And knowing that tofu is produced by coagulating soy milk and pressing it into curds makes its popularity hard to fathom. Especially when about £5m worth of the rubbery stuff is brought to the UK every year. Tofu arrived in the West halfway through the 20th century, having been common in China as far back as the second century BC. Central to traditional Asian cooking, it can be served raw, stewed, stir-fried, in soup, cooked in sauce, or stuffed. For the gourmet, there is 'thousand-layer tofu', where the tofu is frozen, allowing ice crystals to form cavities. Or for the even more discerning palate, there's 'stinky tofu', fermented in a unique vegetable and fish brine. Enthusiasts praise its 'fecal odour'. In Chinese culture, tofu is also used as an offering when visiting relatives' graves - apparently the ghosts, whose jaws have long since disappeared, can still cope with squishy bean curd. In the West, however, tofu has been hijacked by the no-meat brigade. Not content with the usual vegetables, vegetarians here have opted for a range of tofu-based meat replacements, including that rather alarming-sounding Christmas treat, the 'tofurky'. But vegetarians should beware: that tofu-burger you're about to scoff with an air of smugness may have been made from okara, otherwise known as soy pulp, a tofu by-product traditionally set aside for the pigs.
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