Demystifying Tofu – A Vegan Protein Substitute for Meat
Tofu Chick Mayo

Demystifying Tofu – A Vegan Protein Substitute for Meat

Ever wondered about this mysterious tofu that seems to be the vegan or vegetarian solution to all of life’s problem?

Maybe you’re keen to try it but are at a loss as to where to start.

Well in this blog, we are going to demystify tofu and help you use it effectively and tastily as one of your vegan substitutes for meat in your quest to eat a plant-based diet.

Tofu cooked and raw

What the heck is tofu?

Tofu is soybean curd and is made from curdling soy milk and compressing the curds into a solid block and then cooling it. Sounds yum! Actually, it is. The good thing about firm tofu is that it acts as a sponge and absorbs whatever flavours it is cooked in.

Tofu is believed to have been created by a lucky accident in China and now has become a vegan/vegetarian staple the world over. There are various types of tofu, which are separated by their firmness. Just as you might have soft cheese and hard cheese, you have silken, regular, firm, extra-firm and super-firm tofu. There are other variations too but we won’t go down that rabbit hole.

For our purposes, we will focus on silken and firm tofu, as these are the two most readily available in South Africa and many western countries. Silken is delicate in texture and flavour and is what you would find in a miso soup. It falls apart under pressure. Firm tofu holds together well, can be cubed, and makes a good substitute for meat.

What can tofu be used as a substitute for?

Tofu has many uses. You can use it in sweet or savoury dishes. It serves as a carrier for flavour to make something that resembles something non-vegan you’re craving.

Tofu as a substitute for meat

Because of its appearance, firm tofu is often substituted for chicken, but it can really be used as your protein for almost any dish. That, along with soy mince, should help you to avoid animal proteins altogether.

Here is a quick and easy recipe for making a Tofu ‘Chicken’ Mayo.

Note: If you’re a vegan, you can use vegan mayo.

Click image to view PDF

 Tofu as a substitute for cream

Silken tofu can be used for anything creamy. It is often used in dips or desserts, such as chocolate mousse, custard tarts, etc., to give that creamy texture that is so satisfying.

Here are two recipes for tofu cream cheese and tofu custard that show how tofu can be used as a substitute for cream.

Click image to view PDF

What is its nutritional value compared to meat?

Tofu is one of the few plant proteins to contain all of your essential amino acids. Many people eating a plant-based diet are concerned they won’t get enough protein. The recommended daily allowance for protein intake is between 46 g and 56 g.

We’ve made up this little table courtesy of the data from to help you see how it compares to common meats.

Click image to view PDF

What about the hormone (oestrogen) content of soy?

Many people are concerned with the hormonal component of soy, but this is actually misunderstood. Soy contains isoflavones which, when digested, become phytoestrogens that have a weak oestrogenic effect. These do not have a significant effect on oestrogen levels in men or women and actually have been shown to have positive effects on many people. To learn more, click here.

How do I cook tofu?

Because the taste of tofu is pretty neutral, you can use it in almost any dish and it will suck up the flavours of that dish.

Here is a simple way to cook tofu that can be added to a stirfry, a dry noodle dish, fried rice, or a salad.

Click image to view PDF

Tofu in a Curry

You can add texture and richness to your curry with tofu. It must be added towards the end, as it will fall apart if left too long/bubbled/stirred too much. Cut firm tofu into cubes and add 15-30 minutes before the end of cooking. Take care not to over stir. As with most curry, if you leave this overnight the flavour and texture of the tofu will be even better.

Tofu in a Soup

Tofu can gently simmer in a thin broth-type soup. Just be aware, as with curry, that it must not cook for too long or be stirred too much or it will break apart. It can be blended into a smooth soup for added protein and a thicker soup.

Tofu Marinaded on the Braai (BBQ)

As you would do with braai (BBQ) meat, marinade firm tofu and it will suck up the taste like a sponge. If you have a fine mesh grid over the fire it can be put directly on the braai. Otherwise, place in a cast iron pan over the flames or on some tin foil on the grid.

Where can I get tofu?

This differs from store to store, so get to know your shop and be aware that a lot of staff don’t actually know what it is, even in a health style shop like Dischem. Check the section with coconut milk or vegan cheeses. It could also be in the baking section but really it’s sometimes a game of hide-and-seek. If you can, get it at a local Asian store, as it can be up to R70 cheaper for the same weight. The Asian stores’ products often don’t have labelling/packaging as they are homemade. In Port Elizabeth, head to Golden Lion at Moffet on Main, Vegetarian Centre, Yumm and Aruna Foods.

Final Note

Tofu or not tofu?

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan in South Africa or anywhere, it’s not really a question. It’s so handy, has a good punch of protein and other nutrients, and adds texture to food.

If you would like to taste tofu in action but you’re not in the cooking mood, we have prepared delicious, nutritious, plant-based meals and dessert using tofu for you. If you are in the Port Elizabeth area, pop into our store at 25 Westbourne Road, order online or check your local Spar in the Eastern Cape.

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Lisa Parsons

Lisa is a content writer and strategist with experience across many platforms. She is also a personal trainer and has a keen interest in holistic health encompassing physical, mental and emotional wellness. She enjoys travel, books, puzzles, learning languages, and a buttery Chardonnay.

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