Fermented foods are all the rage in the health world, and for good reason. They contain helpful microorganisms, that when consumed take up residence in our digestive tract (aka gut) and help us lead healthier lives. Stinky tofu is prepared by soaking tofu in special probiotic rich brine for two weeks. Then it’s usually fried and eaten with a spicy sauce.
Probiotics are the good bacteria and yeasts that ferment the foods we love, to create even tastier and healthier delights. For example, fermentation gives Sriracha sauce and Tabasco their unique flavor. Milk can be fermented to create a great variety of foods, including yogurt, Yakult, and kefir. Soybeans can be made into miso, natto, or tempeh. Kombucha is a sweet fermented tea that is currently very popular in North America. In China, suan cai is a well-known fermented food. It can be thought of as the Asian version of sauerkraut, as they are both made from fermented cabbage.
Probiotics have not only taken the health world by storm but the medical community as well. There are many studies documenting the amazing ways that probiotics influence our health. These tiny organisms help break down food, produce vitamins, boost our immunity, affect our cardiovascular system, and even communicate with our brain, possibly influencing anxiety and mood. Fun fact: Our body is composed of approximately 60 trillion cells. Half those cells are of human origin and the other half are bacterial, this means bacteria are an integral part of the human body!
Going back to our beloved stinky tofu, scientists have discovered new species of probiotics in the brine. Some of these bacteria have the ability to produce a soy-based compound called equol. For some people this process happens in the digestive tract; bacteria in the gut convert soy isoflavones into equol. But not everyone has the ability to do this. Equol has been found to benefit menopausal women by staving off hot flashes and helping improve bone density. In the past, there were no known food sources of equol, but now we know that stinky tofu contains it. In animal studies, equol has specific benefits to cardiovascular function, but more human studies are needed to confirm this effect. Though stinky tofu is made using probiotics, high cooking temperatures destroy the helpful bacteria they contain. Foods with live probiotics are usually kept refrigerated.
In general, choudoufu (stinky tofu) has benefits similar to tofu. It’s a high source of a complete, easily digestible vegetable protein. It contains calcium, manganese, iron, phosphorous, selenium, and many other nutrients. It can help decrease cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.
In recent years concerns have been raised about the safety of soy-based foods. I will tackle this issue in my next column, but in the meantime feel free to enjoy some stinky tofu. It may smell bad, but it does a body good.
Got a question?
Dr. Melissa Rodriguez is a naturopathic
doctor and mother of two, who works at Beijing United Family Hospital. To find out more, check out her website at www.drmelissarodriguez.com
Photos: Courtesy of Dr. Melissa Rodriguez;
This article appeared on p20 of beijingkids February 2018 issue.