Tofu, or bean curd, is made from dried soybeans that have been ground, filtered, and boiled. It comes in different styles—from the very soft Japanese silken to extrafirm (usually your best bet). Tofu is packaged in a range of ways, from unrefrigerated boxes to blocks floating in giant, open pails. Go for tofu packed in water, inside sealed plastic tubs, in the refrigerated section of the store; Nasoya is a good brand.
Why Eat It?
In addition to being wonderfully inexpensive, tofu is high in protein, low in fat, and very low in saturated fat. Other healthy benefits of soy: Some studies show it can lower cholesterol and may even help prevent certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate. Soy is best eaten in moderation and as a whole food—such as tofu or tempeh—since concentrated soy supplements contain higher levels of phytoestrogens (estrogen-like chemicals that occur naturally in plants), which may actually increase some women's risk of breast cancer. One daily four-ounce serving is an excellent addition to a healthy diet.
Tempeh and Beyond
The multitalented soybean shows up in a wide variety of foodstuffs:
• Tempeh is a fermented mix of soybeans and, sometimes, grains that's sliced and used "like meat"—though you won't likely mistake it for such.
• Edamame are green soybeans that you eat steamed and salted out of the pod.
• Miso is a salty Japanese condiment made from fermented soy and used in soups, sauces, and dressings.
• Seitan and mochi are rubbery enough to seem like soy products, but they're actually made from wheat and rice, respectively.