broiled tofu with vegetables and rice

A recipe calls for a 14-oz. package of firm tofu. Easy peasy. You head to the grocery, find the tofu section, and scan across the multitude of offerings. Soft. Semi-firm. Extra-firm. Ah! There it is—plain old firm tofu. Mission accomplished.

Not so fast! Suddenly, a slightly different package of firm tofu catches your eye. Anxiety begins to set in as you wonder (ideally, to yourself), “Sprouted tofu? What the heck is that?” Well, glad you asked.

Just like regular fresh tofu, the sprouted variety is produced by curdling soy milk (a process similar to making cheese), and also comes in a variety of firmness levels ranging from the custard-like Japanese-style silken tofu to the sturdy, low-moisture super-firm version.

But while regular tofu consists of whole, intact soybeans, sprouted tofu utilizes sprouted soybeans from seeds that have been germinated for approximately three days. The result are beans that have grown a small tail-like sprout—not a full-fledged bean sprout (the thin off-white strands popular in Asian cooking)—which would take several more days to form.

Allowing beans such as soy to sprout dates back thousands of years but the practice has recently spiked in interest. According to some experts, the process provides a number of added health benefits including improved digestion and an increase in nutrient absorption.

Sprouted tofu also contains more protein and a higher percentage of calcium than regular tofu, though it also packs in more calories.

When it comes to appearance and flavor (cue a “Wait, tofu has flavor?” joke), regular and sprouted tofu are virtually indistinguishable. Some people claim that sprouted tofu has a cleaner taste and a more pleasant aroma but most people can’t tell the difference, especially when blended in a smoothie, dressed in a salad, or tossed in a stir-fry.

Though sprouted tofu isn’t quite a supermarket staple yet, it’s becoming increasingly popular and is often available in local organic food retailers and chains such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and, of course, Sprouts.

So if you’re looking for an extra source of protein in your diet or if you simply want to branch out when it comes your bean curd consumption, consider seeking sprouted tofu out and giving it a try.

Related Video: Inside a Tofu Factory

Header image by Chowhound.

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