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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Palak Tofu or Tofu in Spinach Gravy, and some Health Issues

I first tasted Palak Paneer or Cheese in Spinach Sauce more than 15 years ago in a Northern Indian restaurant. This is an Indian Vegetarian Dish. I fell in love with it. I don’t have Paneer at home, but I do have silken tofu. Why not substitute Paneer with tofu? They’re both white.   :)

I know it’s easy to make Paneer.  I saw Chef Michael Smith do that with milk and lemon juice. But 8 cups of milk for just that 1 small piece of cheese in return??? Nah, that’s too pricey. Tofu is much much cheaper. Chinese cheese that is, anyway. Cheapskate

At first glance, Mike said, what yuck is that??? But when he eats it…. Yummy.
So, do not judge this by it’s looks. It’s really good.

Palak Tofu (Serves 2-4)
150gm spinach (Por Choy not Yeen Choy(bayam), which is Amaranth), cut into 1 inch lengths.
1 smallish onion, about 30gm,
1 medium sized tomato
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup water
(omit both onion and garlic if Chinese Vegetarian)
Simmer onion, tomato, and garlic in water until soft. Remember to cut them smaller to reduce cooking time. Put in spinach. Cook until it wilts. It should only take less than 1 minute for that. Remove from heat. Puree until fine.

1 block silken tofu, cut into large pieces.
1 tsp butter
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, (Jintan Manis in Malay, do not leave this out, crucial, CRUCIAL!!!!)
Salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

Heat pan/wok on medium heat and put in butter. When butter has almost melted, put in cumin and fry until very fragrant. It should take u about 10 seconds. Put in prepared spinach gravy. Bring to a boil and season with salt. Put in tofu to warm up. Pour into a deep dish to serve.

***Do not prepare the spinach gravy too early, it turns brown in just 2 hours.

Health Issues
Oh yes, I've got some people telling me that spinach are not to be cooked together with tofu and some also  said they should not be consumed together on the same day. Ask them the reason, they do not know why.

So, I did some research on the internet,

Spinach contains oxalic acid and tofu (those made with gypsum, sek koh fun) contains a high calcium amount. Oxalic acid in spinach binds with the calcium in tofu and forms an insoluble oxalate that later will turn to kidney stones. Please read here, especially the part about "Calcium". Soy milk on the other hand does not contain much calcium that can be absorbed by the body, and so is safe to be consumed with spinach. So, the culprit here is the gypsum, not the bean.

So, should you try this dish out??? Yes, why not? It's the calcium from the gypsum that's the problem. Just buy those that are not made with calcium sulphate which is gypsum or sek koh fun. In Singapore it's not a problem because all tofu there are not made with gypsum, but in Malaysia, please read the labels and select tofu that does not contain  "calcium sulphate/gypsum/sek koh fun", and get those coagulated with GDL or magnesium sulphate. These types of tofu are easily available at supermarkets/hypermarkets. If you buy at the wet market, most probably they are made with gypsum.
But if to you, once in a while thing is not an issue, then let it be. Any tofu will do.

From Wikipedia "Oxalate occurs widely in the plant kingdom, e.g. fat hen (lamb's quarters), sorrel, and Oxalis species. The root and/or leaves of rhubarb and buckwheat are listed as being high in oxalic acid.It arises biosynthetically via the incomplete oxidation of carbohydrates.

Other edible plants that contain significant concentrations of oxalate include—in decreasing order—star fruit (carambola), black pepper, parsley, poppy seed, amaranth (bayam), spinach, chard, beets, cocoa, chocolate, most nuts, most berries, fishtail palms, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) and beans. The gritty “mouth feel” one experiences when drinking milk with a rhubarb dessert is caused by precipitation of calcium oxalate.[citation needed] The calcium is abstracted from the casein in dairy products.

Leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) contain among the greatest measured concentrations of oxalic acid relative to other plants. However the infusion beverage typically contains only low to moderate amounts of oxalic acid per serving, due to the small mass of leaves used for brewing. "

Read this too: Taken from here

The following are some examples of the most common sources of oxalates, arranged by food group. It is important to note that the leaves of a plant almost always contain higher oxalate levels than the roots, stems, and stalks.

blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, kiwifruit, concord (purple) grapes, figs, tangerines, and plums

Vegetables (see Table 1 for additional information)
Most oxalate-dense vegetables: spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, collards, okra, parsley, leeks and quinoa
Moderately dense in oxalates : celery, green beans, rutabagas, and summer squash would be considered

Nuts and seeds
almonds, cashews, and peanuts

soybeans, tofu and other soy products

wheat bran, wheat germ, quinoa (a vegetable often used like a grain)

cocoa, chocolate, and black tea

So, after reading this,
Do you think it's only spinach that you should avoid with gypsum tofu or any other calcium rich foods???
No, it's like a whole list of food and tea

You can't eat your poppy seed cake, your summer fruit tart made with all sort of pretty berries, stir fried okra, your favourite bayam soup, or Chocolate cake, or even Milo when you are having Gypsum laden tofu that day. No nuts that day, no wine (they are made with grapes eh), no whole wheat stuff (cos they contain bran and germ), no teh tarik, no Ooloong... on the day you eat old fashioned tofu.

So whatcha gonna eat???
Just eat the tofu with plain rice and you'll be safe.
Or start buying tofu not made with Gypsum, then you can eat anything you like that day.

And it's not only old fashioned tofu, but any soluble, absorbable calcium rich foods that should be avoided with food that contains oxalic acid (which is like almost everything plant derived). Think about your calcium supplements, your favourite Hi-Calcium Milk, your yogurt, your cheese, your Hi-Calcium biscuits, your sardines, your ikan bilis. All these will react with the spinach, the star fruit, the grapefruit, the nuts, the berries and the chocolate you ate that day. And remember no Chinese tea or ice lemon tea after eating these.

How much can you avoid????
Better don't eat anything then.


  1. Walaa... like that better don't eat tofu at all lah... most tofu sold without labelling anyway. I love paneer & wish I could try this recipe with real paneer... One thing I heard (& I'm conscious about) is cooking spinach in aluminium wok as spinach said to cause the aluminium to be released into the food. SO I used stainless steel pot or other types to cook spinach...

  2. Home Kreation,
    If you buy your tofu at supermarkets, they come labeled.
    Actually, I don't really bother with it, cos I don't really eat it everyday, or even every other day, and I don't eat a heck lot.

    I've never heard about spinach in aluminium vessels will cause it to leak aluminium, but cooking anything with acid will. Which makes almost all the laksa sold out there tainted with aluminium, cos semua periuk besar made with aluminium and the woks they use, all also aluminium. And the air asam jawa or those small sour cucumbers they use to cook gulai can cause aluminium to leak from the pots /woks they use.
    One really has to think twice when eating Malay food outside cos I think Air asam is quite indispensable and the type of pots they use is a big matter. Unless they are using stainless steel pots or ceramic wares, of which is..

  3. HomeKreation again,
    Actually it's not only tofu, but actually any soluble absorbable calcium rich food. Think about your calcium supplements, or Hi Calcium milk. All will react with these oxalic acid rich food and might give you kidney stones.

  4. The key word is "moderation". As long as we do not overconsume, it's alright to eat it once in a while. If we are going to nitpick what can be cooked together or not, we will all end up being paranoid. Thanks for the info. Btw, that's an interesting dish which I might consider trying. Looks certainly deceives.

  5. Wah!! This is super healthy! Really like to try out how the taste like :) Thanks for sharing!

  6. Judy,
    Yeah. I believe that too.
    It's just that I was told this by people that I should not talk back to, or reject their advive face to face.

    So, if they read this post, then at least they don't blind blind tell me not to cook spinach with tofu, and it also help to clarify other readers if they have ever heard of this, but never knew why.

    But since I did some reading up on these stuff today, I don't think I'll buy anymore calcium enriched food, as they may really react with all the common natural foods we eat.
    The calcium in the enriched food is not natural and are added in. So, better consume less.

  7. Kitchen Corner,
    True true.. it looks ugly, but taste yummy.

  8. This is the first time I heard of this. mmm interesting to know. I am pretty sure I've eaten tofu with the list you mentioned above many times. I think it is unavoidable. I love the vibrant color of you dish. So green and not like those from the Indian restaurant which look brownish and unappetizing :)

  9. ICook4Fun,
    I cooked this dish twice. First time it turned brown and ugly like you said, but taste is not affected. Maybe I made the spinach gravy way too early, 2 hours before putting in the tofu.
    2nd time, it was immediate and the green colour was retained.
    The restaurants might have cooked a large batch of it, and reheated it for you.

  10. sedap meh... look not good for me. :P

  11. Voon,
    Don't be fooled by how it looks.
    Sometimes hotel food look good, but do they taste good?

    My husband said yucks when he saw it, but one taste only, he totally changed his mind about it and ate so much, especially the green gravy.
    It will only feel like eating those angmoh soup.
    And the jintan manis is the thing that makes it very nice.

  12. Oh, I know this one - Spinach with Paneer. I almost always order this when I eat out at Indian restaurant. I didn't know that the Tofu in Singapore does not have else will they coagulate the soya milk? I will need the labels next time...

  13. Shirley,
    I only got to know after I did a lot of googling back when I tried out tofufah.
    It's a banned substance there.

    They use GDL- glucono delta lactone, or maybe magnesium sulfate, or calcium chloride, either one.

  14. Thanks for that informative list! We need more bloggers like you. :) I did heard about avoiding tofu with spinach, but like you said, we don't eat it that often and much can we avoid? Life's too short to think so much about enjoying the good food around us...thanks for sharing this. :)

  15. Thanx for sharing a detailed healthy info, Wendy. I do eat a lot of Tofu and i can eat it everyday but i've been avoiding the Taufufah since i know what they're made of. I only buy Tofu from the wet market as i think it contains lesser chemical sub coz i can smell it from the supermarket silken tofu. I don't know much bout Singapore but i think SG government do controls much on the food compared to M'sia here.

  16. My in-laws buys tofu at the wet market, so I'll just close my two eyes and eat...As I read your post, I remembered that I took quite some calcium pils when I was br-feeding with EeChao I'm taking Hi-Cal milk almost everyday. That means...Charm!
    Eh, you puree your spinach while still hot? Your blender made of glass kah?

  17. Bee,
    Yeah.. There's really no point. Cos the culprit is not only tofu, but everything we eat actually can react with each other. Unless I turn carnivore then maybe can escape the oxalates.

  18. Samsam,
    Tofufah and tofu are made from gypsum. Both the same. Maybe cos tofufah got smell if because it's hot and maybe it's the cornstarch smell la, nowadays cheap cornstarch got some kind of smell.

    Actually tofu from wet market is worse than tofufah. Tofu is just pressed tofufah. Imagine, 1 cup of tofufah, pressed will become 1/2 cup tofu. If you eat 1 cup tofu, means it's the same as 2 cups tofufah. See, the concentration of gypsum is higher in tofu, cos the water is released. Tofufah just has more water than regular tofu and they are basically made from the same pot.

    Which is why I always scatch my head, Tofufah bad for health, but tofu??? GOOD, eat more. They are the same, all made with gypsum (in Malaysia)

  19. Mel,
    Eat la... even if you don't eat those tofu, you eat supplements, drink hi calcium milk, or calcium enriched milk.. all same la.

    I let the spinach cool down for a while, until very warm, then I blitz it la. Don't leave it around too long, it'll turn brown. My blender cheapo Panasonic plastic one la.

  20. Hi, Wendy thanks for the info, I supposed if we eat everything in moderation should be fine.
    By the way, sorry I've to ask this question in this unrelated post, I read in Dodol's post that you bought the Rose's heavenly for USD18?does it include freight charges, coz when I check out the amazon it cost about USD24.78 before freight charges (another USD 4.99 freight chg for Malaysia), wish to order one soon.

  21. Omg ... i gotta eat less of my fav food now.

  22. Sem,
    Yup, I believe in moderation too, and how to avoid oxalates and calcium products on the same day, I really dunno how.

    Buying books in Amazon is like sharemarket, today's price may not be the same as next week's or last week's.
    That price was w/o freight, eh, 4.99 to Msia not expensive leh. It's already 3.99(If not remember wrongly) to US. Darn!!! I think I better get them sent directly here next time.

  23. Sem,
    I saw in amazon, the book is going for $19plus.
    Oh I think I got my heavenly cakes not from amazon, but another site (recommended by my sis in law, but I've forgotten the name), but it only delivers to US address. I bought there cos it was $1 cheaper than what was in amazon.


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