from tofu and all soy products. As with any health issues, people need to discuss with their physicians what is right for them. To read more about soy and health, see Fact or Fiction? Soy Is Bad for Your Health, How Much is Too Much? Soy in a Healthy Plant-Based Diet, and Why Is Everyone Hatin’ On Soy These Days?
People have a lot of reasons why they say they hate tofu but so many of those reasons can be avoided when tofu is prepared and cooked properly. Other reasons are due to misinformation and stereotypes that it’s time were cleared up. Tofu is a delicious, healthy food that is inexpensive and versatile. If you think you hate tofu, follow the tips and advice in this article, try some of the recipes and see if you don’t change your mind.
Lead Image Source: How to Make the Perfect Baked Tofu