What Is Tofu? Is Tofu Healthy? Is Tofu World’s Healthiest Foods?
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds. Although pre-made soy milk may be used, some tofu producers begin by making their own soy milk, which is produced by soaking, grinding, boiling and straining dried (or, less commonly, fresh) soybeans.
The origins of tofu
Tofu originated in Han dynasty China some 2,000 years ago. Chinese legend ascribes its invention to prince Liu an (179–122 BC). Tofu and its production technique were introduced into Korea [when?] and then Japan. During the Nara period (710–794). Some scholars believe tofu arrived in Vietnam during the 10th and 11th century. It spread into other parts of East Asia as well. This spread probably coincided with the spread of Buddhism because it is an important source of protein in the vegetarian diet of East Asian Buddhism. Li Shizhen in the Ming Dynasty described a method of making tofu in the Compendium of Materia Medica.
In the West
Benjamin Franklin was the first American to mention tofu in a 1770 letter to John Bartram. Franklin, who discovered it during a trip to London, included a few soybeans and referred to it as “cheese” from China. The first tofu company in the United States was established in 1878. In 1908 Li Yuying, a Chinese anarchist and a vegetarian with a French degree in agriculture and biology, opened a soy factory, the Usine de la Caseo-Sojaine, which was the world’s first soy dairy and the first factory in France to manufacture and sell bean curd. However tofu was not well known to most Westerners before the middle of the 20th century. With increased cultural contact between the West and East Asia and growing interest in vegetarianism, knowledge of tofu has become widespread. Numerous types of pre-flavored tofu can be found in many supermarket chains throughout the West. It is also used by many vegans and vegetarians as a means to gain protein without the consumption of meat products.
Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also an excellent source of iron and calcium and the minerals manganese, selenium and phosphorous. In addition, tofu is a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
Tofu is an excellent food from a nutritional and health perspective. It is thought to provide the same sort of protection against cancer and heart disease as soya beans.
Tofu is relatively high in protein, about 10.7% for firm tofu and 5.3% for soft “silken” tofu with about 5% and 2% fat respectively as a percentage of weight.
In 1995, a report from the University of Kentucky, financed by The Solae Company St. Louis, Missouri (the PTI division of DuPont), concluded that soy protein is correlated with significant decreases in serum cholesterol, Low Density Lipoprotein LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride concentrations. However, High Density Lipoprotein HDL (good cholesterol) did not increase. Soy phytoestrogens (isoflavones: genistein and daidzein) absorbed onto the soy protein were suggested as the agent reducing serum cholesterol levels. On the basis of this research, PTI, in 1998, filed a petition with Food and Drug Administration for a health claim that soy protein may reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
The FDA granted this health claim for soy: “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” For reference, 100 grams of firm tofu coagulated with calcium sulfate contains 8.19 grams of soy protein. In January 2006, an American Heart Association review (in the journal Circulation) of a decade-long study of soy protein benefits showed only a minimal decrease in cholesterol levels, but it compared favorably against animal protein sources.