Two thousand years of tofu: Myth busting food that’s so(y) good

Flashback to the year 220 A.D.: You are a hungry townsperson. It’s a shame McDonald’s hasn’t been created yet because you could really go for a Big Mac. Instead, you enjoy a satisfying dish of none other than that protein-filled food staple, tofu.

Flash forward to 2011: You are a hungry college student. Thankfully blenders have been invented, so you whip yourself up a tasty tofu fruit smoothie as an afternoon snack.

There’s a reason people have been enjoying tofu for over 2000 years. Its simple flavors blend well with many different types of foods, from stir fry and lasagna to sandwiches and salads. Not only that, but it’s famous (perhaps infamous) for being the fundamental healthy food, ideal for vegetarians and vegans.

Has tofu gained a bad reputation with its block-like structure and its unique texture? Here are five common myths associated with the soy-based product:

*Tofu is flavorless: FALSE*

“Tofu is very mildly flavored, and it will take on the flavor of anything that you add to it. So it needs to be seasoned, and it marries well with many different kinds of seasoning,” said Drusilla Banks, a nutrition and wellness educator for the University’s extension in Bourbonnais.

The conclusion? Debatable.

“Well, it depends on who you are, and how you flavor it,” said Adrienne Weber, sous-chef of the local cafe The Red Herring. “You know, I mean I would never want to eat it plain. I don’t think anyone should, but some people make the mistake of doing that.”

First impressions might not do tofu justice, taking into account its many ways of preparation. Weber encourages anyone hesitant about the taste to give it another shot, perhaps prepared with different cooking methods and more seasoning.

*Tofu is a vegetarian replacement for meat: TRUE*

While it’s true that many vegetarians use tofu as a replacement for meat, it also has various other uses.

“It’s not just (a meat replacement), but it can be,” said Banks. “It is… a good meat substitute for people who are vegetarian who do not eat regular meat, because it is complete protein, but that’s not all it is.”

Bottom line: While its miraculous meat replacement capabilities are certainly known, its uses in general can be wide-ranging.

*Tofu is a low-fat diet food: FALSE*

Don’t panic — tofu can still be a healthy alternative to high-fat meats, but only when consumed in moderation.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a diet food,” said Justine Karduck, McKinley Health Center nutrition education coordinator. “It’s a protein, so depending on the amount that you consume, it could definitely be a lower calorie alternative to some higher fat products.”

Many people have the preconceived notion that those on special diets should eat tofu. This situation is similar to that of the proverbial 100-calorie pack; yes, it’s health conscious, but if you eat 12 packs, you kind of defeat the purpose.

*Tofu is only for health food enthusiasts: FALSE*

While tofu is known to be nourishing and wholesome, it is for anyone! Banks said before tofu became mainstream to humans, it was fed to livestock.

“We used to feed it to our animals all the time and… our animals were having a better diet than some of us,” she said. “But it is excellent food and should be enjoyed by everyone.”

This soybean-based, age-old creation can be added to several different dishes to enhance the taste and protein content for anyone’s diet.

*Tofu is healthier for you than meat: Sometimes*

Depending on the type of meat and the serving size, tofu may be a healthier option.

According to Karduck, when tofu is compared to “a 93% lean cut of meat,” they both fall into about the same healthiness classification. Compared to red meat, on the other hand, tofu is a healthier choice.

“(There are) definitely higher amounts of vitamins and minerals in tofu than there would be in meat,” she said.

Moreover, when taking account of how many ways meat is prepared, there may be many more greases and juices produced in the process.

Need more tofu trivia?

“You can marinate it,” said Kat Davis, chef manager of The Red Herring café. “One of my favorites is red wine vinegar and olive oil (with) Italian herbs. And then after you let it marinate you can bake it, and when you bake it, it absorbs up more of whatever you put it in.”

The cube-shaped food is ideal for the quintessential busy college student due to its versatility. Thus, it has transcended generations for this very reason.

Tofu emerged from early civilizations around 2000 years ago. Every time you pop one of those soy squares into your mouth, you’re not only gaining a fair serving of protein, but you’re eating a chunk of ancient history.

_Reema is a freshman in DGS._