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What's with people and tofu?

I can't think of a food that's as maligned as tofu (well, maybe broccoli, but that's a different rant).

Is it the very idea that bean curd may eclipse meat in our diets someday for whatever reason and the hoi polloi are railing against it?

People who say that tofu has no flavor will gladly gobble down overcooked chicken breasts in almost anything and call it good. I don't understand that.

I'm referring to the US in general, because that's all I have experience with, I think it's a prejudice, plain and simple. I don't live a huge metropolitan area, BUT a lot of people from the midwest moved to Arizona in the 1950s and while the big metro centers in the US moved on gastronomically, a lot of the transplants here haven't. Here's a conversation between my friend Davey and his mom- they live in the Phoenix area-

Mom- "I don't like the hamburgers here. They're not as good. I like the midwestern hamburgers we used to get back home."

Davey- "Mom, you've been living in Phoenix for fifty-six years, and haven't been back to the midwest since you moved here. You need to get over it."

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  1. I dislike tofu. I can only answer with any certainty for myself, but there are specific reasons I dislike it, and specific reasons I don't care to work on developing a taste for it.

    1. Texture. I am one of those "texture issues" people, and I just can't do slimy-gelatinous.
    2. I *really* dislike the flavor of soybeans in general, and tofu in particular, which has a really unpleasant, mildewy, vegetal funk to me.
    3. I don't do unfermented soy products. I avoid meat with hormones added, and I avoid food products which have an effect on hormones. Maybe it'll eventually be demonstrated to my satisfaction that unfermented soy isn't a problem, but until that time I'd rather be safe than sorry, given my family health history.

    Now, I think that many people who've had it poorly prepared or as a crappy, thoughtless substitute for meat dislike it because of the preparation. As for the particular critiques, it really doesn't taste like much, and the texture is very peculiar for a *savory* item for, I would say, a sizeable swath of Americans. Neither your average Anglo nor your average Latino likely grew up eating it, nor anything like it.

    I do think a prejudice plays into it, as in associating it with "hippie food" or somesuch. Same reason some people avoid brown rice or whole-grain bread or whatever -- their preconceived notions of what it's going to taste like actually affect their experience of its taste. Tofu, having an unusual texture and not much flavor, plus that "hippie" reputation, has a low return on investment, so to speak, when poorly prepared.

    Now that, as we say in the south, was a whole lotta sugar for a nickel! ;)

    6 Replies
    1. re: LauraGrace

      @LG, since you said absolutely everything i was going to (including my health-related reasons for avoiding it), you covered my few cents as well...so i'd say that was at least a dime's worth ;)

      @EWS, tofu doesn't taste good as it is, and most people don't know how to make it palatable or just have no interest in trying to do so...particularly if they've eaten bad tofu dishes in the past, and there are a lot of bad tofu dishes out there!

      1. re: LauraGrace

        Laura, have you tried different types of tofu? The texture can vary significantly depending on the type of tofu you're having.

        As for flavor, tofu itself doesn't taste like much, and a good sauce will bring the whole thing together. Next time you're at a chinese joint order up a serving of mapo tofu...it's really yummy.

        1. re: joonjoon

          You name it, I've tried it. I lived in Asia for a while in college, so I know the many varieties and the texture of pretty much all of them bothers me. And I don't eat unfermented soy anymore.

          1. re: joonjoon

            I don't mind tofu, and having lived in Seoul for 3 years, I've had it in any number of preparations, many of which I enjoy tremendously. But I have to say that Mapo Tofu is probably one of the most disgusting, slimy, nasty, ill smelling dishes ever invented.

            1. re: KaimukiMan

              oh god, i just discovered mapo tofu two years ago and am in love with it! yes, i would marry it.

              1. re: mariacarmen

                and thats what makes it all so interesting. to me its like eating porridge or eggwhites, two other things that get half way down my throat and stick. But glad to hear someone likes it, millions of Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese cant be all wrong.

        2. Like anything else, it's how you prepare it. I like the extra firm plain topped with fish flakes and green onions with shoyu and sesame oil or chili oil as a side dish.
          So whether it is silken or regular, soft, firm or extra firm. steamed, baked, fried, broiled or raw.
          Cooked with meat, pork chicken, fish, vegetables or just plain, it good for you!!!

          1. I live in Asia, and my husband is Japanese, so I've eaten tofu in a wide variety of configurations and qualities.

            I will say that I don't particularly like tofu and tofu products the way they are used in a lot of Western cooking preparations. I'm thinking marinated, pressed tofu used as a meat substitute - it's bland, kind of chewy, and in no way acts as an acceptable substitute for meat, even overcooked chicken breasts. Neither the taste nor the texture works.

            I tend to much prefer tofu used as an ingredient as itself, although the firm pressed tofu is still my least favourite of the ways you can get tofu.

            I quite like soft tofu - ma po, tofu in miso soup, tofu drizzled with soy sauce and topped with grated ginger and fish flakes. I like dou hua and boiled peanuts on a hot summer day. Tofu skins have a nice combination of taste and texture (I particularly like stir fried celery with tofu skin). There's a kind of tofu that's frozen and then thawed and comes out kind of chewy, that goes really well in hot pot.

            I think one of the issues is that in much of Western culture and cooking tofu is an ingredient that vegetarians eat because they can't eat meat, whereas in East Asian society tofu is simply an ingredient. This tends to seriously annoy vegetarians in Chinese or Japanese restaurants, who are aghast that they put *meat* in the tofu dishes (see hot-pot and ma po above), but it also means that you tend to get tofu dishes that will voluntarily be eaten by people who have other protein options.

            8 Replies
            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              I don't like tofu --and I tried every option I could find for *years* because I KNOW it's a low-fat, high-quality protein, and I KNOW it's good for you. But whether it was breaded and fried, cubed into a stir-fry, whatever...it's just yuck to me. I'm not yucking your yum, by the way -- it doesn't gross me out, and if we were sitting at dinner I wouldn't point and yell EWWWW! I just don't like it, even after several years of really trying in earnest to find a form in which I liked it. I'll deal with it in miso, but about half the time I drink the broth and leave the tofu.

              I will drink soy milk (and actually prefer chocolate soy milk to chocolate cow's milk) and I love salted, boiled edamame,but I have given up on tofu.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Funny, because I like most forms of tofu, but I loathe miso soup. I can't even stand the smell of it. It reminds me of dishwater that's been sitting in the sink for weeks while the small food particles in it rot.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    @Ruth, you just made me miss miso soup a little less..thanks for that :)

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Totally agree with you. I feel the same way about it. I disagree that tofu has no flavor and just takes on whatever sauce it's accompanied with. I have had some tofu that totally tasted like ass cheese- not that I know what ass chesse tastes like!

                      1. re: LorenM

                        You must have had "stinky tofu" (chou tou foo; 臭豆腐)
                        :-)

                  2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                    Ooh, I will say that I liked tofu skin every time I ate it while living in Asia. Usually it was deep fried (as a wrapper around something) or stir-fried, which ameliorates the texture thing for me.

                    And I generally oppose the idea of using tofu as a meat substitute, because it's just NOT! Anyone who has suffered through a bowl of chili with weird lumps of chalky-tasting tofu swirled around through it ought to be able to attest that you can't just throw it in where you'd throw meat in. In the few times that I've eaten and enjoyed it in the past, it was prepared as its own thing, not as a meat substitute.

                  3. I've had some awful tofu dishes that (American) vegetarians oohed and aahed about, so I think it's just a matter of taste. I do use tofu in only one dish where extra firm tofu is pressed to within an inch of its life and becomes quite firm. I'm open to anything, and have been served tofu in Asian restaurants and have tried it several times - because once I had a dish with tofu and was amazed to like it. So I've tried it in stir fries and soups when it's included, but never had it again where it was actually good. I will continue to try it, but I wouldn't order a dish where it was the only protein.

                    1. I agree it is prejudice stemming from lack of familiarity. Tofu is a pretty inoffensive food stuff, really.

                      Last night, after seeing a demo at the asian market, I cut up big chunks of soft tofu, dipped in egg/chinese chives/grated carrots, and browned in a skillet. Ate topped with a bit of soy sauce and sesame seeds over. I love that textural combination of crispy exterior and creamy interior. Sadly, my teen boys gobbled most of it down before I could get my fill.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: tcamp

                        that sounds yummy - did the carrot stick to the tofu? and the soft tofu actually gets crispy? i thought the soft stuff would just melt! hmmmmm, may have to try this...

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          I was just winging it based on what I saw in the demo and while some carrot and chives stuck to the upper parts of the tofu cubes, some also dripped down to the bottom in a little puddle with the egg. No matter, I scooped it up and served along with the cubes. Next time I will grate the carrots more finely.

                          The tofu didn't melt, I thought the texture was the perfect blend of custardy and crispy. That is why the 'slimy and gooey' perceptions are so alien. But hey, more for me!