Tofu, a food that resembles paneer or cheese, is formed by curdling soy milk with a coagulant, usually edible gypsum or nigari. Tofu has been in use from 200 B.C. when a zealous cook stumbled upon tofu by chance when he added nigari (magnesium chloride, found in ocean water) to flavor the soy milk. This reminded me of the origin of dulce de leche – seems to me that a lot of tasty foods were created more by accident than design 🙂
Tofu is available in soft(silken) and firm varieties. Soft tofu is easy to blend, and is used in a lot of vegan desserts and soups, whereas firm tofu retains shapes well, and is used in stir-fry, grilling and baking. Tofu is rich in protein, and hence a good source of protein for vegetarians and more so for vegans. It is also widely believed that the spread of Buddhism, which preached strict vegetarianism helped the spread and popularity of tofu. The health benefits of tofu are enormous, including but not limited to its cardiovascular protection and anti-cancer properties. While there are a lot of benefits to tofu, it contains goitrogens which interfere with the functioning of thyroid glands. You might want to go easy on tofu, if you have (or suspect) thyroid issues.