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I just read a restaurant review in the New York Times that mentions "almond tofu."

Made from almonds, it has the luxurious texture of a custard rather than the rubbery bounce of bean-curd tofu.

Wikipedia refers "Almond tofu" to the "Almond jelly" listing and notes that it can also be called "Almond pudding."

Still, however, I have coworkers who maintain "there is no such thing as almond tofu. Tofu has to be made out of soy!"

Are they correct?

Update:

Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the New York Times, responds via Twitter:

It's analogous to traditional Japanese goma tofu, made from sesame.

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"Tofu, also called bean curd, is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks." --Wikipedia –  Lauren Apr 3 '12 at 21:07
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This reads to me as "People disagree about whether word definitions are exacting. Do they disagree about whether word definitions are exacting?" You've answered it yourself, if indeed it is a question. –  Matthew Read Apr 3 '12 at 21:13
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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

It's semantic nitpicking.

Tofu is defined as soy milk, curdled and pressed. Some people who don't care about oriental culinary tradition think of tofu as any non-dairy milk that is curdled and pressed into a curd.

Technically your almond tofu would be almond milk curd or some such.

In reality your coworker is being pedantic and I would accept the term "almond tofu" as a perfectly understandable, non oriental, colloquialism.

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"Milk" being a term for the lacteal fluid of a female mammal, one might also question whether this word is appropriate for a seed extract. I suspect it was a marketing term introduced to make the whitish juice left over from soybean processing sound like something healthy and edible. –  J. Winchester Apr 5 '12 at 23:47
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@J.Winchester soyinfocenter.com/HSS/soymilk1.php You might say that it was a marketing term but if so it was an old one. The term starting being used in English around 1900. There is a precedent for calling milky extracts 'milk'. Coconut milk comes to mind. –  Sobachatina Apr 6 '12 at 0:22
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I am Chinese from Hong Kong and there is a dessert called "almond tofu" IN CHINESE. The "almond" part refers to the almond extract, one of the ingredients. The "tofu" part refers to the texture of the final product, similar to silken tofu. It is really a jelly made from milk and jellying agent. The jellying agent can be unflavored gelatin or agar agar. I use unflavored gelatin because it is more widely available.

Each envelope (.25 oz) unflavored gelatin gels up to 2 cups of liquid, but a lower ratio is safer. I have more success using a envelope for every 1.5 cups of liquid. The liquid can be all milk, half water and half milk, or almond milk. Each will give a white color to the final product. Bloom the unflavored gelatin in 1/2 cup of water to soak up the water. Boil half the liquid, remove from fire, stir in the wet unflavored gelatin until dissolved, stir in desired amount of sugar until dissolved, stir in remaining half of the cold liquid (subtracting 1/2 cup used). Stir in 1 or 2 tsp of almond extract until fragrant (omit this step if using almond milk). Refrigerate until firm. At the same time refrigerate a large can of fruit cocktail. When the almond jelly is firm cut into cubes or diamonds. Stir in fruit cocktail with all the syrup. Cover and chill until serving time. It makes a nice summer dessert. Happy experimenting!

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Tofu is a specific word; it's a Chinese word that literally means "bean curd". (Pretty much every source that gives a definition of "tofu" agrees - I would say every source, but it's the Internet so I'm sure ther's misinformation out there.) Therefore, you cannot have tofu made of almonds. You can have an almond product that has the consistency and texture of tofu, but it is not "tofu" in the strict sense of the term.

That's all there is to it. It's a matter of being a linguistic purist. (For the same reasons one would be angry at the term "chai tea," since "chai" IS the Hindi word for "tea.")

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If you're going to be a linguistic purist, you should make sure you spell it that way (unless you meant that you're not just a purist, you're the purest of them all). –  octern Apr 3 '12 at 23:53
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I would assume they're talking about an almond-flavoured dessert tofu. Scroll part-way down this page to see one company's version.

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