Discovered in China and loved by Benjamin Franklin .. What is the history of tofu, one of the most famous foods in the world?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – A strange sight is happening inside this country which is closer to a typical industrial building in Hong Kong.

Vicki Lau, chef and owner of the Michelin-starred Tate dining room, and Romain Irpreto, former CEO of French luxury food group Dominique Bouchet, inspect a massive soy milk machine that the two assembled together a few weeks ago.

Lau told CNN he had ordered the machine from Taiwan, but Covid-19 conditions prevented technicians from coming to install it, so that responsibility fell on him and Irbrito.

Making modern tofu: using a reflector to control the thickness of soy milk, plain textCredit: Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

The two-foot-tall car is the secret of the duo’s latest venture, a modern Franco-Chinese restaurant celebrating one of the world’s most misunderstood ingredients, soybeans.

Although the Mora restaurant opened in 2022, it is already listed in the Michelin online guide and the waiting list for a table lasts two months.

Lau noted that the restaurant concept emerged while researching recipes for a tofu tasting menu for her restaurant, in 2020.

The factor that really distinguishes tofu, Lau said, is its quality.

To make the best tofu in town, the best soy milk must first be produced, and here comes this great machine.

Erbrito, who has become an expert in soy milk production, puts the beans in the machine, which are soaked in water for about 10 hours.

The grains are ground at a speed of 60 seconds per kilogram and boiled for 5-10 minutes after reaching a temperature of 98 ° C.

For nine minutes, the Airbrito monitors the flow meter, a device that measures the speed of water passing through it.

Moments later, soy milk is extracted and the room is filled with the aroma of Japanese tones.

Lau noted that the change can be felt immediately, it is creamy and the taste menu is centered around it.

Dishes and ingredients vary with the seasons.

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Crispy pancakes with soy milk from Mora, plain textCredit: Courtesy of Mor

Tofu is growing in popularity amid the coronavirus pandemic

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Although it opened in 2022, Mora has reached the Michelin guide online and has a bi-monthly waiting list for those who want to dine there, plain_textCredit: Courtesy of Mor

Lau is not the only one fascinated by soy and tofu.

Tofu has become a staple in East Asia since its discovery about two thousand years ago, and has become a popular ingredient in recent years, with its demand in the sky during the pandemic.

Data from Nelson Holdings Inc., a US information and data company, show that tofu sales in the United States grew by 40% in the first half of 2020.

Lau believes the pandemic is partly responsible for the opening of her new restaurant, Mora.

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Lau hopes to inspire people to include more soy foods in their daily diets., Plain_textCredit: Courtesy of Mor

“Mora’s concept arose during COVID-19 because I was thinking about my identity as a chef, I do not want to just become a chef of good food. I want to be someone who does well in the world as well,” she said.

In the past decade, Lau has noted the difficulty of getting some ingredients.

By showing how soybeans are produced and fresh tofu is enjoyed, she hopes people will appreciate the vegetarian food.

Mora’s principles revolve around “refreshing a tradition like tofu and educating people to include it in their diet”.

Three-century tofu restaurant in Kyoto

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Tofu is believed to have been first discovered 2000 years ago., Plain_textCredit: Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

Legend has it that tofu was discovered by a Chinese health-conscious prince named Liu An more than 2,000 years ago when he was making an elixir.

Ann realized that the remaining soy milk under certain conditions was cottage cheese and had developed into a structure similar to pudding, the beginnings of tofu.

But historical records referring to tofu only began to appear in the 19th century during the Song Dynasty of China. It is common for Buddhist monks visiting China to bring it to neighboring countries like Japan.

Today, the traditional art of tofu making is well preserved in the Japanese city of Kyoto, where restaurants dedicated to temple food and traditional cuisine are still plentiful.

Okutan, established more than 380 years ago, is one of the oldest tofu restaurants in the city.

Tadasuke Ogura, 47, who is the 16th owner of Okutan Kiyomizu, said he was not interested in tofu when he was young.

“After my father asked me for help, I became deeply interested in tofu,” he added.

Ogura left his business to devote more time to his family restaurant when he was in his thirties.

The tofu menu “good old days” is the best in the restaurant.

It starts with cold sesame tofu pudding known as tofu gum, then grilled tofu with a layer of miso, a Japanese spice made from fermented soy.

This is followed by the famous yutofu, which is tofu cubes boiled in a meat juice known as mutton in Japanese cuisine.

Tofu travels the world

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Platter Tofu Silken by Mora, plain textCredit: Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

As East Asia has known tofu for over a thousand years, it took much longer for it to spread globally.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, wrote a passionate letter while in London, which he attached with a few soybeans, to “Chinese cheese” in 1770.

It was one of the oldest recorded documents to mention tofu in the West.

Li Shizheng, a spy turned tofu lover, is often estimated to have made tofu a widely accepted food outside of Asia.

Xisheng is said to have been initially sent by the Chinese government to attend a French military school as a spy and ended up studying at the agricultural school in Montargis and developed a passion for promoting tofu in France.

Shisheng built a tofu factory in Paris in 1908, applied for the world’s first patents of soy milk, wrote books, and organized a hearty lunch with a tofu center.

Demonstration of tofu myths

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Mura makes Japanese-style soy milk, which is thicker and creamier, to make tofu., Plain_textCredit: Maggie HIufu Wong / CNN

Few people in the United States are obsessed with tofu, like Mark Messina, a doctor who also learned about the ingredient in the 1970s.

Messina’s professional interest in tofu did not begin until 1989 when he was program director for the Diet and Cancer Branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Messina was responsible for identifying promising areas of research when he received a memorandum seeking the link between breast cancer prevention and soy.

Within a few months, he organized a seminar on the role of soy in cancer prevention and treatment and published the results.

“As I learned more about soy, I became interested in its potential benefits in addition to cancer,” Messina said. “As a result, I left the National Cancer Institute in 1992 to devote all my time to studying soy.”

He is now the Director of Nutrition Science and Research at the Soybean Food Institute, a nonprofit organization with members of diverse expertise, including major food brands, scientists and soybean growers, that aims to promote soy-based foods.

Messina stressed that there are many myths about soy, such as that tofu increases the risk of breast cancer, but today’s clinical research shows the opposite.

“While animal research in the 1990s suggested that soy may be harmful to women with a history of breast cancer, human research today suggests it may be beneficial,” he said.

Messina recommends eating ½ cup of tofu and soy products two to three times a week, especially for young girls.

Messina noted that tofu is cheap, versatile and widely available, and in addition to being a source of protein, it can be a good source of calcium and is rich in isoflavones.

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