Soft tofu, draws its origins from many hundreds of years in China. Discover why this high protein food is a boon for the body…and mind.
Chinese invented tofu about two thousand and one hundred years ago during the Han Dynasty. Since then, tofu has been a sustainable source of protein for Chinese people. It also substituted animals as the later was not only costly, but also rarely available for most of the Chinese population. Later on, based on scientific research, it was discovered that tofu is a very healthy food. It is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol. Moreover, it’s easy to digest; and its protein has a very high body absorption rate of about 95%.
1.1. Tofu and spirituality
Tofu is a main ingredient of monks’ daily diet in China. Due to the popularity of Buddhism in the country, the monks spread the good words about tofu, i.e. a clean and pure dish which makes your body and mind calm and peaceful. In addition, as the Chinese culture spread its influence in Asia throughout history, Buddhism became a main religion in many other countries in Asia. Therefore, tofu, by association, also became a popular food in those countries. Japanese learned how to make tofu from China during the Tang Dynasty, and tofu has been spread to Korea during the Song Dynasty.
2. How to make tofu?
First of all, it is the mature soybeans that are selected to make tofu including soft-tofu. Indeed, young soybeans which are tender and green in colour are consumed as fresh vegetables. Boiled young soybeans in pods are popular summer snacks both in China and Japan. The Chinese name for this snack is “毛豆” , which means “hairy beans” if translated literally. The name comes from the hair on the bean pods, “毛”means hair in Chinese. As for mature soybeans, they become dry, tougher, and slightly yellow in colour; and that’s where the Chinese name of the beans come from, which is “ 黄豆” (“ yellow beans”) .
Mature soybeans are soaked, then grinded to make soy bean milk first. Afterwards the milk is boiled, filtered, curdled by the coagulant and pressed; which is similar to the process of making cheese. The amount of coagulant and the length of time used for pressing make different level of firmness. The more coagulant and the longer it is pressed, the more whey is released and the firmer the finished product will become.
3. How to make Soft tofu
Soft tofu is pressed for the least amount of time and therefore it contains more water than the other kinds of tofu. The Chinese name for soft tofu is “嫩豆腐”, “嫩”means young or tender. Soft tofu allows the curds to blend seamlessly into the remaining whey and has a very delicate body. The taste is mild, the texture is silky with a milky flavour.
3.1. What is soft tofu good for?
Because soft tofu is so delicate, many people have problem using it. In fact it should be manipulated as little as possible. For that reason, it’s perfect for dishes that do not require long cooking time or constant stirring. Soft tofu is therefore ideal for simple or quick soups like Japanese style miso soup. As this soup only takes a few minutes to boil, the texture of the soft tofu matches this dish perfectly. Furthermore, it’s easy to drink and swallow down without chewing.
3.2. Miso soup recipe using soft tofu
Cooking time: 0 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 3 servings
Cooking time is about 15minutes
📌 Ingredients for 3 portions
❣️ 150g of soft tofu block
❣️ Two table spoons of miso paste
❣️ A few small pieces of dried seaweed for soup
❣️ 2 spring onions
❣️ Two table spoons of katsuobushi (smoked and fermented skipjack tuna)
– Cut the tofu into 2cm cubes
– Blanch the tofu for a minute
– Use 3 table spoons of water dilute and mix the miso
– Chop the spring onions
📌 Cooking steps:
– Boil three bowl of water in a pot
– Add the seaweed and fish powder
– Add tofu cubes, bring to boil
– Turn off the heat, add the miso and spring onions.
Take out the soup to serving bowls and serve.
4. Different usage of soft tofu
Other than for soup, soft tofu can also be used for some steamed dishes that do not require any stiring. For example, Chinese people mix soft tofu with egg, prawn and peas and steam them to make a light and delicious tofu dish. They also often use soft tofu to make cold dish starters. For example, there is a popular cold dish made from soft tofu and the thousand years of eggs (皮蛋 豆腐). Both the egg and tofu are cut into small cubes and placed on a plate. Then, you separately mix some soy sauce, vinegar, chilli, sesame oil and spring onions or ginger, and simply pour the mixed sauce on the tofu and egg.
5. Other Kinds of soft tofu
There is another kind of soft tofu where you don’t have to take the whey out at all. The process is completed when the coagulant is mixed in soybean milk. Simply let it set for 15 minutes and it’s ready to eat. The Chinese name for this tofu is “豆腐脑” or “豆腐花”. Its English name is custard tofu.
5.1.1. Facts about Custard tofu
Custard tofu is normally made and consumed when it’s fresh. It’s good to keep for one day; and in some cases like hot summers only a few hours. This is the reason why you cannot find this product in supermarkets. In China, custard tofu is a traditional breakfast dish you can mostly find in some mama and papa shops. These kinds of shops only serve breakfast and are opened very early in the morning, ie. 4 or 5 O’clock. The way to serve it is by scooping out the custard tofu in a bowl from the steaming hot barrel, then add a bit of soy sauce, chilli oil, chopped corianders and spring onions. A perfect breakfast combination is custard tofu with some steamed meat buns or fried doughs.
5.2. Silken tofu
Silken tofu is another kind of soft tofu that doesn’t purge out the whey either. In China, we call it Japanese tofu, as it was invented by Japanese and imported from Japan at the beginning. It’s made without even curdling the milk, and of course it is not pressed either. As the curds is never formed, the texture is so smooth and silky and that’s why it was given that name. Silken tofu is served in a similar way as custard tofu and soft tofu.
6. Tofu in Chinese culture
As tofu has been part of Chinese people’s daily diet for more than 2000 years, it’s deeply rooted in Chinese culture as well. One can find many Chinese idioms related to tofu. I.e. “ 刀子嘴豆腐心” which describe “a sharp tongue but soft heart”. “小葱拌豆腐，一清二白” which means clear enough and easy to differentiate.
However, a man who is described as someone who likes to eat tofu （爱吃豆腐）is one who carries with him a bad reputation. Indeed this means that he likes to take advantage of women, and can be interpreted as sexual harassment.