It's easy to poke fun at tofu, in part because it's so easy to poke. That blubbering mass of bean curd takes a whole lot of marinating, grilling, and blending to look even a little bit appetising. It doesn't help that dildo/tofu jokes seem to be the go-to jibe of every aggressively carnivorous "comedian." Alright, they're both disappointing meat substitutes, we get it.
It's kind of unfair, then, that an actually delicious ingredient is set to be subject to yet more ridicule. This time, the bad tofu press come courtesy of "Mr. He," a man with an insatiable love for soy.
Last week, the 55-year-old—named only in local news reports as "Mr. He"—underwent a two-hour operation to remove 420 kidney stones at a hospital in China's Zhejiang Province. According The Daily Mail, the surgeon who treated him said that it took 45 minutes to remove all the stones.
"At the end of the operation, I realised my arms and legs were numb. The plate used to collect the stones had at least 420 of them of varying sizes and coloured green and yellow," Dr Wei told People's Daily Online.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. He was experiencing extreme discomfort in the weeks before the operation and doctors speculate that had it been delayed any longer, his kidney may have needed to be removed.
The culprit behind this abdominal abomination? Yup, our quivering friend, tofu.
See, while delicious, tofu also contains high levels of calcium, a substance which cannot be excreted out of the body without a sufficient intake of water. If you're going HAM on it and not drinking enough fluid—as doctors say Mr. He was—calcium can build up in the body as kidney stones.
While there are no details of exactly how much tofu Mr. He was getting through, it was a lot more than the odd tofu pad Thai delivery.
"An excess amount of anything is, by definition, too much. However the use of calcium sulphate as a coagulant [a substance used for thickening] is questionable if taken to excessive levels," explains Ron Malarkey, Director of Yorkshire-based tofu production company R & R Tofu. "The best tofu is made by using refined sea salt in the form of magnesium chloride as the main remaining constituent after the sodium has been removed. I am not a doctor and calcium sulphate is a permitted food additive, but if eating tofu had caused the problem, it would not be the soya but the calcium sulphate in excess."
It's not the first time tofu's benefits have been thrown into question. There are concerns over the environmental impact of soy plantations and scientists are still debating whether soy consumption actually delivers the cholesterol reduction touted by some nutritionists. Could Mr. He's hospital visit be yet more fodder for the anti-tofu brigade?
"I have never heard of this extreme reaction before. It's amazing that this many stones could even fit in a kidney!" says nutritionist and registered dietitian Jo Travers. "I do recommend tofu as part of a balanced diet. It's a good source of lean protein and calcium (evidently!), and it's quite versatile in terms of things you can add it to."
Travers adds that combined with correct fluid intake, there's no reason not to enjoy tofu in moderation. Sadly, this won't be the case for Mr. He. His family have vowed that "he will not continue eating tofu in the same volumes as previously."
It's soy long, farewell to Mr. He's tofu habit.