Vegan tofu or bean curd is a food product made by pressing the curds of coagulated soy milk into blocks. This staple of Asian cuisine is also common in Western vegetarian and vegan cooking because of its ability to absorb the flavors of whatever dish it is added to. Additionally, vegan tofu is low in calories and fat but high in calcium, iron, and protein, depending on the coagulant used to curdle the soy milk. Firm and soft or silken are the two principal types of vegan tofu.
The exact origin of vegan tofu is not certain, but it is generally believed to have originated in China. From China, tofu spread to Korea, Japan, and throughout Asia. Vegan tofu is prepared and served in a variety of ways in Asian cooking. It can be eaten warm or cold and in sweet or spicy dishes. Deep fried, coated with sauce, or cubed in soups and curries are all common ways tofu is consumed throughout Asia.
Manufacturers tend to use a salt, acid, or enzyme coagulant when making vegan tofu. The type of coagulant can affect the nutritional content of the tofu product. For example, the salt coagulant calcium sulfate makes a tofu rich in calcium. Most manufacturers begin by making their own soy milk by soaking, grinding, and boiling soybeans. The coagulant is then added, and the resulting curds are strained and pressed.
Soft or silken tofu and firm tofu are the two most common types of this food product. Silken tofu has a higher moisture content than the firm variety, and its texture is akin to custard. This type of tofu is often used in desserts and smoothies. Firm tofu is well drained and pressed and is easily holds its shape when cubed and fried. An extra-firm variety of tofu also known as dry tofu has a texture that is somewhat rubbery and can be sliced very thinly and crumbled.
The nutritional content of vegan tofu varies depending on the coagulant used and the type. For example, 1 ounce (28 grams) of silken tofu contains 15 calories total, with seven from fat, and is a good source of protein, magnesium, and thiamin. An ounce (28 g) of extra firm tofu made with a salt coagulant called nigari has 25 calories total and 14 from fat but is a better source of calcium, protein, and iron than the silken type.
As tofu contains no animal products or byproducts, many vegetarians and vegans have incorporated it into their diets. In Western cooking, firm tofu is often pressed or frozen and thawed before being prepared as a mock meat; it can then be marinated and grilled, broiled, or fried. It can be prepared to mimic the flavor and texture of everything from scrambled eggs to cheese and bacon. Silken tofu is typically used when making desserts and sauces or blended in smoothies. Vegan tofu is available in Asian grocery stores, health food stores, and increasingly in regular supermarkets.