Since the mid-20th century, tofu in Western culture has been synonymous with health food—and everything good and bad that phrase evokes. Tofu is high in protein, iron and calcium, and low on calories. But many people also complain that it’s low on taste, or they are turned off by its texture.
To learn a little more about tofu, which has been a staple in Asian diets for more than 2,000 years, we spoke with Chihiro Kurata (with the assistance of a translator), marketing division manager for tofu manufacturer House Foods America Corporation. Established in 1913 in Osaka, Japan, House Foods opened its first U.S. branch in California in 1981 and has operated a tofu manufacturing plant in Somerset, N.J., since 2006.
There are a lot of varieties of tofu at your local grocery story—soft, firm, tofu steak, etc.—how do you know which one to buy?
Chihiro Kurata: The type of tofu you use will mainly depend on what kind of dish you’ll be making. However, personal preferences may come in at times. For example, one person may pick medium tofu while another picks firm for the same recipe. Tofu steak is seasoned, so usually people grill it and eat it with some kind of sauce. Or you could also substitute regular tofu with it when stir-frying with (or without) vegetables, if you like more intensive—such as garlic and pepper or Cajun.
Why do people view tofu as a health food?
Due to tofu’s nutritional components: It’s high in “complete” protein (soy protein is the only plant-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids), it has no cholesterol, is very low in saturated fat, is a good source of calcium and is relatively low in calories and fat. In addition, House Foods exclusively uses non-GMO (genetically modified) soybeans grown in the United States.
Are there any specific health conditions for which tofu can be particularly helpful?
Numerous studies show the benefits of soy. The FDA states that consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce your risk of heart disease. According to several studies, isoflavone in soy can reduce the frequency of hot flashes and their severity. Also, the high amounts of iron found in soy protein can help prevent osteoporosis by building healthy bones, and it may also increase the density and quality of bones in menopausal women. In addition to calcium, soy also contains magnesium, which is especially important for athletes.
One of the biggest complaints about tofu is that it has no taste—do you agree with that? How would you suggest a picky eater approach tofu?
Yes, we hear people say “tofu is bland.” However, it could work to your advantage since tofu could take on any sauce or flavor you add to it. It absorbs the flavor as if you’re painting something in a blank canvas.
Are there any “tricks” to cooking tofu? Is it better to drain the moisture out of it beforehand, for example?
It’d be a good idea to remove the moisture from tofu. We usually recommend that our consumers use a paper towel to drain excess moisture so that the dish they’re making won’t get too watery.
Is there any special way to store tofu? How long does it last once the container is opened?
If the tofu is within the code date, it will last approximately two to three days in the refrigerator. However, the tofu must be kept in an air-tight container. Water should be added to the container in order for the tofu to keep its moisture.
For more information, visit www.house-foods.com
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