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What Are Tofu and Tempeh? The Plant-Based Staples You Need in Your Kitchen Right Now

Tofu and its lesser-known cousin, tempeh, are a vegan’s best friend.

Ideal for those practicing plant-based diets, soybean-based products are filled with protein, take on the flavors they’re cooked with and are amazing meat substitutes that vegans can’t get enough of. 

Once you get the hang of cooking with these foods, you won’t know how you ever lived without them. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to enjoy these vegan kitchen staples on the daily!

Here’s what you’ll learn: 

  • Tofu: The History, Health Facts, Types, and Preparation
  • All About Tempeh: What It Is and How to Prepare It
  • 25 Tofu and Tempeh Recipes to Devour Right Now 

Tofu: The History, Health Facts, Types, and Preparation

Tofu has more to it than you might initially think. 

You came to the right place for a deep dive on this soy-based food!

The History:

The legend of how tofu came to be actually dates back 2000 years.

It is said that a cook discovered tofu in China when they accidentally curdled soy milk when he added in some nigari seaweed. Us vegans are very thankful for the mistake. 

Its roots can also be dated back all the way to the 8th century in Japan, where it was originally called okabe. 

While tofu has been a staple in Eastern cooking for thousands of years, tofu did not make its way over to the Western diet until the 1960’s when there was an increased interest in healthy cooking. 

Since then—we’ve never looked back and many popular restaurants and grocery chains now offer tofu as a menu  option. 

The Health Facts: 

Tofu is made from dried soybean curds that have been soaked, crushed, and boiled. 

The main reason tofu is so popular amongst vegans and vegetarians is because it is an amazing source of plant-based protein. There are quite a few different brands of tofu out on the market today, so when looking into the contents of tofu make sure you read your specific label to check for any additives. 

Here is the general nutritional content in 3.5 grams of tofu: 

  • 70 Calories
  • 8 grams of Protein
  • 2 grams of Carbs
  • 4 grams of Fat
  • 1 gram of Fiber
  • 31% RDI of Manganese
  • 20% RDI of Calcium

That is a lot of nutrients packed into just 70 calories of food. 

The biggest factors that can vary based on the different tofu types are the amount of Manganese and Calcium content in the tofu. This is based on  whether or not the seaweed nigari is used or if the tofu is calcium set. 

There are a ton of health benefits to increasing the amount of tofu in your diet, especially as an alternative to animal products. 

Here are just a few preventative benefits: 

Cardiovascular Disease: 

Harvard Health Publishing has found research that indicates eating a minimum of 25 grams of tofu per day can significantly reduce your bad (LDL) cholesterol, leading to a decreased risk of heart disease. 

Breast Cancer:

It is shown that women who consume tofu at least once a week have up to a 48-56% lower chance of getting breast cancer. 

This is said to be due to the isoflavones in tofu. Isoflavones are plant-derived compounds that have estrogenic activity. This topic is still being extensively researched

Stomach Cancer: 

For both men and women, studies have shown that regularly consuming soy products like tofu can significantly reduce your risk of stomach cancer. 

Other Potential Benefits: 

There are other studies that indicate that consuming soy products such as tofu on a regular basis can also have positive effects for the following: 

  • Bone health
  • Brain function
  • Menopause symptoms
  • Skin elasticity
  • Weight loss

Research is continuing on all of these topics as well, so keep your eye out for updates about consuming soy products in the next few years. 

Potential Harms: 

Consuming soy products daily is considered safe for most people. 

However, if you have thyroid issues or breast tumors, then you will want to speak with your doctor regarding your soy intake as there is still research being done on the safety of this. Additionally, you should speak with your doctor before introducing soy into your infant’s diet as soy is a potential endocrine disruptor and could possibly affect development. 

Types of Tofu:

Depending on how it is produced, tofu comes in an array of different types that are defined by the level of firmness. 

They are: 

  • Silken: This type has a high amount of water content and will break apart if you try to hold it. This option is great for smoothie recipes! 
  • Regular: Though this tofu is a bit firmer than silken, it  is a great addition to liquid based dishes like noodles and broth since it takes on so much flavor. 
  • Firm: If you are shopping at your local grocery store, this is what you’ll most easily find. This type of tofu is extremely versatile when you know the basics of preparation. 
  • Extra-Firm: This form of tofu is easy to cook with and has all of the versatility of firm tofu, but due to its density it is said to be a little more difficult to flavor with marinades and sauces. 
  • Super-firm: This type of tofu is closest to the “meat” texture, if that is what you are in search of. It isn’t widely available, but if you can find it this tofu is great for pan-frying or even grilling. 

For all of these different types of tofu, you also have the option to purchase organic or non-organic. 

Here are a few of our favorite tofu brands that are widely available at grocery stores: 

  • Nasoya
  • Azumaya 
  • Trader Joe San Organic Firm Tofu
  • Wo Chong Firm Tofu
  • Simple Truth Organic Tofu

Tofu Preparation: 

When it comes to cooking with tofu, the sky's the limit for how versatile it is! 

Want a lemon pepper taste?Not a problem. 

Reminiscing on smoky barbecue and buffalo flavors? Tofu can handle it. 

Want something that enhances the rich onion, garlic, and mushroom flavors of your favorite ramen? Tofu is your go-to. 

Tofu can be added to anything from soups, to smoothies, to being the main attraction. It can be crumbled up, cut into cubes, or pan-fried as a big strip.

It’s all up to you!

The trick is in the preparation. If you have tried to cook tofu in the past and you failed miserably, you are not alone. It can take a couple of tries to figure out how to prepare your tofu before you flavor it and cook it, but it is 100% worth sticking with it. 

Pressing Your Tofu: 

If you are cooking with regular, firm, extra-firm, or super-firm tofu you will need to “press” your tofu prior to cooking with it. 

This process is meant to get rid of all the excess water so it cooks better!

  • Step 1: First, you will open your package of tofu. Drain all of the excess water out of the package. 
  • Step 2: After that water is drained, wrap your tofu in either paper towels or a clean dish cloth. Set it down on a flat surface. 
  • Step 3: Place something heavy over the tofu such as canned goods, or even a few heavy books. Make sure whatever you set on top of the tofu is balanced, as it may fall off while the tofu is getting pressed down. 
  • Step 4: Let the tofu press for a minimum of 20 minutes, but up to 30 minutes. Once this time has passed, you will remove the weight and whatever you wrapped your tofu in. 
  • Step 5: Your tofu is now ready to cook with!

If you find that you are pressing tofu all of the time, you also have the option of investing in a tofu press. This will simplify the process for you a bit. Here are a few tofu presses to choose from: 

Once your tofu is pressed, you’ll be able to marinate it, toss it in a soup, or add some yummy spices. 

All About Tempeh: What It Is and How to Prepare It

Tempeh is also a soy-bean based product to keep on your radar. 

It is made by boiling the soybeans. After boiling, the excess water is drained and it is allowed to ferment for 1-2 days. 

This fermentation is why tempeh looks so different from tofu. While it is fermenting, the beans actually get encased. Tempeh looks a bit “brick-like” and you can actually see the individual soybeans in this food product. 

Like tofu, tempeh is popular among vegans due to its high protein content! 

Here is the nutrition content for about 166 grams of tempeh:

  • 319 Calories
  • 34 grams of Protein
  • 18 grams of Fat
  • 0 grams of Fiber

Tempeh is also rich in omega-3s, omega-6s, B vitamins, folate, and more. 

So eat up! 

Where to Buy It: 

Tempeh is growing in popularity and can be found right next to tofu in popular grocery stores like Trader Joes, Kroger, or Walmart. 

It comes in a sealed package. Once you bring it home, you can keep it in the fridge for up to 30 days, or keep it in the freezer for up to a year. Here are a few popular brands you can enjoy: 

  • Lightlife Tempeh 
  • Tofurkey Sesame Garlic Tempeh
  • Rhapsody Natural Foods

Preparation: 

Unlike tofu, tempeh is a bit more beginner-friendly. 

There is no pressing process involved in enjoying tempeh! All you have to do for most popular tempeh brands is remove it from the package, marinate it in your desired sauce, and cook it in a pan! 

Tempeh is incredibly sturdy, so you can also grill this food. 

Tempeh is a bit dry in texture, so things like barbecue sauces or glazes add the perfect amount of moisture to this nutritious meat-substitute. 

25 Tofu and Tempeh Recipes to Devour Right Now

Now to the moment you’ve been waiting for! 

The hearty and delicious tofu and tempeh based recipes that will give you a boost of plant-based protein throughout your day and leave you feeling satisfied. 

Hearty Breakfasts and Brunches: 

A protein-packed morning sets you up for success for the rest of the day!

Try these recipes to get your fix. 

1-4. Don’t knock it until you try it, these four silken tofu smoothies by Tasty are packed with yummy flavors like peach mango, berry medley, tropical green, and banana mint chocolate chip. 

  1. If you prefer a lighter breakfast, this mocha protein frappuccino by Live Eat Learn should be on your radar. 
  2. Add a zing to your morning with this blueberry blood orange ginger recipe by Grateful Grazer! 
  3. This smoky baked tempeh bacon recipe by Food Hero will be the crown jewel of your next brunch. 
  4. A quick tofu scramble with spinach and tomato by The Garden Grazer is the best breakfast.
  5. On the go? Then check out this vegan breakfast burrito by Build Your Bite. 
  6. This vegan vegetable frittata by Simple Veganista has all the fixings of a deluxe Sunday breakfast. 
  7. This tempeh hash by Cozy Peach Kitchen is hearty enough for a mountaineer. 
  8. Circling back to bacon, this tofu recipe by Cheeky Chickpea is great to snack on all morning long! 

Tasty Lunch Recipes:

Tempeh and Tofu are great additions to light lunches like tacos, sandwiches, and more. 

  1. In the mood for kimchi tofu scramble tacos? The Simple Veganista has the recipe you didn’t know you needed. 
  2. You can’t go wrong with this skillet bbq tempeh by Nora Cooks. 
  3. Rabbit and Wolves is giving us all the fall vibes with this apple cider maple glazed tofu recipe. 
  4. Sometimes you just need a tofu steak. This recipe by My Darling Vegan should do the trick!
  5. Nora Cooks created this simple crispy baked orange tofu recipe that is to die for! 
  6. Enjoy food that has a bit of a kick? Then try this chipotle lime tofu recipe by Vegan Travel Eats. 

Devour Your Dinner: 

Tofu and tempeh are definitely worthy of being the main attraction in these delicious dinner recipes. 

  1. These Chinese BBQ ribs by Vegan Travel Eats definitely need to be included in your next cookout. 
  2. Rabbit and Wolves was thinking out of the box when they made this Polynesian tempeh wings recipe, complete with pineapple juice, ginger, and soy sauce!
  3. It isn’t often you come across a great vegan casserole recipe, but this teriyaki tofu tempeh casserole by Simple Veganista fits the bill. 
  4. This tempeh in creamy mushroom coconut sauce by Full of Plants is positively scrumptious. 
  5. Another spicy one, this chili garlic tofu with sesame broccolini by Feasting at Home makes a great dinner, and even better leftovers. 
  6. Who doesn’t love balsamic? This balsamic tomato tofu cutlet recipe by Plant Power Couple is perfection.
  7. Rabbit and Wolves does it again with this sesame tofu dumpling recipe!

Tofu and Tempeh Takeover

Now you know that tofu and tempeh are the foods to beat! 

These hearty, protein-packed foods are some of the most versatile foods out there. You now know their history, their health facts, and how to cook them to perfection. 

Interested in learning more about the vegan life? Check out this article for unfamiliar vegan ingredients!

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