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Tofu: The Soybean’s Greatest Feat
Learn what’s behind the soybean’s quiet, white cubes with Groupon’s jaunt into the wide world of tofu.
It might appear on menus as bean curd. When you add the way that term sounds to the way it looks raw—a white, spongy brick—tofu doesn’t exactly summon a mouthwatering image. Its superpower is its versatility: it’s a protein, texturizer, egg substitute, and meat replacement all in one jiggly package. Marinate this soy-based, hyperabsorbant food in steak seasoning and it tastes like steak; soak it in a smoky sauce and it tastes like barbecue or a Vegetarian Scout campfire. Silken tofu is often used to add creamy body to smoothies and soups, and firmer tofu can be baked, barbecued, braised, and fried until it crunches, becomes pleasantly chewy, or turns golden.
Although it’s a vegan food, tofu is made somewhat similarly to cheese: by curdling soymilk, often using a mineral compound extracted from seawater known as nigari. Like cheese, too, it has a long history and a devoted throng of enthusiasts. Tofu has been around for thousands of years as a staple food in Asia (where it’s just as often added to meat dishes as it is used as a main protein), and in Japan especially, it has the status of an exalted art form. There, it’s frequently found in fresh, handmade form and served in uncooked slices meant to be appreciated for their panna-cotta-like texture and bright, even slightly sweet, flavor. Soy sauce, seaweed, ginger, and bonito flakes may form spartan accessories on the plate.