Tofu is commonly known as the "healthy" alternative to meat for vegans and vegetarians, but few people know what exactly tofu is. What is made of? How do you cook with it? Is it actually healthy? Read on to learn everything you need to know about tofu.

What Is Tofu?

bowl of stir fry tofu cubes on blue background
Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock

Tofu is a solid white block made from coagulated soy milk and is a favored meat substitute by vegans and vegetarians. It's a nutrient-dense food that is high in protein, iron, calcium and contains all amino acids while remaining low in calories.

Types Of Tofu

tofu and vegetables on taco tortillas
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

There are a few different types of tofu available:

Extra-Soft Tofu

The least dense of the tofu types and very moist, this tofu is incredibly soft, and perfect as an addition to soups or stews for a melt in your mouth texture.

Soft Tofu

Soft and milky, its also known as "silken tofu" due to the silky texture. It requires great care when handling as it can break easily. This tofu goes well with smoothies, dressings, or as a substitute for scrambled eggs.

Firm Tofu

Firm tofu tends to be packed with water, meaning it requires draining before cooking. Cooking with firm tofu works best when its marinated, fried or sauteed in with other ingredients, often taking the place of chicken of beef.

Extra-Firm Tofu

Extra-firm tofu is the toughest of all the soy products. To achieve this toughness, most of the water is forced out of the tofu. This tofu is perfect when cut into cubes, marinated overnight, and then cooked in oil. Tossing the tofu while cooking will help it retain its shape.

Is Tofu Healthy?

sliced tofu on a board with soybeans

Benefits

Tofu contains an abundance of essential vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats while remaining low in calories. A diet consisting of a regular tofu intake can keep yourheart healthy, improve blood flow from high iron levels, reduce some side effects of menopause and can aid in preventing excessive weight gain. Regularly eating soy products such as tofu has even been linked tolowering the risks of gastric cancer. Throughout history, tofu has also been commonly used intraditional Chinese medicine as a cooling agent and way to remove toxins from one's body. So if you're a vegetarian or vegan, or just prefer the mild taste of soy, tofu is a food you can't go wrong with eating.

Drawbacks

While soy products are considered healthy in normal dietary levels, overconsumption of soy products has some negative drawbacks. Excess soy can lead to digestive issues, such as stomach pain and diarrhea. Long-term overconsumption of soy products can also contribute to developing breast cancer.

The Verdict: Tofu Is Healthy

Tofu is generally considered a very healthy choice, loading up your body with iron, protein, vitamins and minerals. A regular, controlled diet can help reduce the risk of certain disease and strengthen your immune system. However, great care is needed when consuming tofu, or soy-based products in general, as consistent overconsumption can irritate

How Do You Use Tofu?

tofu cooked into a healthy stir fry

With your knowledge of the different types of tofu, you can begin experimenting in the kitchen with how to cook this soybean product!

Extra-soft tofu will go nicely in soups and stews as a nice bite of protein, and their moist texture will pair nicely in a classic broth. Soft tofu makes for an incredible egg substitute, especially when scrambled.

Firm and extra-firm tofu types are best when cut into cubes and marinated overnight. You can toss them in dishes as a source of protein -- they go very well in stir-fry, salads and tacos, and can be even ground up and made into burgers!

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