Nutrition Goal for 2006:

Why not make 2006 the year you explore the many flavors and textures of foods made from the versatile soybean? Throughout the year, Diabetes Health will provide recipes for a variety of these tasty, nutritious foods.

Our theme this month is cooking with tofu. Tofu has a reputation among many Westerners for blandness, but it can be a taste sensation when combined and cooked with flavorful ingredients and appropriate seasonings.

What is tofu?

Tofu, also called bean curd, is made from cooked soybeans that are ground and made into a liquid known as soy milk. Next it is treated with a salt-like substance such as calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride, which makes it coagulate and form curds, much like cheese. When processed with calcium sulfate, the resulting tofu is rich in calcium. The curds are then pressed until the tofu reaches the desired consistency. The more the tofu is pressed, the firmer it will be. It also becomes more concentrated and thus higher in calories, protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Types of tofu

There are two major types of fresh tofu. One kind is sold in blocks soaking in water in a plastic tub, and the other, known as silken tofu, is packaged in small aseptic cartons. The tofu sold in water needs to be stored under refrigeration and does not remain fresh for long (check the expiration date on the package). Tofu in aseptic cartons does not require refrigeration and has an extended shelf life. Once the packages are opened, both types of tofu need to be kept in the refrigerator and stored completely covered in fresh soaking water (change the soaking water frequently).

Both block tofu and silken tofu are available in soft, medium, firm or extra firm. Select the type of tofu according to your recipe and cooking method. Firm or extra-firm tofu sold in blocks can withstand sautéeing, stir-frying and grilling. Although firm silken tofu is available, silken tofu is best used in dressings, dips, soups, smoothies, desserts and fillings because of its delicate, silky texture.

Making tofu tempting: think international!

Tofu on its own has a mild, neutral flavor, but it will absorb flavors from seasonings and spices of any cuisine, be it Italian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese or Korean. The texture and shape of tofu is also versatile; it can be cut into different shapes and sizes, mashed or puréed. Tofu is commonly used in stir-fry recipes, but it can also be baked, broiled, braised, steamed, sautéed, deep fried, grilled or barbecued.

Tofu can be the starring player of a meal or it can be disguised in many ways in cuisines of all kinds. Many people begin incorporating tofu into their regular recipes by using it as a substitute for cheese or cream. For example, you can use silken tofu in place of ricotta cheese in lasagna or ravioli, add it to enchilada filling or use it as a meat extender in meatloaf or chili. You can use it replace all or some of the egg in egg salad or the tuna in tuna salad. It can also be used to thicken foods and replace eggs in certain recipes. Blend silken tofu into a morning smoothie or use it to make a silky tofu “cheesecake” or chocolate pudding. Use your imagination with this very versatile and nutritious food.

Why am I still hungry after eating tofu?

Many people complain that vegetarian meals made with soy foods do not keep them satisfied as long as meat-based meals. One reason for this is that soy foods are not as concentrated in protein as meats and have less fat than meat, which affects satiety. Each ounce of red meat, fish or chicken contains 7 grams of protein; a 3-ounce serving of meat contains 21 grams of protein. Many people are used to eating hefty 6-ounce portions of meat, a typical restaurant serving, which provides 42 grams of protein.

The protein content of tofu depends on the type of tofu used, but typically, a standard 3-ounce serving of medium or firm tofu provides only 7 to 9 grams of protein. This amount may be inadequate if tofu is used as the main source of protein. Of course, the total nutritional value will depend on the other foods in a dish and in the entire meal. (If you are used to eating 6-ounce servings of meat, you’d likely find yourself hungry if you ate only 3 ounces of meat or tofu instead.)

The information below compares the nutritional value of meat and firm tofu.

3 ounces of lean chicken breast meat, without skin, contains 21 grams of protein @ 4 calories per gram = 84 calories
0 carbohydrate
Approximately 6 grams of fat @ 9 calories per gram = 54 calories
Total calories = 138

3 ounces of firm tofu contains 9 grams of protein @ 4 calories per gram = 36 calories
2 grams of carbohydrate @ 4 calories per gram = 8 calories
5 grams of fat @ 9 calories per gram = 45 calories
Total calories = 89

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