A Tofu Substitute

"Cyborg: Is there meat in the tofu?
Beast Boy: No, there's no meat in tofu, it's tofu!
Cyborg: Then nobody wants it..."

      - Teen Titans


The Need

I must begin by saying that I have never been a fan of tofu, even when I was a vegetarian all those many winters ago. My many veggie friends seemed to be of the opinion that it was the dog's bollocks, but it was never thus for me. I found it a tasteless and textureless pap and so never learned to cook with it. It just never seemed to be to be a real food; occasionally I'd give in and try again, to no avail. Christine and I often joked that what we needed was a tofu substitute, in the same was that Tofurky is a soy-based turkey substitute.

It's hard to say what I particularly disliked about tofu. Mostly I think it's just the complete absence of native flavour, and despite everyone telling me that this was somehow an advantage ("it adopts whatever other flavours are in the dish!"), I never adapted. To be frank, I have had exactly two tofu-based dishes that satisfied me, and one was very recently cooked by some rather nice and good friends of mine - karma debt and Mordel.

There is also a deeper reason. During our examination of diet as it relates to cancer we discovered several areas of research that suggested a connection between some soy-related products and the growth of breast cancer¹. Without going into too much detail, it seems that there are, in many soy-based foods, certain chemicals that can mimic some female hormones (mostly oestrogen). Now I am not a scientist, but having read up on many such studies, I can see why some women may seek to lower their intake of such foods.

It's worth adding that turkey meat is a complete protein, unlike the dread soy by-product that is tofu.

The Product

Well, the world is a far stranger place than I'd imagined, and it turns out that I was not alone in my desire for a tofu-like product that actually had something about it in terms of flavour. The Bernard Matthews company, based in the English county of Norfolk, is probably the largest commercial distributor of turkey products in the UK. The story I read was that one of their food scientists' wives had been a vegetarian for many years, but had fallen off the wagon and returned to carnivoredom. Now after several years of this, the remainder of the family had learned to despise that most despicable of veggie foods, and the unnamed scientist sought to replace it in the many family recipes with...turkey.

Surprisingly enough, this met with dissatisfaction, as something of the spongy-yet-firm nature of the tofu turned out to be critical for the dish. Armed with this desire, he started experimenting with ways of creating the texture of tofu using turkey meat. The Matthews' website obviously does not go into any great detail, but other readings do suggest that the process involves using "mechanical separation" of meat; in other words, the dreaded pink goo, a mix of meat and...other stuff, somehow extruded and knit together in the same way that textured vegetable protein is made.

Whatever the method used, the finished product does seem to bear some resemblance to tofu. The website states that they are already offering "firm tofu" for cooking, and will follow with silken tofu production later in the year. Apparently it cooks in exactly the same way as real tofu, just with a tad more flavour, so recipes need no adaptation to take advantage of the Real Meat product. I am quite eager to see this product in the States, as it's currently only available in selected areas of East Anglia and London.

I wish them well - there are doubtless hordes of ex-vegans and -vegetarians who feel the same way I do about the abomination that is tofu. However, I am not at all certain that their Marketing Department has done a spectacular job, though. It's cunningly, if oddly named; "faux turkey" seems to be a misnomer! Finally, it's ironic (I think) that I discover this product during the month that LieQuest 2013 is being run.


It seems that soy protein is considered "complete", just not quite as high quality as meat-based sources: see here. As with many things, you pays your money and you takes your choice.





¹ http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA331541
Bernard Matthews

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