Enjoying Tofu

Soybeans (Glycine max) are a species of legume that belong to the the family Fabaceae, along with common beans (green snap beanspinto beansheirloom beansblack turtle beans, kidney beans, and navy beans),  edible-pod and mature peas, black-eyed peas, jicama, adzuki beanslentilslima beanspeanutschickpeas, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Soybeans can be served in many forms, including a beverage known as soy milk. Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into blocks. Tofu has a subtle flavor and can be used in many dishes. It can be seasoned, marinated, or even sweetened to suit the dish.

Tofu most likely originated in China, in the second century BC. Its spread into other parts of East Asia may have coincided with the spread of Buddhism, because Buddhists are vegetarians.

The first mention of a soy product in English came in 1613 when Captain John Saris described tofu in Japan. In 1665 the Italian Friar Domingo Navarrete described tofu in China and the Philippines. Sweedish naturalist Pehr Osbeck, during a 1751 visit to China, described tofu and soy sauce.

In a letter dated January 11, 1770, Benjamin Franklin wrote the following to his friend John Bartram in Philadelphia about seeds used to produce tofu:

I send also some…Chinese caravances, with Father [Domingo] Navarrete’s account of the universal use of cheese made of them in China, which so excited my curiosity, that I caused inquiry to be made of Mr. [James] Flint, who lived many years there, in what manner the cheese was made, and I send you his answer. I have since learned, that some runnings of salt [I suppose runnet] is put into water, when the meal is in it, to turn it to curds. I think we have caravances with us, but I know not whether they are the same with these, which actually came from China. They are said to be of great increase.

John Bartram probably planted the soybeans sent to him by Benjamin Franklin in his garden which was situated on the west bank of the Schuylkill River below Philadelphia.

In 1790, Portuguese botanist João de Loureiro, wrote in Latin about tofu, shoyu, soynuts, and whole dry soybeans.

Henry Trimble’s “Recent Literature on the Soja Bean” published in the American Journal of Pharmacy in 1896 discussed in detail soybean and soy food nutrition and made the first mention in the U.S. of soy sprouts, soy oil, miso, natto, tofu, and dried-frozen tofu, each of which he described in detail, including the method of preparation. Another article on soy appeared in 1897, C.F. Langworthy’s “Soy Beans as Food for Man,” published by the USDA (Farmers’ Bulletin No. 58). In addition to all of the foods discussed by Trimble, he also mentioned soymilk, yuba, and three types of miso (white, red, and Swiss).

During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), which the Russians fought in Manchuria and lost, locally grown soybeans served as an important food for both armies. The Russians were reportedly amazed at the stamina of the Japanese soldiers, who used dried frozen tofu as one of their staple foods. This first large-scale Europeans consumption of soybeans aroused the interest of European scientists in the military uses of soy foods.

In 1910, Li Yu-ying, a French-educated Chinese chemist and scholar, started Europe’s first modern soy products factory, in which he made a full line of traditional and modern soy foods including soymilk, cultured soymilk, tofu, fermented French-style tofu cheeses in Roquefort and Camembert flavors, soybean sprouts, roasted soy flour, soy coffee, soy chocolate, and naturally fermented soy sauce. In 1912, Li and the French agricultural engineer L. Grandvoinnet published Le Soja: Sa Culture, Ses Usages Alimentaires, Therapeutiques, Agricoles, et Industriels.

After 1981, Europeans increasingly established businesses to make and distribute tofu, tempeh, soymilk, miso, and shoyu (natural soy sauce), and wrote a growing number of articles and books about these foods. By January 1983 in Europe there were 57 companies making tofu, 13 making tempeh (especially in the Netherlands), 17 making soymilk, 10 making miso, and 1 making shoyu.

Tofu is low in calories, high in protein, has relatively large amount of iron, and little fat. Depending on the coagulant used in manufacturing, tofu may also be high in calcium or magnesium.

There are two main varieties of tofu common in the U.S. One is the refrigerated version that is cut into blocks after it coagulates and is then packaged in water. The other type is coagulated in aseptic packages and doesn’t need refrigeration until after it is opened. MoriNu is a common brand name for the latter type. Each type comes in varying degrees of firmness. One of my favorites for stir-frying is Trader Joe’s Organic Super Firm Tofu, found in the refrigerated section at TJ’s for only $1.99 per pound.

One of my favorite ways to prepare tofu was on my George Foreman grill. It may sound odd that a vegan even owned a George Foreman grill, but I found it at a thrift shop, brand new, for $10. I didn’t have a gas grill at the time, and I love grilled vegetables, so why not? But when I discovered grilling tofu on the George Foreman, I was hooked. The texture is excellent, it really absorbs the marinade, and those little grill lines are so satisfying. Sadly, I no longer have my George Foreman grill. I am in a tiny town home right now with no counter space. But you can do the same thing in a regular non-stick pan, minus the cool grill marks.

grilled tofu
Grilled Tofu

Grilled Tofu

1 pound super firm tofu

2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1. Start with firm or extra firm water-packed tofu, not the silken tofu that comes in the aseptic boxes. I use Trader Joe’s Organic Super Firm Tofu.

2. Heat a non-stick pan or a very well-seasoned cast-iron pan over medium heat on an electric stove or low to medium-low on a gas stove. OR Plug in your George Foreman electric grill.

3. Place tofu between paper towels, then wrap in a clean dish towel and put a weight on the top. (I use a heavy resin napkin holder.)

4. Cut tofu into about 32 triangles. I slice it lengthwise 4 times, then cut it in quarters, then cut the quarters on the diagonal.

5. Add the tofu pieces to the pan or grill. Leave room around each piece, or the pieces will stick together. If that happens, you can just cut them apart later.

6. Cook very slowly over low to medium heat. Slow cooking is the key to ensuring the tofu doesn’t stick to the pan and that the water has time to evaporate so that the tofu can brown. Do not use oil or cooking spray. You will end up leaching all the water out of your tofu in a dry pan. If you are not using the George Foreman grill, as the tofu cooks, frequently use a spatula to press down on the top of each piece. You should see some water squeezing out and sizzling in the pan.

7. When the bottom sides are firm and golden, carefully flip the pieces and repeat the same process on the other sides. They are done when they are firm and golden on both sides. You can skip this step if using the George Foreman grill.

8. The cooked tofu pieces can be placed in a marinade. I place it directly on top of my stir-fried vegetables and spray it with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, let it sit for a minute, and then stir it in.

Servings: 4

Nutrition Facts

Serving size: 1/4 of a recipe (4 ounces).

Percent daily values based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for a 2000 calorie diet.

Amount Per Serving

Super Firm Tofu, 4 ounces, 113.40 grams





0.14 g



18.67 g



0.69 mg



213 mg


Omega-3 fats

0.36 g



10.09 mcg



2.27 mg



0.22 mg



110.00 mg



34.02 mg






60 mg



6.67 g


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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