‘Health is wealth’ – this has been taught to us as children at school to imbibe in us the importance of eating healthy, exercising regularly, and following a daily routine. However, as we get down to tackling life, the hustle culture takes over our lives, and we start giving less importance to eating healthy and staying fit. “With health being pushed right to the back of our collective priorities, reports suggest that over 70 per cent of the population are found to be at a risk of protein deficiency among different age groups,” said Dr Kavitha Reddy, Ph.D., and eminent nutritionist, director – Sreya Nutrition and a supporter of the Right To Protein initiative.
She added that with this health crisis further aggravated by the pandemic, people are becoming more conscious about incorporating proteins in their daily diet for better immunity. “This has led to people moving away from consuming non-vegetarian foods and adopting sustainable food habits which has given rise to flexitarians – largely vegetarian diets with the occasional consumption of non-vegetarian food – and vegan diets,” she told indianexpress.com.
As per the recent India Protein Paradox report 2 by Right To Protein, a whopping 76 per cent of Indian food purchase decision makers incorrectly believe that vegetarians have limited options of protein-rich food compared to non-vegetarians. “This has driven consumers on the lookout for newer and better sources of protein-rich nutrition – with an increasing focus on plant-based foods. One such plant-based source of protein that has seen a rise in popularity in recent times is tofu,” the report stated.
According to Dr Reddy, paneer has, for years, been one of the main ingredients of vegetarian diets. However, slowly but steadily, the attention has been shifting to the soy-based paneer alternative – tofu, as it makes inroads into the culinary scene with inclusion in restaurant menus. “And while the plant-based tofu might be a relatively new ingredient to make its presence felt on our plates, the history of tofu goes back centuries,” she shared.
So, what is tofu and how is it made?
Also known as bean curd, tofu is a derivative of soybeans. Made by curdling fresh soya milk, the mixture is then pressed into a solid block and then cooled to form tofu, similar to how paneer is made from milk traditionally. The liquid whey is discarded, and the curds are then pressed together to form a cohesive bond, thus forming the block of tofu that is available in the market.
How tofu is different from paaneer and it’s health benefits
While both paneer and tofu are known for their health benefits, tofu has higher nutritional benefits as compared to paneer. It is not just high in protein but contains all the nine essential amino acids required by the body for its growth and development. “A 100 grams serving of tofu provides around eight grams of protein while dishing out half the calories – 65-70 calories as that contained in paneer, which is around 260 calories,” she said.
Moreover, tofu contains healthy fats, carbs and a wide variety of minerals and vitamins required for the body on a daily basis. Its overall composition makes tofu a nutrient-dense food, thereby making it a healthier option. In addition, tofu is also known to assist in weight management as its high protein content helps maintain satiety.
And it is not just its health advantages that are numerous – the variety of forms that this plant-based protein is available in the market, are many too. From silken to medium to firm and even tofu skins, shredded tofu and fermented tofu – the choices are many.
Ways to cook tofu
While tofu, in its original, uncooked form can be quite bland to the taste, it is this very quality that makes it one of the easiest and most versatile ingredients to cook with – be it for a vegetarian preparation or as a substitute for those looking to replace meat in their regular favourites. The trick, for those looking to incorporate tofu more frequently in their diets, is to pick the right kind of tofu to match the recipe one is looking to prepare.
Silken tofu is perfect to puree and add as a base for soups, dips, sauces and puddings, and for those willing to experiment, silken tofu makes the perfect alternative for recipes such as creamy scalloped potatoes, a mildly spiced Asian noodle soup, pasta and even a topping for pizza! For those with a sweet tooth, silken tofu adds just the right about of balance to a creamy chocolate mousse or cheesecake.
Medium and firm tofu are ideal for those looking to whip up everyday dishes. Be it to mimic the texture and flavour of scrambled eggs for a quick and healthy breakfast or in an Asian stir fry or sesame miso tofu starter. One can also recreate the popular Indian delicacies such as the kadhai mattar paneer recipe by replacing paneer with sizeable chunks of tofu, squared and fried till crispy on the outside. Sprinkle a generous helping of tofu to create a fragrant pot of spicy vegetable pulao or stir up a bowl of comforting makhani gravy with tofu squares for the perfect dinner accompaniment – the choices are endless! It is, therefore, unsurprising that tofu is slowly finding its way into the cooking pots of restaurants and home chefs alike in India.
“The rising popularity of tofu is also contributing to the rapid expansion of the niche plant protein market in the country, which is slated to be worth $565 million by 2023. Whether it is a lifestyle choice or a conscious effort to maintain one’s health, or simply another way of expanding the choice of plant-based protein- and nutrition-rich foods in one’s every day diet, one thing is amply clear – tofu is the next vegetarian star – move over paneer – that can help boost India’s journey towards long-term protein sufficiency while tickling our evolved and varying tastebuds,” said Dr Reddy.