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Vegetarian Journal Mar/Apr 1999

Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Tofu and Tempeh

by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD


Let's start with the basics. What are tofu and tempeh? Tofu, also known as bean curd and soy cheese, is a mild-tasting product made by curdling soymilk with a coagulant and pressing the curds into a block. Tempeh is a product which is made from fermented soybeans and sometimes grains. The fermentation process binds the beans together and gives them flavor.

Both of these foods are remarkably useful. Tofu can be used in both savory and sweet dishes because of its ability to take on other flavors. By itself, it's pretty bland. Tempeh has a nutty flavor and can be marinated, grilled, or fried, or added to soups and casseroles.

There are several different forms of tofu. The most common are soft, firm, extra firm, and silken. Soft tofu is good in recipes calling for blended tofu. Firm and extra firm tofu can be cut into cubes or slices and added to stir-fried vegetables or cooked on the grill. Silken tofu has a custard-like texture. It works well in smoothies and cream pies. Lowfat tofu is also available. There are also a number of pre-cooked tofu products on the market. These are often marinated or smoked and then baked. Tempeh can be made solely from soybeans or can have grains and vegetables added.

Nutritionally speaking, both tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of a variety of nutrients. They both contain soy protein, which has numerous health benefits. They do have some fat, mainly in the form of unsaturated fat. They are low in sodium, unless soy sauce or other salty ingredients are added. Tofu can be a good source of calcium if a calcium salt is used in the coagulation process. Products which contain 200 milligrams or more of calcium in a 3-ounce serving include Nate's Easy Tofu, Smoke & Fire Smoked Tofu (all varieties), SoyBoy LowFu, and Whole Foods Extra Firm Tofu. Both tofu and tempeh can contain significant amounts of iron. Products which contain more than 3 milligrams of iron in a 3-ounce serving include Nate's Easy Tofu, Lightlife Quinoa Sesame Tempeh, and White Wave Sea Veggie Tempeh.

Many companies use organically grown soybeans for their tofu and tempeh. These include SoyBoy, Nasoya, Smoke & Fire, White Wave, Lightlife, and Whole Foods. White Wave may also use transitionally grown beans, but they state that the soybeans used have not been genetically altered in any way. Genetic engineering (combining genes from widely different organisms) is commonly used on soybeans which are not organically grown. While genetic engineering may increase yields and reduce costs, many environmentalists and scientists fear that this technology may be harmful to the environment and risky for our health. I recommend use of tofu and tempeh containing organically grown soybeans.

Tofu and tempeh are perishable products and should be kept refrigerated, unless the tofu is in an unopened aseptic package. Once a tofu package is opened, leftover tofu should be covered with fresh water for storage and the water should be changed daily. Silken tofu does not need to be covered with water, but should be kept refrigerated. All of the brands of tempeh which I found had been cooked before packaging. Tempeh which has been heat-treated does not require additional cooking before being eaten, but steaming can make it easier for some people to digest it.

Once you've chosen a brand of tofu or tempeh, you can find recipes using these products in many cookbooks, including Simply Vegan, Conveniently Vegan, Meatless Meals for Working People, and others carried by The Vegetarian Resource Group (see catalog).

Nutritional Information for Tofu and Tempeh

Product Calories Protein (gm) Fat (gm) Calcium (mg) Iron (mg)
Azumaya Silken 50 5 2 60 <1
Azumaya Firm 55 7 2 150 0.8
Azumaya Extra Firm 80 10 4 150 0.8
Kikkoman Soft 45 4 2.5 20 0.7
MoriNu X-tra Firm 45 6 1.5 20 0.7
MoriNu Firm 50 6 2.5 20 0.7
MoriNu Soft 45 4 2.5 20 0.7
MoriNu Lite 30 5 1 20 0.7
Nate's Easy Tofu (all varieties) 130 13 7 500-600 8-9
Nasoya Extra Firm 90 9 5 40 1.4
Nasoya Firm 80 9 4 150 1.1
Nasoya Soft 60 7 3 150 1.1
Nasoya Silken 50 5 2 60 0.7
Nasoya 5-Spice and French Country 70 8 4 40 1.1
Smoke & Fire Herb Smoked 100 11 5 240 2.9
Smoke & Fire Lemon 110 11 5 240 2.9
Garlic Smoked and BBQ 
Smoke & Fire Thai Smoked
120 12 6 240 2.9
SoyBoy LowFu, Extra Firm 90 12 2 250 1.4
SoyBoy Baked, Seasoned 150 16 8 180 1.6
White Wave Extra Firm
(all varieties)
85 10 5 100 1.8
White Wave Firm/Soft 90 10 6 100 1.8
White Wave Fat-Reduced 90 10 4 40 1.4
White Wave Baked (all varieties) 180 20 9 60 2.1
Whole Foods Firm 100 10 5 150 1.4
Whole Foods Extra Firm 120 12 6 200 1.8
Lightlife Soy 140 18 4 130 2.4
Lightlife Quinoa Sesame 140 16 2 15 4.3
Lightlife Wild Rice 140 9 3 110 1.6
Lightlife 3-Grain 140 9 3 75 1.2
Lightlife Garden Vege 110 14 3 110 1.9
SoyBoy Soy 150 17 6 60 1.8
SoyBoy 5-Grain 135 11 3 80 1.9
White Wave Soy 150 16 6 20 1.8
White Wave 5-Grain 140 12 4 20 1.8
White Wave Soy Rice 140 12 5 20 1.4
White Wave Wild Rice 140 13 4 20 1.4
White Wave Sea Veggie 120 12 3 100 2.7
Serving size for tofu and tempeh is 3 ounces


  • Excerpts from the Mar/Apr Issue

  • The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

    This article was converted to HTML by Jeanie Freeman

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