Tofu isn’t sexy, manly, or exciting, apparently. My husband avoids soy products like the plague, fearing the effects of the estrogens in tofu and soymilk. It doesn’t matter how much evidence I provide to the contrary. The old myths stick, even though soy products are actually in many of the processed foods we eat. However, those of us who consume it know that organic tofu is an inexpensive, high quality source of protein, with a complete amino acid profile. But to new vegans, cooking with it can be a bit intimidating.
I’m pretty sure that to those who are die-hard carnivores, the thought of going vegan means sitting around eating giant bowls of tasteless tofu for every meal. And even my husband subscribes to the disproven notion that increased soy consumption will lead to lower testosterone levels and feminization of the male body due to the phytoestrogens. I get it. Once that seed of doubt of safety is planted, it’s really hard to deprogram. But seriously, if eating tofu made you grow larger breasts, I think soy consumption would be even higher. Forget breast augmentation surgery. Just eat tofu! Ha.
So what about the estrogens in soy? Soy contains phytoestrogens. These differ from the estrogen found in our own bodies, but are they good for you? Many studies say they are, offering anti-cancer properties, improving cardiovascular health, and quelling menopausal symptoms. Phytoestrogen research is still ongoing.
If you stick to a traditional omnivore diet with heavy meat and dairy consumption, does this mean that you won’t be ingesting hormones? No, it does not. In fact, taking in dairy, especially full fat products, can significantly increase estrogen and progesterone levels and decrease testosterone, affecting male fertility especially. This has to do with modern dairy farming practices in the US, where dairy cows are milked while pregnant, significantly increasing hormone levels in dairy products overall. Since sex hormones are fat soluble, they are significantly more prevalent in full fat dairy products. Ingestion of these hormones in dairy milk are also correlated with higher incidences of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
It’s really important, however, when purchasing tofu to look for organic products. Most soy grown in the US is genetically modified, meaning Round-Up ready. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in this herbicide, is a known carcinogen. It’s really best to stay away from non-organic soy products.
So now we have established that organic tofu is a safe, nutritious source of protein, let’s talk about how to utilize it! As a new vegan, I was really afraid of tofu. But I discovered how to prepare it by eating at restaurants. I figured great places to eat would know how to prepare tofu well, which they did, and then I would try to recreate the meals at home. My local Thai and Vietnamese restaurants make wonderful vegan dishes with tofu, and there are a couple of local places for brunch that make a great tofu scramble.
I began to purchase prepped tofu from the grocery store. Hodo makes great seasoned tofu as well as Trader Joe’s. Using these in meals helped me build confidence in prepping this otherwise bland item at home. I began to look at tofu more like a sponge to absorb whatever flavors I liked, pressing as much water out of the block as I can beforehand, cutting it into blocks or strips, and marinating before cooking.
It’s also helpful as the only vegan in my house to buy the twin packs of tofu. That way, I’m not prepping a large quantity of it at a time. I often make tofu scrambles for breakfast and another scramble either seasoned like chorizo or with Asian flavors like soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. It’s super easy.
Here’s a simple recipe for Breakfast Tofu Scramble for Two:
- ½ block extra firm tofu (or one side of a twin pack), pressing out water as desired.
- A variety of chopped vegetables (I like onions, peppers, tomatoes, and frozen prepped shredded hash browns, about 2 cups of veggies overall. Use whatever you have!)
- ½ tsp. Turmeric
- 1 T olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, warm the oil, then add the vegetables, sauteeing until lightly browned.
- Add the tofu, crumbling into small pieces.
- Add the turmeric, salt, and pepper.
- Once tofu is of uniform color and warm, your breakfast is ready!
- Leftovers keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
- If you like spice, try adding smoked paprika and red pepper flakes.
- If you want to add a bit of brightness to the dish, the Trader Joe’s Cuban style Citrusy Garlic seasoning blend is wonderful with tofu scramble.
Tofu can be cooked multiple ways, but I found scrambling to be the easiest and least intimidating method. Using Asian flavors in a scramble makes a great base for air fried spring rolls, lettuce wraps, and addition to fried rice. Using chorizo spices makes a great protein for burrito bowl nights at my house. You can also pan fry strips and air fry strips and cubes, just keep in mind that tofu cooks quickly and can become almost too chewy in the air fryer if you aren’t paying attention!
Some great sources for tofu recipes include:
I hope this inspires you to try preparing tofu based recipes at home! Or, at least, feel inspired to try a tofu dish next time you dine in or order takeout from a restaurant!
Over the years, I’ve cultivated a comfort level with tofu that I never expected. It’s certainly not my only source of protein, but it’s definitely become a more significant part of my diet the longer that I’ve vegan. I haven’t reached expert level in its preparation, but it’s not so mysterious anymore!
Do you like tofu? Do you prepare it at home? If so, what are some of your favorite recipes? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.