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Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute

Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute

For those of you who have been around reading my blog for a while, you know I am not a HUGE fan of tofu.  But I am always willing to give things a try.  While I was in school studying nutrition, we had a cooking competition in class and the ingredient we all had to use was tofu.  Our group won with our recipe for Crispy Tofu Tacos, but the group right behind us created a Bolognese Sauce with Tofu.  In this recipe, the tofu mimicked ground beef, and I was so impressed with their results that I wanted to experiment on my own and if it works well, maybe a tofu ground beef would have uses in many other recipes.

What is nutritional yeast?
This recipe includes nutritional yeast and I feel like there are likely people out there who are not familiar with it or its uses.  Nutritional yeast, a supplement used frequently in vegan cooking, is the same type of yeast used in baking bread and brewing beer, but it has been specially grown to be used as a food additive.  The cells of the yeast are actually killed in the manufacturing process unlike in bread and brewer’s yeast where it is alive.  When cooking nutritional yeast, it adds a cheese-like, umami flavor to vegan food, but really you could use it as a cheese replacement in any type of food.Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute - Bob's Red Mill Nutritional Yeast

Most often nutritional yeast is fortified with certain vitamins including B-12 which is of particular importance to vegans.  Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal foods and thus vegans are frequently deficient in this vitamin because they do not consume any meat products.  Vitamin B-12 is instrumental in the health and creation of blood and brain cells and also makes DNA in cells.

You can find nutritional yeast in most organic food stores and in some larger urban areas in the regular grocery section.  It is also available online from places like Amazon.

Benefits of eating soy
Research indicates that benefits of eating soy exist.  These benefits include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.  Also, soy appears to benefit women in menopause by reducing the occurrence of hot flashes.  Soy also has a small effect on lowering blood pressure and is known to reduce cholesterol in the blood.  Most of these benefits come from isoflavones contained in the soybeans.  Isoflavones administer a weak estrogen affect on the body which means that in humans eating soy will not necessarily make unexpected things happen in the body.

Macronutrient structure of soy
Soy is rich in protein and contains a higher quality protein than other plant proteins and even animal proteins.  Soy is also a complete protein so it provides with all the essential amino acids needed from food.  The carbohydrates in soy are primarily of the oligosaccharide form which the body is unable to digest.  Soy is known as a prebiotic as these undigested carbohydrates travel to the colon where they serve as food for the healthy bacteria that live there.   Soybeans are also a source of healthy fats including omega-3 and omega-6.

Making the recipe
The process begins with adding flavor to the the tofu and then creating a texture similar to ground beef.  The seasonings work to add color and flavor to the tofu and the oven serves the purpose of drying the tofu out a bit so that it is less squishy.

In the first step of the process (below), remove the tofu from the package and allow it to drain in the sink.  You do not need to attempt to remove any more liquid at this point as additional moisture will cook out in the oven.

Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute - step 1

Create a paste (below) consisting of nutritional yeast, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder and smoked paprika.

Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute - step 2

Crumble the tofu up in to small pieces of assorted sizes and then mix together with the paste.

Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute - crumble tofu

After the tofu and paste are mixed together, spread the tofu out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Be sure to cover the paper well with cooking spray before spreading out the tofu.  The tofu cooks best in an even layer on the sheet pan.

Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute - spread on sheet pan

At about the 25-30 minute mark (below), you will notice that the tofu starts to take on the texture of ground beef.  I recommend that you start checking it every 5 minutes or so at this point to ensure that it doesn’t burn.  The recipe should take around 35-45 minutes to cook the tofu but it could be less time or more time depending on the actual temperature inside your oven and the size of your sheet and how spread out you can get the tofu.

Making a Tofu Ground Beef Substitute - partially cooked tofu


Using tofu “ground beef”
When I cooked this recipe at home, I have to admit that I was very skeptical.  I was impressed when I tried it in class, but I wasn’t sure that I could truly make it work.  Well, I was mistaken.  The results were pretty spectacular.  My version came out a little more red and not meat-like in its color.  But I thought the texture and flavor were great.

In my opinion this form of tofu really shines in recipes such as a pasta sauce or maybe even a thick soup of some sort.  I tried it over pasta with a traditional marinara sauce first and it worked exceptionally well.  The mouth-feel of the tofu was certainly similar to ground beef and the dish had lots of flavor primarily due to the heavily flavored sauce I used.  I also tried it mixed with lentils, taco seasoning and a bit of tomato sauce creating a delicious vegan form of taco filling.

Is eating soy safe?
The results from research on soy are often conflicting, mainly due to the structure and format of the studies.  First, researchers conduct studies on both humans and animals.  In most of the human studies, the results demonstrate the benefits of soy.  In most cases, the negative outcomes resulted from animal studies.  These shouldn’t be completely ignored, however it is important to note that most animal models are quite different from the human body in how they process and metabolize nutrients.

Second, in most research the soy is injected rather ingested thus it completely circumvents what may happen to the soy during digestion and how the body uses it.  Lastly, in research the components of soy are isolated first.  Then the subject receives the isolated component rather than tbeing exposed to the complete soy product which would contain all the components of soy.

Yes, the research is very confusing.  And you may be asking “So what does this all mean?”.  In my opinion, there is more positive research on the value of consuming soy for humans than negative.  And what I take away from all the research is that eating soy in small quantities each day or week will not cause any harm to me.  The only exception here that I want to insert is that if your doctor has advised you to avoid soy in all forms, then that should be respected and followed.  I know in certain types of estrogen type cancers, soy is not allowed.

Tofu Ground Beef

August 16, 2018
: 3
: 5 min
: Easy

Vegetarian tofu ground beef with an authentic texture. Use in your favorite pasta sauce recipe or to create delicious taco dishes and so much more!


  • 1 package extra-firm tofu
  • 1 T low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 T nutritional yeast
  • Step 1 Open tofu package and drain off water.
  • Step 2 Mix all other ingredients together in bowl to create a paste.
  • Step 3 Once tofu has drained, crumble it up into small pieces.
  • Step 4 Mix together paste and tofu until all of the tofu is coated.
  • Step 5 Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly coat with non-stick spray.
  • Step 6 Evenly spread out tofu on pan.
  • Step 7 Place tofu into a 350 degree oven and cook for 30-45 minutes. Stirring every 10 minutes or so to move the tofu around on the pan.

Please take a moment to tell me about thoughts on this recipe or your experience in cooking it by leaving me a comment on the blog.  If you have any questions, you can use the contact me page to send me a message.  I promise to respond.


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