Last updated 28 Sep 2015

The Art of Handcrafted Tofu

Seven years ago, Lee Khang Yee of Flavours Magazine conveyed her intention of writing an article on handmade tofu using organic soybeans. I gladly shared my recipes with her and here is and excerpt of her article to share with you.

- June Ka Lim

Making Better Tofu

By: Lee Khang Yee/Flavours magazine April 2008 issue

Photographed by Yap Chee Hong

If you think you are not eating the best tofu that you can, here are a host of better tofu recipes, starting with a better bean and leaving out the questionable additives.

It is said that only the Chinese and Japanese can truly appreciate tofu. White as chalk and tasting almost as bland, it is a wonder tofu has managed to get this far as a major food ingredient. Its claim to promote health, and its role as a major, as well as cheap, non-animal source of protein, has everything to do with its success; and today, we want to eat more tofu.

The demand for more soybean-based foods has led to the genetic modification of soybeans, which has become a prolific issue in recent years. Tofu manufacturing methods using additives that are potentially hazardous to health is also a worrying concern. Commercial processes for making soymilk use an alkaline soaking solution that can create lysinoalanine, which is a type of carcinogen.

As such, it is best to make your own soy-based products such as soybean milk and bean curd (i.e. tofu). Coagulating the soybean milk is the most important part of the process of making tofu. Traditionally, the Chinese use calcium sulfate to create tofu that is rich in calcium. However, due to health concerns, organic food practitioners prefer to use a substance called "nigari" to coagulate the soybean milk.

Nigari is a clear solution of magnesium chloride. It is extracted from seawater and is said to bring out the natural sweetness of soybean milk. This is the method of coagulation preferred by the Japanese.

In his book, Shunju, Takashi Sugimoto described several ways for making your own nigari. The most natural of which is by boiling down seawater over high heat until salt crystals start to appear.

“When the crystals start to gather into larger crystals, the liquid on top is the nigari,” he claimed.

Tofu’s origin can be traced back to China, where an accidental addition of sea salt to pureed soybean milk created curds that formed into tofu.  Some claim that the tofu-making process was adapted from the Mongolian cheese-making method.

Soy protein is recognized as a high quality protein that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as being low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol. Although tofu is quite bland on its own, it is very delicious when dressed up with various kinds of ingredients and sauces.

The combination possibilities are almost endless and tofu can also be stir-fried, deep-fried, steamed, baked, boiled and braised. It is widely used in the cuisines of people throughout Asia and Southeast Asia. A finer and more delicate form of tofu is also made into a popular street fare known as tau fu fah, a sweet dessert that means “flowers of tofu” in Cantonese.

Nigari, cypress wooden tofu forming moulds and certified organic soybeans are available at Woods Macrobiotics.

Article compiled by June Ka Lim, macrobiotic vegan chef

May 2015