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Red Lentil Tohu

Skip to the recipe! Skip to the science!

We have a 2-ingredient recipe (including water) and a whole geeky food science post to make up for how quick the recipe is! In other words: an ode to lentils.

In the image: red lentil tohu

Have you heard of ‘Tohu’?

You might have heard of ‘Chickpea tohu’ specifically.

It is considered to be Burmese “tofu”, assimilated to tofu in Myanmar due to their similar uses in the kitchen, as well as providing a good source of plant based protein.

Technically, the nature of what it is made of and how it is made is very different to tofu. A more precise reference might be polenta.

Similarly to Polenta, chickpea tohu preparation relies on cooking whole chickpea flour (or pulverized chickpeas) with water while constantly stirring until a semi-gelatinous mass forms, which solidifies into a solid gel upon cooling.

Similar products can be found in other parts of the world. The French Panisse, and similarly the Sicilian street food is known as Panelle.

Well, it can also be made using red lentils:

In fact, I prefer making it using red lentils, as I prefer their flavour and texture.

The texture is the very definition of comfort food (when reheated it has a scrumptious, gnocchi-like mouth feel), yet, it is light enough that it doesn't leave me with a food-hangover after lunch.

This tohu really shines a light on the mighty lentil’s versatility.

It can be so much more than the basis of dals and soups.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am the first person to swoon over a hearty lentil stew

But if we explore and exploit legumes’ full culinary uses, they can offer us so much more.

The phenomenon at the heart of making this solid tohu gel out of lentils is called: Gelation.

More specifically; Starch gelatinization.

In the image: red lentil and water right at the end of the gelatinization process in the pot, before cooling.

Starch Gelatinization:

Contrary to popular belief, the term gelatinization does not come from the product gelatin (a protein derivative of bone collagen), but it is related in the sense that the name gelatin was given to a protein after it was found to be able to set water (or liquids) to a semi-solid state resembling ice formation in the sense that it 'solidified' water.

In Latin; Gelatus, meaning stiff or frozen, was the term that helped coin the name for gelatin (it was in close competition with “irreversibly hydrolyzed bone collagen peptides”. Shockingly, the former proved more catchy....)

Many of us will be familiar with terms such as gelato (Italian ice cream), which comes from the same etymological root.

Gelation is the phenomenon of turning a liquid into a gel or a solid by use of polymers. Polymers which can solidify a liquid are collectively known as hydrocolloids.

Gelatinization refers specifically to the reaction that takes place where starches are used to gelate a liquid.

Gelation biochemistry; Starch can thicken a large amount of liquid upon heating:

Source: The culinary institute of America

Starch is made up of glucose molecules arranged into two types of polymers; Amylose and Amylopectin. Amylose consists of linear long molecules, which coil up into long helices when dissolved in water, while amylopectin is short, branched, and more compact. The latter can form double helices with other amylopectin molecules and become highly organized and crystallized,

These starch molecules are found in starch granules within plant cells.

When cold water is added to starch only a small amount is absorbed by the starch granules, not resulting in the thickening of the liquid.