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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!

                      2. My father got us into tofu in the mid-70s, when he really became health conscious due to family health issues. I love the stuff.

                        Mrs W. has major texture issues (slimy-gelatinous as someone wrote) and she has had no trouble incorporating tofu into our regular diet as a replacement for meat at least once a week.

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: Bob W

                          Bully for you.

                          I find tofu a delightful and versatile ingredient in its many varied forms and enjoy it in different preps very much. Tastesgoodwhatisit above also has good comments about this.

                          Regarding the slimy-gelatinous issue, as others above also raise - I don't quite follow this description...I don't think of tofu in this way at all...

                          1. re: huiray

                            People without this particular texture aversion, IME, use different words to describe it. For those of us *with* this particular texture aversion, though, slimy and gelatinous are the perfect words! Isn't that bizarre? :D

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              It still sounds like you're talking about the kind of tofu that comes out of a box, not fresh tofu. I hate the boxed stuff, but fresh tofu comes in a wide range of textures, some of which cannot be described as "gelatinous" or slimy. Fresh firm tofu, for example, can be crumbled, and I would not describe anything that could be crumbled as "gelatinous."

                              The funny thing is that growing up in an area with a large Asian population, I was exposed to fresh tofu long before that aseptically packaged box stuff arrived on our shores.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Freshly-made tofu is not available within 100 miles of where I live, AFAIK. Perhaps unfortunate, but it's moot for me! :)

                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  If all I'd ever had was that icky stuff from a box, I'd hate tofu, too!

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Oh, I dunno. I think some of the packaged stuff, so long as you get them fairly "fresh" (i.e. newly delivered/way before the expiration date) isn't that bad - at least the stuff I get in my local Chinese grocers, NOT the ones in the Western-style supermarkets.

                                    Then there're all those other types of tofu - fried, pockets, clumpy, skins (fresh and dry), dry knots, dried sheets, cake-like, dense-type for stews/braises, Japanese variations, Chinese variations, etc etc...many of which would be packaged. :-)

                                    1. re: huiray

                                      By "fresh" I mean the stuff that comes in packaged in a water bath as opposed to the stuff that comes in the shelf-stable box.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Ah, OK. Then we are more-or-less on the same page.

                                        I thought you were specifically referring to locally produced fresh tofu made essentially the same day, sold in wooden tubs or similar or transferred to plastic tubs and that of course sit in water. (That stuff is, of course, the best) "Tow Foo Fah" [ 豆腐花 ], delectably fresh, wonderfuly smooth and still warm, trembling in its pale cream delicate opalescence in a cup, then doused with some ginger syrup... I get that from time to time at a Vietnamese (heh) grocer here. Utterly silken tofu made in a pail that morning and gently simmered in a kimchi soup I get at a Korean restaurant here. Etc etc.

                                        1. re: huiray

                                          I love tofu fah with ginger syrup! So good! I feel very fortunate to have access to freshly made organic tofu, too!

                            2. re: huiray

                              I also would disagree that fresh tofu is slimy, but it's hard to argue that tofu is not gelatinous. But since I have always loved jello and all custard-type desserts, this was never a problem for me.

                                1. re: Bob W

                                  Oh. I guess my Britishism is showing. I merely meant "Good for you", in the meaning I use the phrase for, with a suggestion of approval in the face of contrary opinion. I gather from a quick Google search to verify my understanding of the phrase that there are what I might call "corrupted" senses of the phrase...be assured that I meant it in the "original" meaning of "good for you".

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    LOL thanks -- that's what I figured based on the rest of your post, but we colonials use "bully for you" in the sarcastic sense only. 8<D

                                    1. re: Bob W

                                      Oh good. I'm not the only one who first read it that way!

                            3. Why is tofu so divisive?

                              - Backlash from the "granola crowd" touting its be-all-end-all health benefits

                              - Americans, unlike Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese, just don't prepare tofu properly. American preparations treat tofu as a substitute ingredient (i.e. veggie meat); whereas most Asian cuisines, like the aforementioned, treat tofu as an ingredient onto itself.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                I wouldn't call it divisive, really -- I can't even say I hate it...or even dislike! it's just not something I enjoy....If we were at a restaurant and making choices, it wouldn't bother me in the least if everyone else ordered it and I were the only one who skipped it, and if I were a guest where it was served, I'd eat it without blinking, and no one would ever know.

                                It's just not something I choose to eat.

                              2. I didn't like tofu before I knew what it was. Years before.

                                I would order hot and sour soup when I met a friend for Chinese lunch every week, and after tasting it once, I would make sure none of that nasty gooey white stuff got on my spoon. It's mostly texture, I guess, but it's such a disgusting one.

                                I don't like fried or boiled or poached eggs, either, and they're the virtual epicenter of white foods with a repulsive texture.

                                I don't like soy anything, either, though I will eat edamame when it happens to get put in a salad. I use the barest minimum of that soy sauce/wasabi goop when I eat sushi.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Jay F

                                  The only way that I truly enjoy tofu is in sweet and sour soup. The more tofu, the merrier.

                                2. One of the few things that will get me into a P.F. Chang's would be the tofu lettuce wraps- yum!

                                  1. A lot of the mass-produced tofu I have encountered has been of poor quality: gritty and either flavorless or with an undertone of something approaching cardboard. Even if people are curious about tofu, it is not unlikely that their most convenient options are not worth purchasing. Quality brands, however, are a revelation. Not just creamy homemade silken tofu, but also the high quality products available at specialty stores, open your palate to the possibilities of tofu. It is like a sip of your first French vintage after a lifetime of Franzia.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: JungMann

                                      Amen, JungMann. It makes all the difference when the quality is evident. I've had home-prepared tofu that was like the most silken, soft custard. The taste? Barely-there, but it was there; almost almondy-milky, and completely delicious. I don't like the store variety in it's little square tub full of murky water; I buy mine in Chinatown where it comes in a huge white plastic bucket, and it's worlds apart from the other stuff.

                                    2. I'll be honest and take the fallout for it: I don't like tofu 'cause it ain't meat! If I want a chunk of something to chew on in a soup, stir fry, etc., I want something that has substance and a taste of its own (at least a taste of its own that tastes good). I guess I'm just a tried and true carnivore with no apologies. :)

                                      1. I tend not to believe people if they make a blanket statement that they don't like tofu, since it can take so many guises and textures. Smoked, dried, silken, fried, shredded. Especially when people refer to it as slimy which would not at all describe some variations.

                                        1. Not a huge fan of tofu in anything but asian dishes. I don't eat meat, so no expectations there.

                                          Funny story though, a relative with massive control issues will eat tofu, willingly. But he claims to have a soy allergy ... which only flares up with soy milk, tempeh or veggie burgers. Never with tofu, soy "riblets" or the chips he eats (which have a big warning about soy on the side of the box).

                                          Cracks me up every time he starts going on about the evils of soy.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: odkaty

                                            That wasn't meant to read that I dislike tofu, quite the opposite. Just don't enjoy the prospect of cubes of tofu tossed into my marinara.

                                          2. Back when all I had was those chunks in Chinese-restaurant soups, I tolerated it, but otherwise avoided it. Then, after we'd move to SoCal and started exploring the Asian Wonderland that is the San Gabriel Valley, a mostly-veggie Chinese guy ordered some deepfried tofu cubes for our table one night and I became instantly addicted. Can't really figure it out, since aside from the outer crust they have NO flavor, but damn! they're good. And then we discovered the sweet silken tofu with ginger syrup at a favorite dim sum place one day. I still don't care much for the cubes in soup, and have no interest in any of the fake meats, but this Midwestern kid isn't avoiding it anymore either.

                                            1. All things being relative, tofu is a lousy protein. It's not just having it, but not having a superior protein. If you want something delicate, there are plenty of fish to choose from. Firm? Pick your meat. Soft? Go with a braised meat. Take any dish with tofu at its center, replace it with something else, and odds are you'll have a better dish.

                                              All that said, I occasionally have tofu (still less than once a month), because even it has a time/place. In this case, when something Asian is desired. Pan roasted (hate deep fried), silken with dressing and in a hot soup are callings.

                                              1. The problem is that a lot of vegetarians seem to treat a dislike of tofu the same way a lot of non-vegetarians treat an aversion to meat: by expressing instant disbelief that anyone could have a sincere desire to avoid it.

                                                It really doesn't help that, as others have mentioned, most American tofu preparations are just as awful as most American preparations of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. "You can't dislike the flavor/claim you don't like it because it has no flavor, because tofu just takes on the flavors of whatever it's cooked with" is only a legitimate rebuttal when that actually happens (and it is NOT a rebuttal to a claim that somebody dislikes the texture of tofu, thank you very much).

                                                1. Some people I've known were shocked that tofu dishes often have meat in them in Chinese restaurants. In their mindset, tofu was strictly a meat substitute instead of being merely another ingredient that can be used for cooking in different ways.

                                                  1. I'm in the "no unfermented soy" camp. When I was young in the eighties I used to eat it a lot, I would make sandwiches of slices of sauteed tofu and whole wheat bread and that would be my lunch and sometimes dinner.

                                                    These days I try to avoid processed foods and a big hunk of tofu is certainly processed.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: redfish62

                                                      <I would make sandwiches of slices of sauteed tofu and whole wheat bread...These days I try to avoid processed foods and a big hunk of tofu is certainly processed.>

                                                      So is bread, unless you've conjured up a bread tree. Leavening is as process-y as anything I can think of. But maybe you've given up sandwiches altogether, not just tofu sandwiches.

                                                    2. I agree that tofu in and of itself doesn't have a lot of selling points on the flavor front. But roasted tofu is one of my favorite, and easiest, things to make. I learned how to do it from this CHOW video: http://www.chow.com/food-news/55467/h... (Full disclosure, I work at CHOW, but I'm the farthest thing from an accomplished cook, so roasting the tofu was a revelation to me. Any recipe/technique I'll use repeatedly--which in this case I have--is a huge win for me.) The contrast in texture (crispy outside, soft center) and the simple seasoning of salt and pepper even won over my omnivore boyfriend. (I'm mainly veg, but eat fish on occasion.) And the roasted tofu was the perfect addition to a vegetarian jook I made (another CHOW recipe, http://www.chow.com/recipes/29368-bro... ). At any rate, I'm a big tofu fan, but it does have to be either in a delicious sauce or roasted or fried (periodically I'll pan-sear a slab of tofu in olive oil and eat it with a vegetable side like wilted spinach, yum!).

                                                      As for the prejudice against tofu, I think where you live may also play into it? I'm in SF where there are a lot of vegetarians and vegans, and perhaps a wider range of adventurous eaters on both ends of the scale (meat eaters to raw foodists). So it seems like there are tons of tofu options at local restaurants, which makes it easier for people to encounter it in tasty ways.