PACKED WITH PROTEIN
Since designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013, the traditional cuisine of Japan, washoku, has drawn ever more attention from all corners of the globe. Of the classic foods included in washoku, it would be no exaggeration to say that it is tofu (doufu in Chinese, dubu in Korean), soft blocks of coagulated soymilk, that is THE ingredient essential to the healthy diet of the Japanese. What is it about tofu that has earned it this rather impressive title? As simple and unassuming as its appearance is, tofu provides an enormous number of health beneﬁts. Tofu is made of soybeans, which are known as the "meat of the ﬁelds" due to their high nutritional content, and which are processed to make their protein easy to digest. As a source of high quality protein, tofu has no peer, and has for a long time been the recipient of much affection in Japan.
ORIGIN OF TOFU
While it is generally thought that tofu almost certainly originated in China, the date of origin and who developed it is unclear. It is surmised that ancient peoples, as a result of studying what would be the best way to consume the nutritious soybeans, thought ﬁrst of making soymilk, and then coagulating the milk to form a tofu prototype. The modem method consists of soaking soybeans in water to soften and then grinding the softened beans with some water into a mixture called slurry. This is strained, and soy- milk is the result. A coagulant of some sort, such as nigori (a coagulant produced from seawater) is then added to the soy- milk to ﬁrm the mixture into curds It is said that tofu came to Japan during the Nara period (71O-794) when Buddhist priests went to China as envoys, and when they returned, they brought back with them the method for making tofu. For the Budd "iist priests, who were forbidden to eat the flesh of living creatures, tofu was a highly valuable source of protein. At this time, only the aristocracy (including warriors and priests) enjoyed tofu, as with many other foods at this time in history, and it wasn't until much later that tofu spread throughout the country to the general populace.
NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF TOFU
The soybeans that are the main ingredients in tofu are so rich in the proteins essential to developing the framework of the human body (internal organs, muscles, blood, etc.) that they are called the "meat of the ﬁelds." That being said, one cannot simply chow down on whole soybeans and expect to assimilate them into the body; the high amount of ﬁbrous materials, for one, would make them extremely difﬁcult to digest. Via the processing of soybeans into tofu, the absorption rate of the orotein becomes nearly 95%. Tofu contains the anti-oxidant saponin, isoflavones, potassium, ecithin, calcium, as well as vitamins E, B1 , and B2. It's ower in fat than meat, low in calories, and leaves one with a pleasant feeling offullness. Furthermore, 'n clinical tria s, tofu has been shown to have numerous and varied beneﬁcial effects, such as owering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure. Consuming ciets low in saturated fats and cholesterol anc eating more plant-based proteins likely has a large role in reducing the risk of heart disease, and can also help those suffering from obesity. And in 2012, the ACS (American Cancer Society) noted that some studies have shown that consuming soy products may help to lower the risk of developing certain types of cancers.
HOW TO COOK WITH TOFU
Right off the bat-you don't have to! Simply top tofu with a bit of grated ginger, thinly sliced green onion, a flurry of bonito flakes and a sprinkle of soy sauce and you are good to go! If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, however, tofu is a great palette upon which to practice. Tofu's subtle flavor lets it adapt well to both savory and sweet dishes; it's the perfect all-around ingredient, lending itself to braising, deep frying, stewing, you name it! You can even use it in beverages and, of course, desserts! Tofu comes in a range of textures, from smooth and silky (great for eating as is, or in puddings etc.) to extra ﬁrm (grilling or stir frying). For newcomers to tofu, mixing it with some ground beef or chicken for a tasty and healthy hamburger substitute is a ﬁne idea, as is incorporating it into smoothies or dips! You can't do wrong by adding tofu to any dish! Because tofu is so palatable and easy to digest, it's perfect for baby food and for those who may be ill, or having trouble with their digestion. It's also great for seniors who want to eat lightly, but still get proper nutrition-tofu is a ﬁne way to easily and tastily add protein to one's diet. Yes, indeed, looks can be deceiving! This "little black dress“ of a white food is not only incredibly healthy and delicious, but marvelously versatile-use it for the main course, cubed in soups, diced in salads, dressed for sides, blended in drinks and luscious, creamy puddings. Tofu can be made as plain or as fancy as you like. For those who'd like to add great flavor, texture and of course a boost of nutrition to their diet, what could be a better way to start than by bringing home some tofu today?