Everybody knows that, for religious, ethical, environmental, or other reasons, many people prefer not to eat animal-based proteins. Instead, they turn to plant-based substitutes and, especially, to tofu.
But what is tofu? Is it possible for the human mind to comprehend such a thing? And, more importantly, what happens when people experience ethical or other concerns about eating it? Then to what is there for them to turn to then, if any, to?
Tofu is also known as “bean curd,” and is, you may as well know, made from coagulated soy milk. Soy milk, in turn, is made by soaking and grinding soy beans, boiling the resultant slurry, and filtering out particulates.
Once purified, the soy milk is boiled with a range of salts or acids to achieve the coagulation of the protein and the oil suspended in it. Coagulation is caused by the coagulating action of coagulants, so at least that makes sense. But we’re not out of the woods yet, to the extent that we are in the woods. As Wikipedia informs us, “Soybean proteins are mainly composed of 7S and 11S proteins.” You will hardly be surprised to learn, therefore, that “the negative surface charges on these globulins usually cause them to repel each other.” And who can blame them? The whole process sounds repulsive, and there is no reason soybean proteins should be any more immune to this reaction than anyone, or anything, else. Besides, globulins are inherently scary, so it seems more than possible that they might frighten, and thus repulse, each other.
Still, sooner or later, and in spite of everything, curds form. These are skimmed, aggregated, and packed into molds to create the blocky, cheesy form of tofu with which we are all familiar. Now, to be sure, most people have no problem with this. But everybody has a problem with something, and some people have a problem with everything. What, then, is there for people who, say, object to the idea of beans being used for milk? Or for people for whom all this talk of “coagulants” is too upsetting? Are there tofu substitutes available for such sensitive, weird souls?
Happily, there are. And while I can’t claim to have tried all, or any, of them, I can claim to be able to list the most popular, or the least unpopular, below.
1. No-Fu – Best known for its striking visual similarity to real tofu, and no wonder: This entirely inedible product is made of re-purposed Styrofoam™ blocks floating in water in little plastic tubs. For display purposes only.
2. Faux-Fu – These pale beige cakes have an oddly nutty flavor, although maybe it’s not so odd, since they’re made of peanuts that have been chemically treated to “think” they are soy beans. Since they’re made of peanuts, the packaging warns “May contain peanuts,” which it does.
3. Impossible Fu – The meat/plant-based meat-substitute cycle makes a complete turn with this tofu-like substitute made of ground beef bleached white and formed into blocks. Useful for the keto diet, or for fooling people into thinking you’re eating actual tofu.
4. Tofooie – Tofu variant not made from normal soy milk, but from lactose-free soy milk. Since there is no lactose in regular soy milk (it isn’t literally milk), it’s not clear what this product is, whom it’s for, or what, really.
5. Totofu – Tofu substitute for dogs, named after the beloved Cairn Terrier in The Wizard of Oz. Not for human consumption.
6. Toe-Fu – Don’t ask.
7. Tofu-Au-Go-Go – Festive, multi-colored tofu substitute cakes, possibly made of marshmallow, for celebrations, birthdays, and other occasions where you need fake tofu in various colors.
8. Fifi’s Tutu Tofu – “French” (it’s actually made in Madison, Wisconsin) slabs of some kind of compressed curd decorated with pseudo-tulle ballet garments. God knows who buys this but apparently somebody does.