Friday, May 25, 2012

Tofu is Not a Meat: a Food Related Rant

There used to be a jokey catch phrase for vegetarians/vegans that went "Tofu: the other white meat." It is indeed a cute and catchy play on words but it also highlights what I see as fairly major and wide spread problem in vegetarian/vegan cooking in America.

So I just want to get it out there and say this: tofu is not a meat. It does not look like meat, does not act like meat, nor does it taste like meat and it doesn't smell anything like meat. This seems really self evident but I've found I need to actually come right out and say it. You cannot use tofu instead of meat 99.9% of the time.

Now let me tell you that I love tofu.  I love it, I think it's delicious. However it is really very difficult to use it as a substitute for something else.

TVP, tempeh, seitan, and all those processed soy stuff you can buy these days are better substitutes for different kinds of meat then tofu is.

Yet for some reason tofu is what everyone always starts with when they become vegetarian or first try to cook vegetarian food. Over and over again I've eaten dishes by people who are not used to cooking vegetarian food where they simply take a hunk of tofu and stick it in a recipe they would ordinarily use meat for. Over and over again I've gotten told by people who did not grow up eating tofu that they've tried it and don't like it. The answer why most people hate tofu on first taste is; it can only very rarely be used instead of meat in recipes. Tofu is great, in recipes that are supposed to use tofu.

This is what I tell most people who aren't used to eating tofu: find a recipe using tofu from a country that tofu comes from. Fine a recipe for a tofu dish from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, or Viet Nam. If you are going to use an Americanized version of the recipe be careful where you get it. Just don't google a recipe and make the first one that comes up.

Doing this, cooking tofu in recipes that were designed to have tofu in them, not as a substitute but in its own right, is how you are going to learn to use and eat tofu. These are the dishes in which it will taste the best. Once you get the hang of cooking with different kinds of tofu in different ways you can try using it as substitute for different kinds of meat.

I'm just going to be frank though, tofu doesn't substitute for meat well at all, even if you know what your doing. The reason why is tofu is soft and porous, and meat is not nearly as soft or porous. Tofu even frozen Chinese tofu is fairly delicate stuff, most meat that we eat is much more hardy and can handle different kinds of cooking better then tofu can.

Seitan, TVP, tempeh, some kinds of vegetables like eggplant, some kinds of mushrooms and processed soy product hold up to substitution for meat much better. So if you want to change a recipe from a meat recipe into a vegetarian recipe use these, not tofu, it'll be much better in the long run.

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