Bean curd is typically referred to by its common commercial name: tofu. This product, usually made from soybeans, is a soft food with a cheese-like consistency. It is normally pressed into a solid block, much like cheese, and is used in a wide variety of dishes. Tofu originated in Asia prior to the birth of Christ, and is popular in Asian-style cooking.
The Chinese were the first to discover tofu, or bean curd, as an additive to their cuisine in approximately 200 B.C. Physician's Laboratories notes a Chinese legend revealing the accidental discovery of bean curds by a cook who added nigari to some cooked soybeans to enhance their flavor. The nigari, a natural curdling agent, caused the cooked soybeans to produce curds.
According to Soya.be, tofu first appeared in the Western world in the 17th century and was first commercially produced in America in 1929 by T.A. Van Gundy for his company, La Sierra Industries.
There are three primary types of tofu, or bean curd. Firm tofu is more solid in nature than other types of tofu. It is dense enough to be cut into cubes and can stand up to recipes requiring it to be stir-fried, baked or grilled. Soft tofu is not as dense as firm tofu and is a good choice for recipes that call for blending tofu with other ingredients. Silken tofu is less dense than soft tofu and has a smooth, creamy texture. It may be used in blended dishes or to make sauces.
Bean curd has very little natural flavor, but also possesses the unique ability to take on the flavor of ingredients that surround it. Cooks can add the nutritional value of soybeans to a variety of dishes without changing their flavor by incorporating tofu, or bean curd, to the recipe.
Most commercially available tofu is sold in vacuum packs, packed in water or in aseptic brick packages. It can be kept frozen for up to five months. Once opened, any unused portion should be rinsed, immersed in fresh cold water and stored in the refrigerator. Opened packages of tofu should be used within seven days. Consumers should always check the expiration date on the package.
Bean curd has been valued by many cultures as a rich source of nutrients. It is high in protein, B-vitamins and calcium. It is easily digestible and high in isoflavones, which may help lower risks of osteoporosis and other conditions, and may also help to lower LDL, or bad, cholesterol.
- Photo Credit tofu image by Hao Wang from Fotolia.com
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