Think tofu has to be made from soy? When I first came across this Japanese dish called Goma Dofu or sesame tofu, I thought it was an ingenious idea – a soy-free tofu made from sesame paste!
Tofu, in the traditional sense, is made by coagulating proteins in soy milk. Common coagulants used are magnesium chloride (nigari), calcium chloride or calcium sulphate (gypsum). (The divalent cations of these salts react with the anionic groups of the soy proteins, which destabilizes their structure and cause coagulation.) However since sesame does not contain as high levels of protein as soy, Goma Dofu is solidified using a starch, typically kuzu or kudzu starch, although arrowroot or potato starch may also be used. On the differences between the different starches, kuzu starch, which is extracted from the root of the kuzu plant, imparts a more elastic texture than arrowroot or potato starch.
I bought the Goma Dofu from a Japanese supermarket although it can be easily made from just three ingredients – sesame paste (white or black), kuzu starch and water. My first thought? Bleah, just pass me real tahini instead! It was starchier than expected but less so than tapioca balls, slightly gelatinous and wobbly, and its consistency was firmer than silken tofu not quite as firm as an agar jelly. It had a mild hint of sesame just enough to be noticed, but left you craving more, and being the ardent tahini addict, I proceeded to smother the goma dofu in a coat of tahini. Much better!
Typically, Goma Dofu is served as an appetizer or as a course in kaiseki dining. It was probably invented by Japanese Buddhist monks and is considered the most symbolic food of Shojin Ryori (vegetarian temple cuisine). Apart from excluding meat and fish, one website even says that root vegetables are excluded! It is believed that harvesting will cause the death of the vegetables, which is against their principle philosophy of “don’t kill.” As such, only grains, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits are used. An in-depth article on Shojin Ryori can be found here.
So overall, I didn’t quite take to Sesame Tofu, although some has gone so far as to describe it as giving melt-in-your mouth experience. Sesame Tofu is not only the faux tofu; this can also be made with ground peanuts (peanut tofu), or also check out Shan tofu, a Burmese staple made from chickpea flour.