Legend has it that the versatile soybean was first turned into tofu by Prince Liu An of China, more than a millennia ago. It caught on in a big way among Buddhist monks, who had committed to a vegetarian diet, and were probably grateful to have a viable meat substitute for their recipes. “Bean meat,” they called it.
As Buddhism spread throughout the rest of East Asia, so did tofu. And, as the world got smaller, tofu traveled with Asian immigrants throughout the world.
Here in the U.S., tofu was used as a cottage cheese substitute during WWII, but during the 1950s and 60s, meat and dairy were de rigueur at the American dinner table. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 1970s that tofu started to catch on in the vegetarian and health food communities.