The History of Tofu

Tofu in modern-days is a popular protein source for many athletes and fitness instructors, it is widely used in vegetarian and vegan meals. But did you know that Tofu originated more than 2,000 year ago in China where cuisine is deeply intertwined with culture.

A Quick Chronological Timeline of Tofu History

965 AD

There are a few sources that describe where tofu is first mentioned. The oldest piece of evidence is found in a Chinese text written by Tao Ku. It tells a story about a poor mayor who couldn’t afford to buy lamb meat so instead he purchased some doufu (tofu) to have with his rice. This document dates back to 965 AD, demonstrating that tofu was widely consumed during those times and was a meal eaten by people who couldn’t afford meat. Tofu was also often used as a food offering when visiting graves of deceased relatives.



This is the first time the word “tofu” is mentioned in a Japanese transcript. A Shinto priest, named Hiroshige Nakaomi, in his diary describes how he made a tofu offering at an altar in the Kasuga Shrine. However, It is believed that tofu was brought back to Japan a lot earlier by Kento priests who went to study Buddhism in China in the Nara era (710 AD – 794 AD).


It was the first time the word “Tofu” was written in Japan using the same characters as today.



Domingo Fernández Navarrete, was the first one to give more details around tofu in his book “A Collection of Voyages and Travels”. He served in China as a Spanish missionary and was intrigued by the “extraordinary dainty”.

…I will briefly mention the most usual, common and cheap sort of food all China abounds in, and which all men in that empire eat, from the emperor to the meanest Chinese. It is called “teufu”, that is, paste of kidney-beans….



James Flint in his letter to Benjamin Franklin writes a detailed description of how the “Chinese convert Callivances into Towfu”. In the same year Benjamin Franklin sends a letter and some soybeans to John Bartham in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania. That was the first mention of tofu in America.

1878 – 1880

Around this time 2 companies were established to start producing tofu in Europe and America. However, it wasn’t on a commercial scale and tofu hasn’t reached the wider public.


Only 25 years later tofu has started to take presence in American grocery markets. in 1906 Quong Hop & Co. starts making and selling tofu in San Francisco, the company was the oldest Chinese-American tofu manufacturer.

tofu manufacturer

By 1920 there was an increase in soya products and 166 shops were established in the USA. However, tofu still wasn’t popular and didn’t attract a lot of consumers until a lot later.


tofu production
tofu production
Li Yu founder of Caséo-Sojaïne

Li Yu-ying, a Chinese biologist and engineer founds Europe’s first soyfoods manufacturer Caséo-Sojaïne introducing tofu to French public. Li would promote tofu by publishing a few articles throughout his career that talk about health benefits of soy beans and soy products. Some articles claimed that products like tofu can alleviate diabetes and arthritic pain. Li along with other engineers created patented equipment for producing bean curds which had an impact on the industry.

In 1 year it was clear that there was demand for soy products and the company expanded its range. You could buy delicious smoked tofu, pressed tofu sheets and fermented tofu cheese as well as soymilk.

From 1910 onward soya production slowly continued to expand into different corners of the World. While soy products would get more attention during World War II, their popularity exponentially increased in 1960’s. Today there are more than 300 tofu manufacturers in Europe and America. Tofu and other soy products became an important source of protein for many vegetarians and is widely considered by many dietitians as a superfood.


  1. The History of Tofu – by William Shurtleff and Akiko Ayoagi
  2. Soft, snowy curds that are unique to Chinese cuisine – Deng Zhangyu
  3. Shinto Priest image
  4. The Chinese-Born Doctor Who Brought Tofu to America
  5. Soya Milk 100+ Years Ago In Paris France