How is tofu made?
We all like it best marinated in a spicy way: our tofu, which is sometimes also called “bean curd”. Whether it's smoked tofu, silken tofu, tofu blocks, slices or cubes - the selection is getting bigger and bigger and is a grateful source of plant-based protein for many. And even though most of us know that tofu is made from soybeans, we want to take a closer look today how it is actually made.
Tofu and its origins
In our western cultures, tofu has become particularly established as an alternative to meat. He retains this image to this day. Which, to be honest, sometimes annoys me a bit. Because tofu can and should be viewed as a food in its own right and is not only reserved for vegetarians or vegans. It is probably due to its high protein content and few calories that tofu is primarily viewed as a meat substitute. In fact, it has been made and enjoyed for thousands of years.
To this day, it is still controversial where exactly tofu originates. It is clear that it comes from Far Eastern Buddhist cultures and probably spread throughout Asia in the 8th century. Over time, the Japanese term “tofu” became established, with tō meaning “bean” and fu meaning “fermentation, coagulation”. Which brings us directly to production. Basically, the production of the soybean product is similar to that of cheese and dairy products: Soymilk is made from the soybeans, which is then curdled. Finally, excess liquid is removed - the white, solid tofu block as we know it is created. I will now go into the individual production steps in more detail.
The manufacturing process
Process soybeans into soy milk
We start – who would have thought – with soybeans. White soybeans are mostly used in large-scale production. Some manufacturers also use a mixture of white, green and dark soybeans. The beans are soaked in water for about 12 hours. They double in size. They also become soft, which is important for further processing. Because now it's time to puree. The resulting bean puree is then pressed and boiled so that the shell and fibers separate from each other. Et voilà, there we have our soy milk!
The solid mass that remains is called soybean meal. This is, among other things, popular livestock feed in the industry.
In order for tofu to be made from soy milk, the milk must curdle. Nigari (magnesium chloride) is traditionally used as a coagulant. The salt is dissolved in hot water and added to the soy milk. It ensures that the soy milk flocculates. The soy whey and tofu mass resulting from coagulation are separated from each other by sieving again. The nigari is also removed again.
The tofu mixture is now covered and placed in a giant press to remove excess liquid. The mass is then cut into manageable pieces and cooled in a water bath. The resulting blocks are the ones we also know from the supermarket.
The production of the classic tofu is now complete. Depending on the soy product, other work steps follow, such as smoking the tofu in large smokehouses, processing it into sausages or marinating the tofu blocks. For tofu with vegetables, seaweed or other spices, the respective ingredients are usually added during the coagulation process.
Make your own tofu at home
If you're now thinking to yourself, "You can actually do this on a small scale at home," then you're absolutely right! The individual production steps can be transferred almost 1:1 to the home kitchen. Almost all of the materials needed for production already exist at home. The required nigari and the tofu press alone could initially put you off producing your own. But they are also easier to get than you think!
- Nigari: You can (of course) order online. Alternatively, magnesium chloride is available at the pharmacy. Instead, you can also use calcium sulfate (also available online or in pharmacies) or citric acid.
- Tofu press: You can also get this most easily online. Or you can make them yourself! All you need is a rectangular shape the size of a tofu block (e.g. plastic storage container or lunch box) that you can use without a lid. Now drill a few holes in the bottom of this can so that the excess liquid can drain out when pressing. There is also a thick piece of wood cut to size and a simple stone. After the tofu mixture has been poured in, simply place the piece of wood on top and weigh it down with the stone. And your homemade tofu press is ready!
If you would like to try making tofu yourself, I can recommend these instructions or this recipe from eat-this . For video instructions, take a look at YouTube (just search for “make your own tofu”)!
If you would like to find out more about topics such as nutrition, the environment and sustainability, mindfulness or family and pregnancy, take a look at the exciting blog articles here.