Tofu--not in the name

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 2 10:05:36 UTC 2011

OED dates the mention of tofu to 1880. Initially, I made no attempt to
antedate this [but see below], but I did come across, by accident, a
piece of text that described both tofu and the process by which it is made.

And added twist is that soy beans are referred to as "oleaginous peas"
and tofu thus becomes "pea-cheese". Note that OED has "pea" in a generic
sense representing leguminous beans and a number of specific plants and
seeds referred to as "peas", but it has no mention of such use for soy
beans and, for that matter, there is no mention of black-eye[d] peas
under "pea" (although there is one under "black-eyed adj."--more on that
in a separate post).

In any case, here's the clip on "tofu":
Littell's Living Age. No. 1356. May 28, 1870

Chinese Dishes. — The Chinese method of bread-making is curious; the
flour is mixed with water, and the dough rolled by hand, and then shaped
with cones, which are placed on trays or stands made of split bamboo,
and cooked in the steam arising from cast-iron boilers; of course such
bread resembles our own but little, being a good deal like a steamed
hard dumpling. Much of this bread is made of maize; but wheat bread is
much preferred. Rice, however, is the common bread of China, and the
Chinese know how to boil it, which is not often the case in Europe. This
is cooked much in the same way as the bread, being first washed very
carefully in several waters, then placed in bamboo baskets, and
suspended in the steam; or it is boiled for about half an hour, and then
put into a bamboo basket, and not served until nearly all the water has
drained away; but in which ever way it is cooked, the grains are
distinct, like the little fishes in well cooked whitebait. Pease-pudding
is not a luxurious or very expensive dish; and the Chinese have what
they call pea-cheese, which holds much the same rank; it is a very cheap
and useful article of diet, prepared from oleaginous peas, which are
also eaten as vegetables, and from which a rather expensive kind of oil
is made. The making of this cheese, although a simple operation,
requires considerable care; the peas are first steeped in water for
twenty-four hours, and are then drained in a basket; they are then
ground in a hand-mill composed of two hard stones, the upper having a
hole in the centre through which the mill is fed, like a baby, with a
spoon, the water in which they have previously been, being added from
time to time, so that the peas leave the mill in the-form of a thin
paste, which is placed in a filter, and kept constantly agitated by
hand; the filtered liquid is boiled very slowly in an iron vessel, and
presently becomes covered with a thick scum; it is then turned into a
wooden vessel to cool; and, after being stirred about for some time, a
pellicle is formed, which is carefully taken off with a wooden ladle and
then drained; and this is eaten either fresh or dried, and has somewhat
the flavour of new cheese. This is not, however, the pea-cheese which is
made from the liquid in the vat; but a small quantity of water
containing plaster is added, and a few drops of concentrated solution of
salt obtained from the saline marshes; the plaster has the effect of
coagulating the caseine of the peas, and the whole mass, after being
slightly stirred, becomes solid. The cheese they produce is put in
wooden frames about 15 in. square and 2 in. deep; and these are placed
on a stone to drain, with a piece of linen of close texture below each
frame; when sufficiently drained, the cheese is compressed, by means of
pieces of wood loaded with weights, to about half its original
thickness, and is then packed in boxes, and often sent great distances.
The cheese will not in its natural state keep more than a day in hot
weather; but is often salted and otherwise preserved, so as to keep good
for years. A lump of it as big as a man's fist does not cost more than
half a farthing. The poor Chinese also drink the liquid before it is
coagulated, and the cheesemakers' shops are constantly filled with
crowds of customers. Pea cheese forms one of the staple goods of the
country, and is highly nutritious. When fried in oil or grease, like
potatoes, it makes a very delicate dish. Dry pea-cheese contains about
24 per cent. of fatty, and 8 per cent, of azotized matter.

Food Journal

I did eventually try to run a search for tofu in GB, but it's virtually
impossible to sift through the garbage that pops up (a number of
English-Latin dictionaries, for example).

Still, I got one:
Lippincott's magazine of popular literature and science, Volume 13.
January 1874
Japanese Fox Myths. By William E. Griffis. p. 62
> Among the lowest and most ignorant classes the feeding of the live
> fox at night with /tofu/ (bean cheese) fried in oil is thought to
> please Inari and ward off threatened evils from his messenger foxes

What's interesting is that this is a reference to Japan, not China,
which is what I would have expected. But it also offers another
interesting perspective. There are several different types of deep-fried
tofu in use today. In particular, a fried piece of fried tofu, abura
age, is split into a pouch, which is then stuffed with rice to make
Inari-zushi, or, simply, inari. So the belief that abura age is the
favorite food of foxes, whose patron deity is Inari (who is also the
deity of rice, fertility and agriculture) is behind the naming of the
particular type of Japanese snack. Wiki does offer some clues for this,
although the Lippincott piece makes things much more clear.

OED seems to be particularly short when it comes to food and culinary
terminology whether it is contemporary, ethnic or historical. Modern
terms are missing altogether and the historical ones are fairly poorly
dated. This is, of course, not universal--for example, the molecular
gastronomy article is up to date, although I somewhat disagree with the
definition given.


PS: Note that I had sent out the "black-eyed peas" post earlier although
I planned it to be a follow up to this one.

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