What’s in tofu pudding? Dietitian shares the history of this Hong Kong dessert, its health benefits and an easy recipe

  • Created centuries ago by a Chinese prince, tofu pudding is now a popular street food, and it has a good amount of protein, calcium and iron
  • Every week, Talking Points gives you a worksheet to practise your reading comprehension with questions and exercises about the story we’ve written
Michelle Lau |

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Known for its silky smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture, tofu pudding also has some surprising health benefits. Photo: Shutterstock

Humble ingredients make up Hong Kong’s famous street foods, and that cannot be more true for the city’s most beloved dessert, dou fu faa or tofu pudding.

Made from soybeans and served in sugar syrup, the simple yet satisfying snack was an accidental result of the quest for immortality.

According to legend, Liu An, a Chinese prince during the Han dynasty, was attempting to create an elixir for eternal life when he accidentally knocked some gypsum powder into a bucket of soy milk. The mixture curdled into a silken soy pudding, and the rest is history.

The treat became immensely popular and a staple for many because of its smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture and versatility. It can be eaten hot, cold, sweet, savoury or even spicy, with different regions putting their own twist on the dish.

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Tofu pudding also found its place in Hong Kong, where it is enjoyed as a light dessert to wash down a meal – and for good reason too. It is a lot healthier compared to other traditional Chinese desserts such as black sesame soup or walnut paste, which both have sugar as an ingredient.

One bowl of tofu pudding without toppings contains about 160 calories and 0 grams of sugar. On the other hand, the same serving of black sesame soup is packed with 20 grams of sugar and 349 calories, while a bowl of walnut paste has 18.9 grams of sugar and 321.2 calories.

Made mostly of soybeans and coagulants, such as nigari or gelatin, this silky dessert is an excellent source of protein, with 6 grams per serving. It is also gluten-free, making it an ideal snack for people with coeliac disease.

Those who are particularly health-conscious will be pleased to know that tofu pudding does not contain any cholesterol and is an excellent source of iron and calcium. It also contains isoflavones that may protect against some forms of cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Nowadays, shops often offer a variety of toppings to go with your tofu dessert. Photo: Shutterstock

But as you can imagine, the simple tofu pudding is rarely eaten alone. Gooey, sweet syrup is usually poured over the silken dessert, with a spoonful of orange cane sugar heaped on top. Many Hong Kong dessert shops also offer exciting toppings such as glutinous rice, sago and red bean, and some also have the option to mix the tofu with other dessert soups like black sesame paste.

While these additions may enhance the tofu’s taste, they also add quite a bit of sugar to Liu An’s original dou fu faa. As many of us are watching our health during the pandemic, it may be wise to find toppings that don’t completely overwhelm the natural goodness of tofu.

If you are craving some tofu pudding and want to take a break from online learning, here is a version of this tasty street snack that you can easily whip up at home.

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Home-made tofu pudding recipe

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3 cups of store-bought unsweetened soy milk (contains only soybeans and water)

  • 2 tablespoons of gelatin powder

  • dash maple syrup (optional)

  • chilled watermelon cubes (optional)


  1. Prepare four small bowls.

  2. Pour the unsweetened soy milk into a medium-sized saucepan.

  3. Sprinkle the gelatin powder over the soy milk, and allow the mixture to stand for five minutes.

  4. Place the saucepan on the stove over medium heat, and stir for about 5 minutes until the gelatin dissolves. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

  5. Turn off the heat, and strain the mixture over a fine sieve to remove any gelatin residue. Pour equal amounts of the strained mixture into each bowl. Skim off any bubbles from the surface with a ladle.

  6. Allow the bowls of soy milk mixture to cool to room temperature before transferring them to the refrigerator to set for at least eight hours.

  7. To serve, drizzle a dash of maple syrup, or add some chilled watermelon cubes. Tuck into your bowl of healthy, wobbly dou fu faa!

Click here to download a printable worksheet with questions and exercises about this story. Answers are on the second page of the document.

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