I feel bad for tofu. Those who have never eaten it often laugh at it. Some people hesitate to try it because they fear that they may be ridiculed by their peers or simply do not know how to cook it. Some people believe it is highly nutritious. Some people believe that it is toxic.
Check out my favorite tofu recipe at the bottom of this post. 🙂
Tofu is made from soybeans, water and a coagulant, or curdling agent. There is a great debate out there about whether or not soybeans are good for you. My answer is "it depends." I think it goes back to the fact that everyone is different. Some people have a hard time digesting soy. Some are allergic. Some people love it. It also has to do with the quality and the quantity consumed. It also has to do with where the soybeans come from and how they are prepared. Some soybeans are GNOs (genetically modified organisms - not cool) and some are organically grown.
Soybeans are interesting vegetables. Complicated if you ask me. What we are seeing now is that the soybean is most nutritious if it has been fermented. Fermented? What the heck does that mean? Basically fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat. This is the kind of process that is involved in the making of beer, wine, and liquor, in which sugars are converted to ethyl alcohol.
Basically, soybeans that have not been fermented can do some nasty stuff to our bodies if we over consume it. They are not meant to be eaten in large quantitates without being properly prepared. I think the key here again is if we over do it. A tofu dish here and there is not going to wreck havoc on your body. Drinking a Starbucks latte with soymilk every day for 5 years may do some damage. It all depends.
In their natural form, soybeans contain anti-nutrients: phytates, enzyme inhibitors and goitrogens. Unfermented soy has been linked to digestive distress, immune system breakdown, PMS, endometriosis, reproductive problems for men and women, allergies, ADD and ADHD, higher risk of heart disease and cancer, malnutrition, and loss of libido. Not cool. I remember working a stressful consulting job in my past life working 60 hour weeks and living on soy lattes. I was always bloated. Could it have been the soy? I bet it was a nasty combination of the soy and stress. Yuck.
So what are the health benefits of fermented soy?
Fermented soy contains phytoestrogens, which can act like estrogen in your body. Women who are menopausal may relieve side effects like hot flashes and night sweats by eating such foods. People who suffer from inflammation can get some relief by eating fermented soy products, which increase the hyaluronic acid in your body that's needed for lubricating your joints. When soy is fermented, it makes its nutrients more soluble (better able to dissolve in water), thus enabling your body to absorb more of its important minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Because the fermentation process breaks down the protein in soy into small pieces, it's easier to digest fermented soy than non-fermented soy foods.
All legumes contain phytate (also known as phytic acid) to some extent, but the soybean is particularly rich in this anti-nutrient. Phytic acid is the same reason why we want to soak our grains. Phytate works in the gastrointestinal tract to tightly bind minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and calcium. Basically, phytates prevent these key minerals to be absorbed in your blood stream.
So, which soy products are fermented?
Tempeh is a type of fermented soybean found in solid, cake-like sheets that can be cut into any size you'd like. It can be easily added to a pasta sauce. Baked or grilled it can be combined with melted cheese on whole grain breads to make a delicious sandwich. Tempeh with vegetables is great in healthy stir-fries.
Natto is another type of fermented soybean that shaped in smaller, bite-sized chunks. Natto makes a great addition to soups and broths and makes an easy topping for rice dishes. It's a little stickier than tempeh, and also a little sweeter.
Miso is a thick, fermented paste that can be made from soybeans, barley or rice. You'll usually find miso pre-packaged in a plastic tub. Miso makes a great base for soup stock, and its rich broth works well with vegetables, noodles, and other soy foods including tofu and natto.
Pickled tofu, which is also sometimes called tofu cheese. You may be less likely to find this fermented soy product in grocery stores but look for it at Asian foods market or a large-scale natural foods groceries. Most of the tofu available in supermarkets has been coagulated into its thickened, moist, cake-like form, but it has not been fermented.
Tamari and shoyu are a traditional, fermented versions of soy sauce. Most soy sauce you will find in the supermarket has not been traditionally fermented, and you should look specifically for tamari or shoyu if you want the full benefits of a fermented soy product. Of course, you will not be consuming this fermented product in the same amount as tempeh, natto, miso, or pickled tofu since you will be using it more as a flavoring and condiment. Even so, you will be getting some important benefits from this fermented soy food.
Pittsburghers, you can find these foods at Whole Foods and Sunny Bridge. I believe I have seen miso and tamari at Giant Eagle. If you can't find something at your favorite store, ask them if they will order it for you. 🙂
As you can see, soy milk, soy veggie burgers, soy protein isolate, soy cheese and even tofu are not on this list. These popular soy-based foods are not usually made from fermented soybeans. Be careful. There is unfermented soy lurking in so many processed foods these days. Read labels my friends.
While there appear to be special health benefits from the consumption of traditionally fermented soy foods, non-fermented soy foods can still make a very nourishing contribution to your diet. Tofu and edamame (soybeans in their pods) can be a great addition to your diet in moderation.
My philosophy is anything in moderation. I personally LOVE crispy tofu over rice and a ton of veggies. I recently found this recipe for an almond butter sauce that is an amazing complement to a tofu dish. I made a couple tweaks to the recipe. Below is my rendition. Some nutrition experts recommend that tofu be eaten with fish or some other protein source and some seaweed or kelp to replenish bound minerals. Interesting, huh? Next time I make this I will hide some seaweed. Don't tell my husband. 🙂
Crispy Tofu with Greens and Almond Garlic Drizzle over Quinoa
1/4 cup creamy almond butter
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons tamari or shoyu
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons sesame or peanut oil
1/3 cup water
cooked brown rice or quinoa
1 package of extra firm tofu
1 tablespoon of coconut oil
3 large leaves of dark greens (kale or collards are awesome here) You can also throw in some carrots too. No rules!
The night before you want to serve this dish, open up the container of tofu. Rinse tofu under cold water. Cut it up into slices and let it drain on a couple of kitchen towels on a plate.
Cover the tofu with the sides of the towel and store in the fridge. I usually put a bowl or something kind of heavy on it to help get the water out. Yep, right next to your Miller Light. 🙂
Getting out all of the water is the key to crispy tofu. The next day, the tofu is ready to rock.
In a frying pan, heat the coconut oil until it is nice and hot. Carefully, add the tofu slices and fry until they are golden brown.
In a small saucepan, make the sauce by combining the almond butter, maple syrup, tamari or shoyu, brown rice vinegar, ginger, oil and water. Mix it all together until it is nice and warm.
In another pan, water saute the greens. I put about 1/4 cup of water in the pan and add the greens. Put on the lid and let the greens steam until they are a beautiful bright green color.
Serve over brown rice or quinoa. Enjoy!
How do you feel when you eat soy?
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