Also referred to as bean curd, tofu is a food prepared by congealing soy milk, which results in curds. Subsequently, the curd is pressed and cut into small, supple white blocks. Tofu is a favourite constituent of many Southeast and East Asian cuisines. Tofu is available in several varieties, including fresh tofu as well as tofu processed by some other means. Tofu is also available in soft, firm or additionally firm forms. The flavour of this substance is subtle and one can use it in sweet dishes and in savoury. Often people season tofu or marinate it according to the dish they are preparing.

The history of tofu dates back to 2,000 years ago. It first originated during the rule of the Han dynasty in China. According to Chinese legend, the credit for inventing tofu goes to prince Liu An (179 BC - 122 BC). Subsequently, tofu as well as the technique involved in producing it was taken to Korea and later to Japan during the rule of the Nara (710 - 794). A section of scholars are of the view that tofu reached Vietnam sometime during the 10th century and 11th century. Gradually, tofu and its production technique spread to other regions of Southeast Asia as well.

Perhaps, the spread of tofu coincided with Buddhism's spread in the region as well as other parts of the globe. According to some scholars, tofu is a vital protein source in the vegetarian diet taken by Buddhists in East Asia and this could be a reason why it spread simultaneously with the faith. The method involved in preparing tofu has been described by Li Shizhen in the Compendium of Materia Medica during the Ming Dynasty.

Tofu is low in calorie content, but it is relatively rich in protein content. In addition, it also contains elevated amounts of iron, subject to the coagulants such as calcium sulfate, calcium chloride and magnesium sulfate that have been used in making it. Tofu may also have elevated amounts of calcium and/ or magnesium.

Digesting tofu is quite easy. However, this is a rather bland food having a texture similar to that of cheese. Tofu is prepared from soybean curd and it is often used as a substitute for cheeses, meats as well as some specific dairy products, especially for the health benefits offered by it. In fact, tofu is very popular among vegetarians those who have a dislike for animal products. Tofu is used in several dissimilar types of diets, counting vegetarian and vegan diet programs. In addition, tofu is a staple in several diets that are low in cholesterol and fat. It is considered to be a healthy protein and forms a vital part of diets that are low in carbs.

Tofu offers several important nutritional benefits. It not only has an elevated concentration of B-vitamins, but has also a protein that can be digested easily. Different from most products made from soy milk, tofu contains B-vitamins and isoflavones that are effective in reducing symptoms related to menstruation and menopause. It is useful for reliving discomfort and irritability related to these conditions. Consumption of tofu is also known to protect us from specific cancer forms. Calcium found in tofu is useful for preventing development of osteoporosis and other diseases related to the bones. It also makes the teeth stronger.

Tofu is available in three different varieties - soft, silken, and firm. The variety known as silken is ideal for using in combination with other foods as its texture is creamy. This tofu variety is often used as a replacement for foods with elevated levels of fat content like cream cheese. In fact, it can be considered to be a healthier version of cheese. The texture of soft tofu is akin to that of al dente pasta. It is wonderful for preparing dishes like lasagna, wherein you can replace pasta with this tofu to make a food whose carbohydrate content is comparatively lower. The firm type of tofu is more condensed and not soft like the other varieties. You can cut this type of tofu into smaller pieces and use them as a substitute for meat in preparations like soups, salads and casseroles.

Tofu is commonly used in an assortment of delicious and healthy recipes as a substitute for meat. This is mainly because tofu assumes the flavors of the foods with which you combine them. Generally, tofu is a somewhat bland and does not have its distinctive flavour. Therefore, tofu is one of the preferred food substitutes in comparison to other foods options with low cholesterol, low fat, low carbohydrate and low sodium content. The other food options usually have their characteristic flavours or aftertastes, which often alter the taste of the dishes in which people use tofu.

Tofu is also easily available in nearly all supermarkets. You can generally find tofu where you will also find other meat substitutes or in the vicinity of the produce section. It is essential to store tofu in a refrigerator to keep it viable. After you buy tofu and bring it home, you should ensure that you immediately store it in your refrigerator or freezer. Normally, it keeps well for about a week when stored in a refrigerator. It will remain viable for no less than a month if you store it in a freezer.

Since tofu offers various health benefits, it is popular worldwide and can be easily found in supermarkets in various parts of the globe. Modern notwithstanding, tofu is among the foods that have constantly conserved natural healthy substances. The nutritional value of several other foods has been reduced as they are processed synthetically following the introduction of various machines.

The best part of tofu is that is not necessary for you to have a farm growing own soy beans if you wish to consume this healthy substance or any other protein-rich food produce from soy beans. These days several stores stock tofu and other soy products in abundance and buy as many packets you wish to. However, while purchasing tofu or any other soy bean product you should always confirm the date of packaging as well as the product's expiry day. It is advisable not to purchase packets that may have been lying in the store for long.

Similar to other foods, when you have opened a tofu container, it should be immediately kept in a refrigerator or freezer to ensure that it remains viable. In addition, you can also ensure that tofu remains fresh and in healthy condition if you keep changing the water in the container. It is worth mentioning here that the fat content of firmer variety of tofu is higher compared to the silky or soft tofu types.

Health benefits

Protein is essential for the human body to ensure that all its organs and systems function appropriately. Contrary to what most people believe, protein is not only present in meat and meat products, but various other foods too. In fact, even people who take vegetarian and vegan diets also get the amount of protein their body requires for sustaining the normal functioning of the various systems. They obtain this protein from tofu, different soy products as well as vegetables. These foods contain amino acids, which are necessary for our optimal health. On the other hand, consuming red meat too often or in excessive amounts has adverse effects on our health and these implications can sometimes give rise to various ailments and health conditions. One can avoid these problems easily by substituting red meat with any preparation containing tofu and other soy products.

Tofu is the preferred protein source, particularly for people with gout and enduring uric acid clearance problems. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning here that people suffering from gout should never consume elevated amounts of tofu or various other soy products.

Most of us are aware that high levels of blood cholesterol are a primary cause for heart diseases. Although some people may be trying hard to avoid this type of fat in their diet, it is found in majority of the cooking oils and fats available in the market, hence in most homes as well as eateries. Consumption of tofu helps to reduce the cholesterol level in the bloodstream, as it possesses the aptitude to take up cooking oil as well as other liquid fats, whenever they accumulate in the body. Accumulation of such types of fats may result in various diseases. Compared to red meats like beef, the concentration of saturated fatty acids is much lower in tofu. In addition to protein, tofu is also an excellent source of linoleic acid and lecithin. Linoleic acid is important for our health because it works to control metabolism. At the same time, linoleic acid also helps to disperse as well as eliminate cholesterol accumulations in our body.

Consumption of tofu also helps to diminish the chances of developing anemia. Findings of a study undertaken in China to examine the relationship between tofu consumption and anemia hinted that this soy bean product certainly helps to reduce the risks of anemia, especially in adults.

Tofu encloses isoflavones and it has been established that these compounds are useful for lessening the risks of cancer. Several scientific studies undertaken to find the association between soy consumption and endometrial cancer have suggested that consuming more foods like soy may help in lowering the chances of developing endometrial cancer, especially in women in post-menopausal stage. According to the findings of another study, consumption of tofu may help post-menopausal women who are suffering from lung cancer prolong their life span. For this, it is advisable that they incorporate tofu into their lifestyle.

Ingestion of the right type of foods and in appropriate amounts has a vital role in sustaining the health of our cardiovascular system. Consuming soy products such as tofu on a regular basis may help in lowering the cholesterol levels in addition to saturated fats in our body. By this means, tofu helps to reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.

It is worth mentioning here that tofu is an excellent source of calcium - the essential mineral that is responsible for our bone formation. Often it is difficult to get the appropriate amount of nutrient in our diet. As a result, it is highly recommended that you should consume tofu regularly. This is important because tofu contains elevated levels of this nutrient. Absence of adequate amounts of calcium in our body may result in osteoporosis, fast aging owing to brittle bones and also poor bone formation. While everyone of us are inclined to age at some point or the other in our lives, it is possible to avoid the above mentioned effects of age provided we adopt measures like intake of tofu. Consumption of tofu helps to retard the aging process as it helps in maintaining strong and healthy bones.

Like calcium, iron also plays a vital role in ensuring our optimal health. This essential mineral is needed by our body to supply adequate amounts of oxygen to different parts of our body because our body heavily depends on oxygen. Precisely speaking, it is the responsibility of hemoglobin to carry oxygen to all our body parts, as oxygen is necessary to generate the energy required for the body to carry out its normal functions. Hemoglobin is present in our blood and iron present in our body helps hemoglobin formation. It is important to note that tofu contains adequate levels of iron and, thereby, helps in promoting circulation of oxygen to all parts of the body.

Side effects and cautions

Tofu offers several health benefits, but it needs to be consumed with caution. Tofu is made from soy and people with allergies, especially those who have allergic reactions to legumes, should never eat tofu.