Healthy Tofu Recipes Suitable For a Low Glycemic Diet
Tofu is a nutritious plant-based protein that can be added to any diet. Here are our favorite ways to make tofu, from a breakfast scramble to pumpkin pie, and everything in between.
The interest in plant-based diets and vegetarianism continues to grow. According to Dataessentials, over a third of consumers want to increase their consumption of plant-based meat alternatives and one-quarter want to try more plant-based dairy alternatives.¹
Tofu is an easy and nutritious plant-based protein for those wanting to incorporate more plant-based meals into their routine. With all nine essential amino acids and a host of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients it is a highly nutritious form of protein.
While tofu and soy-based products have been available for years, they were primarily only considered a staple by people following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. But they have become much more accepted and incorporated as a regular part of a plant-based lifestyle.
In this article, we will look at everything you need to know about tofu, like how it is made, the different types available, and some easy ways to prepare it.
What is Tofu and How is It Made?
Tofu is made from soy milk. It goes through a similar process to how cheese is made from milk. A coagulant, (like magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate) is added to the milk causing it to thicken. The result? A block of tofu.
If you’ve ever bought tofu, you’ll notice that it is always packed with water. Water helps preserve the freshness of tofu, and prevents it from drying out. Different types of tofu have different amounts of water. Silken or soft tofu has the highest amount and firm or extra firm is the driest. It’s best to drain water from the tofu before cooking. Some recipes will even instruct you to press water out of firmer types of tofu so it will bake or crisp easier.
Firm and extra-firm tofu are the lowest in water content, have a firm texture, and crumble easily. Both work perfectly if you want a meat-like texture in your dish.
The key to making a delicious dish using a firm or extra-firm tofu is to press it well to get all the liquid out before marinating or cooking with it. The drier it is, the more flavor it will pick up.
Firm tofu is great in stir-fries, pan-seared, or grilled. You can also air-fry it. Dust it with a little cornstarch before you cook it to get a nice “fried” crust.
Semi-Firm or Medium
Semi-firm or medium-firm tofu is just that. It has a bit more water than firm tofu. It breaks apart easily and is crumbly. It is perfect for soups, stews, or to make an “omelet” or other scrambled egg-like dishes.
To use medium or semi-firm tofu, drain the liquid from the package and place it on a cutting board or sheet pan lined with paper towels. Let it sit for 10 - 15 minutes to get some of the excess liquid out. This will allow the tofu to absorb the flavors from the dish. Skipping this step and you may find it to be bland as the extra moisture will keep the flavors from binding to it.
Soft or Silken
Soft is great for desserts, smoothies, and dips. It has a higher water content than firm tofu. Silken tofu is perfect in dips, sauces, or made into a mousse for dessert. It is ready to use right out of the container. Simply drain and blend it into your recipe.
What Are The Nutritional Benefits of Tofu?
Tofu has about 14 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. It is high in calcium, iron, phosphorus, and the antioxidant selenium.² Tofu and other soy proteins have been a traditional part of many Asian diets for centuries, but started to emerge in American diets during the 1960s.³
Tofu is one of the richest sources of isoflavones in all soy foods.⁴ Isoflavones are plant compounds found in abundance in soy foods. They have been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects and may help protect against heart disease and bone loss.⁵ More research is needed to discover all the benefits soy protein can provide.
Does Tofu Affect Blood Sugar Levels?
Tofu has a low glycemic index of only 15.⁶ It only contains 2.25 grams of carbohydrates in a 3-ounce serving, with the majority coming from fiber.² People who consume soy products consistently, including tofu, have shown to have a lower insulin response after eating.⁷
Studies have shown consistent consumption of soy protein reduces fasting plasma blood sugar and plasma insulin levels. LDL cholesterol and inflammatory markers were also reduced.⁸,⁹,¹⁰
How to Cook Tofu
One of the advantages of cooking with tofu is how easy it is to prepare and cook with. Because it is so mild in flavor, it picks up the flavor of the ingredients it is cooked with and can be used in everything from soups and stir-fries to breakfast dishes and even desserts.
Here are some quick tips for how to cook with tofu and the best form to use for different dishes.
Before you start cooking with tofu, especially firm or extra firm tofu, you’ll want to press all the extra liquid out. This squeezes out any extra moisture that prevents the tofu from picking up the flavors of the dish. To press tofu, either put it in a tofu press or wrap it in a clean dish towel, place it between two cutting boards and put something heavy on top, like cans or a heavy pot. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, to get as much liquid out as possible. You might need to replace the towel if it gets soaked quickly.
Marinating and seasoning
Because tofu is so bland, it is a good idea to marinate it or season it before cooking. For both, you’ll want to make sure you have thoroughly pressed all the extra moisture out so the marinade can really sink into the tofu and give it great flavor. According to Cooks Illustrated, marinating tofu for at least 30 minutes is best to have the flavor come through.¹¹
Pan-searing, frying, and Grilling
Firm and extra-firm tofu are the best forms for grilling or pan-searing. When using any of these cooking techniques, it’s important to make sure the tofu block is dry and thoroughly pressed to expel all excess liquid.
Once it’s dry, cut it into thick slices for the grill or to pan-sear it. Sprinkle it with a spice blend or marinate it before cooking so it’s nice and flavorful. If grilling, make sure the grates are oiled before cooking so it doesn’t stick and fall apart (remember, tofu can be crumbly!). If you decide to pan-sear it, just a little oil in the pan will do the trick.
To use it in a stir-fry or to fry it, dice it into cubes and then toss with cornstarch or arrowroot and give it a little spray with oil before cooking. This will give the tofu a crispy crust after it’s cooked.
Tofu is easy to bake. It’s the same way you would bake a chicken breast or pork chop. Press it well, cut it into thin slices or cubes, and marinate it or add your favorite seasoning blend. Then place it on a sheet pan with veggies and bake it until the veggies are done and the tofu is hot.
You can eat all tofu raw, but silken or soft tofu is the best for this use. Drain the excess liquid and then add the tofu to a smoothie, stir it into a soup in place of cream or whisk it with melted chocolate for an easy dessert. There is no need to press soft or silken tofu, you need the moisture from this form.
12 Low-Glycemic Tofu Recipe Ideas
Because of its mild flavor and all the different types of tofu, it can be easily incorporated into a variety of dishes. It works perfectly as an egg substitute for breakfast, replaces chicken in a main dish, and can be used in place of cream or eggs in desserts.
Breakfast Recipe Ideas
Tofu is an excellent substitute for eggs in many morning meals. You can crumble firm tofu and cook it like scrambled eggs, use silken tofu in place of eggs in pancakes or in place of yogurt in a smoothie. Here are a few recipe ideas for you to try.
- Southwest Tofu Scramble - saute dried, crumbled tofu with diced onions, bell peppers, and chili powder for a quick morning breakfast. Enjoy it by itself or wrap it in a low-carb whole-grain tortilla to eat on the go.
- Tofu Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes - Blend silken tofu with soy milk and pumpkin puree in place of the egg mixture in your favorite pancake recipe. Swap all-purpose flour with buckwheat or at least part whole-grain flour and try a monk fruit baking sweetener in place of sugar to keep the glycemic index down.
- Open Face Tofu Breakfast Sandwich - Pan sear a thin slice of firm tofu sprinkled with a chili powder and paprika blend. Place it on top of a piece of 100% whole grain bread with sliced avocado and tomato for a quick, simple breakfast.
- Tofu Smoothie - Whip silken tofu with mixed berries and chia seeds for an easy morning smoothie or afternoon snack. Choose blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries for a delicious low-GI treat.
- Tofu Overnight Oats - Use silken tofu in place of milk or yogurt when making your overnight oats. Just whisk the tofu with some water until it has a thick milk-like consistency. Then stir in your oats and other add-ins and let it sit overnight.
Main Course Recipe Ideas
- Air Fryer Tofu - Air-fried tofu is a great way to cut down on extra fat. Since tofu is so porous, when it is deep fried, a lot of oil can get inside. Air-frying solves that! Start with thoroughly pressed tofu. Marinate it for at least 30 minutes and then drain it and pat it dry. Toss cubes of tofu with arrowroot or cornstarch (make sure to coat it well!). Preheat your air-fryer to 400°F and place the tofu pieces in one layer and “fry” them for 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are browned.
- Simple Tofu Green or Red Curry - Tofu is an easy swap for chicken or shrimp in your favorite green or red curry dish. Use firm tofu that has been well-pressed and cut into cubes. Simply saute the vegetables then add the tofu pieces into the pan to brown. Mix in the curry paste with some coconut milk and lime juice, and your curry is ready to go!
- Grilled Sesame Tofu Burger Lettuce Wrap - Firm or extra firm tofu works best here. Press it well to really get all the water out that you can and cut it into thick slices. Then marinate it in a sesame-soy dressing for at least 30 minutes. Brush the grill grates with grapeseed or avocado oil and heat the grill on high. Add the tofu slices to the grill and grill just until it easily lifts from the grill and has nice grill marks. Place it in a large piece of lettuce and top it with scallions and microgreens.
- Stir-fried Tofu Broccoli Bowl - A classic way to use tofu! Stir fry firm or medium firm pieces with onions, peppers, and broccoli. Toss the tofu with a little cornstarch or arrowroot to help it crisp up and add a little thickness to your sauce, then add it to a hot skillet or wok with the vegetables and saute it quickly. Try adding some soy sauce and chili peppers for a spicy version. Place it on top of cauliflower rice for a low GI meal and sprinkle it with sesame seeds.
- Creamy Butternut Squash Soup - You can use tofu in soups or stews in small pieces using the firm or medium firm tofu. In this version, use a silken tofu in place of milk to add a creamy texture to a butternut squash soup. Butternut squash has a low GI so this soup will fit perfectly in your low GI diet.
Use one 8-ounce container of silken tofu, drained with every 2 - 4 cups of liquid. Chop the tofu into small to medium size chunks and stir it into the soup after the squash is cooked and softened. Blend it well with an immersion blender and you’ll have a thick and creamy soup.
Dessert Recipe Ideas
Because tofu is so mild and basically has no taste of its own, it works well in sweet recipes too. Pies, puddings, and mousse are classic ways to use tofu in a dessert.
- Vegan Tofu Pumpkin Pie - Silken tofu in a pumpkin pie adds a creaminess and replaces the heavy cream and eggs found in traditional pumpkin pies. Just place a drained 8-ounce container of silken tofu in a food processor with pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice. You can use a powdered monk fruit sweetener to add some sweetness - adjust the amount to your taste. Puree everything together and pour it into your pie crust to bake.
- Tofu Mousse - Using silken tofu in a mousse or pudding is an easy way to introduce tofu to someone who may be hesitant to try it. You can blenderize it with some melted dark chocolate and orange zest with a little agave syrup for some sweetness. The tofu keeps the glycemic index low and makes a delicious treat!
How to Store Tofu
Uncooked tofu should be stored in the refrigerator in water. It will keep unopened until the pull-by date on the package. Once you open it, store it for 2-3 days and change the water daily.
Once the tofu has been cooked, wrap it tightly in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. You can also freeze tofu, but it will be tougher and have more of a crumbly texture after thawing.
Tofu is a wonderfully versatile protein source. Its mid flavor allows it to pick up any flavor you are cooking with. Start by keeping it simple and using it in a stir fry or smoothie, then experiment and try some other recipes.
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- U.S.D.A. Food Data Central. Tofu, Raw, Firm, prepared with calcium sulfate. Accessed October 26, 2022. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172475/nutrients
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- Blair, R. M., Henley, E. C., & Tabor, A. (2006). Soy foods have low glycemic and insulin response indices in normal weight subjects. Nutrition journal, 5, 35. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-5-35
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- Mohammadifard, N., Sajjadi, F., & Haghighatdoost, F. (2021). Effects of soy consumption on metabolic parameters in patients with metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. EXCLI journal, 20, 665–685. https://doi.org/10.17179/excli2021-3348
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- Is tofu worth marinating? Cooks Illustrated. Accessed October 25, 2022. https://www.americastestkitchen.com/cooksillustrated/how_tos/10681-is-tofu-worth-marinating