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In praise of bean curd        Archive

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Lisa Morgan lives and works in Tokyo, where tofu is definitely on the menu.  She explains how she learned to live with it and, eventually, like it…


Lisa is currently involved in a project called The 17s Project. In this Lisa documents the future seen by 17 year olds around the world. An exploration of intuition, details can be found at

'Food is medicine' Daniel, the herbalist  told me
, and he has strong reason to believe what he says. In 1978 living in Brooklyn, New York, he was hospitalised with a heart condition so acute that for two days he was comatose. On discharge, he went to a health food store where an assistant advised him to eat tofu every day. Two years later, at a check up where he was given a clean bill of health the doctor asked him: 'What did you do, rebuild your heart or what?' 

There is substantial research into the benefits of tofu - soybean curd. It has a high protein content but, unlike meat, is credited with the reduction of blood cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. The American FDA now endorses soy products as beneficial for heart conditions. 

Though some recent research has thrown doubt on claims for tofu's health giving properties, there is evidence that it can be beneficial in a number of ways.  It may ward off both breast and prostate cancer. It is particularly useful for menopausal women looking for a natural alternative to HRT, as the isoflavone content (one of the phytoestrogens) is a natural, mild form of oestrogen and so helps reduce symptoms such as hot flashes. Rich in calcium, it has been shown to increase bone density - hence guarding against osteoporosis. Recent Japanese research has even shown that a particular type of tofu may have a role in reducing harmful dioxins in the blood.  


Whatever the research shows (and methodologies are not always impartial) the Japanese have more than science to support their belief in it. The longest living people in the world live here - on the island of Okinawa - and their diet is exceptionally high in soy protein.

It's difficult to avoid tofu if you live in Japan. Many standard recipes make use of it. There are even tofu-only restaurants. You can buy it every day fresh - round here a  man has his bike basket full of it and cycles round the
neighbourhood at sundown blowing his distinctive little horn, selling 'silk ' or 'cotton' (the two consistencies) tofu just in time for the evening meal. 

This fresh form of tofu is white, the consistency of set yoghurt, and it's sold in square blocks in water, not at all like those brownish chunks in shiny shrink wrap that you get in western supermarkets. You can also get it dried.

But doesn't  tofu just sound so worthy and BORING - nothing more than phoney meat!  Pious skinnier people eat tofu. Not me.  


Before I moved to Japan, that was certainly my attitude. Even after living here for some years, when an American friend offered to bring a tofurkey to my Christmas dinner, I sniggered.  'But it's so cute' she protested 'it has square drumsticks.'  


On that occasion my chum gave in and ate my old-style turkey (her Japanese husband clearly preferred the previously living and gobbling variety). Ironically it was also my last truly carnivorous dinner party. Since then I've 'bean' converted.  


Daniel Babu.jpg (6367 bytes)Like most conversions, mine came about because of a crisis -  I broke out in a rash and sought help from Daniel Babu who has studied Eastern herbalism in Tokyo for a decade. He gave me a new perspective on food and a new respect for tofu.  I don't know how much it helped cure my rash, but it did make me feel healthier in general. 


Despite all that, it is hard to get enthusiastic about a food that is so bland (but isn't that what potatoes are - and what about real turkey too?). Tofu needs help from other ingredients to taste really good. Before adding it to dishes or sprinkling it with spices, you drain the tofu first and put a weight on top for half an hour or so to squeeze the water out. This helps to keep the tofu pieces together and not break up in the pan. For dried tofu you soak for twenty minutes and then squeeze out excess liquid.  

I've been having fried tofu for breakfast (cut into cubes, sprinkled with black sesame seeds, sea salt and fried with a little oil in a non-stick pan) as an alternative to eggs, but it is with spices, as a curry or an ingredient in a stir fry that tofu really comes into its own.    

To find the real thing, you may have to seek out a Japanese food store or possibly a health food store, though you can dip a toe in by trying supermarket versions.   

Experiment and you'll be happily surprised. I was.



Lisa is currently involved in a project called The 17s Project. In this Lisa documents the future seen by 17 year olds around the world. An exploration of intuition, details can be found at


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