A recipe calls for a package of firm tofu. Easy peasy. You head to the grocery, find the tofu section, and scan across the multitude of offerings. Suddenly, a slightly different package of firm tofu catches your eye. You may wonder, “Sprouted tofu? What the heck is that?” We’re glad you asked.

We’ve got all the delicious deets on this unique plant-based protein, from health benefits to where to get it to why, no, it’s not actually hairy like you might expect.

Bowl of Asian noodles with sprouted tofu and chopsticksShare on Pinterest
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Any tofu is nutritious, but the sprouted kind outshines its “regular” cousin with extra protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Here’s what you can expect nutritionally from a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of sprouted tofu.

Nutrients in sprouted tofu

Calories: 98
Protein: 11 grams (g)
Fat: 5 g
Carbohydrates: 2 g
Fiber: 1 g
Calcium: 203 milligrams (mg)
Iron: 1.4 mg
Sodium: 24 mg
Vitamin D: 83 IU

Just like regular fresh tofu, the sprouted variety is produced by curdling soy milk (a process similar to making cheese). It comes in a variety of firmness levels ranging from the custard-like silken tofu to the sturdy, low moisture, super-firm version.

But while regular tofu consists of whole, intact soybeans, sprouted tofu utilizes sprouted soybeans from seeds that have germinated for approximately 3 days. The result is beans that have grown small, tail-like sprouts. This isn’t a full-fledged bean sprout (the thin off-white strands popular in Asian cooking) — which would take several more days to form.

When it comes to appearance and flavor, regular and sprouted tofu are virtually indistinguishable. Some people claim that sprouted tofu has a cleaner taste and a more pleasant aroma, but most people can’t tell the difference, especially when blended in a smoothie, dressed in a salad, or tossed into a stir-fry.

The biggest difference between the two varieties of tofu has to do with what you don’t see or taste — namely, their nutrition. Read on for the lowdown on sprouted tofu’s potential for your health.

High in protein

Though regular tofu is a good source of plant-based protein, its 8 g per serving don’t measure up to sprouted tofu’s more impressive 11 g. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that this higher protein level comes with a slightly higher calorie count of 98 versus regular tofu’s 70 calories per serving.

The proteins in both kinds of tofu have an important element in common: Both are considered “complete.” This means they contain all the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own. (Not all plant proteins can boast this claim to fame.)

Getting enough protein in your diet is associated with all sorts of bonuses. Because this beloved macronutrient is more filling than carbs and fat, it can boost your weight loss efforts. And then, of course, there’s the fact that your body needs plenty of protein for everyday maintenance jobs like creating hormones and enzymes, building muscles, and facilitating metabolism.

High in calcium

Put on the spot, you might find it tough to name high calcium foods that aren’t dairy products. Psst: Sprouted tofu is one! With 203 mg of this mineral per serving, it supplies 20 percent of the daily rec of 1,000 mg. That’s a significant jump above the 15 percent you’ll get from regular tofu.

What’s so great about calcium? Besides its much-touted ability to strengthen your bones, it helps your nerves, muscles, and heart function properly. (So, yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.)

Higher in antioxidants

Here’s another hidden benefit of sprouting soy: It might increase tofu’s antioxidant content. A study found that sprouted soybeans had enhanced antioxidant activity in the form of flavonoids.

In case you need a refresher on antioxidants, they’re the compounds in foods that dial down inflammation by clearing your cells of damaging free radicals. Flavonoids in particular could reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Might help you absorb more nutrients

We all want to get the most out of our foods, especially when it comes to soaking up their nutrients. That’s where sprouted tofu could do your body a solid. According to a 2014 study, when legumes get germinated (the fancy word for sprouted), their ability to absorb minerals increases. In fact, an older study found that germinated soybeans boosted the bioavailability of calcium, copper, manganese, zinc, and other micronutrients. Not too shabby!

Could be easier to digest

Sprouted tofu is sometimes marketed as easier to digest than the regular kind. The evidence isn’t super strong for this benefit in sprouted soybeans in particular, but a 2006 study indicated that sprouting could increase the digestibility of the proteins in legumes. And hey, if you feel germinating makes tofu friendlier on your gut, sprout away.

Despite its sprouted status, cooking this version of tofu is really no different from cooking any other type. Soft silken sprouted tofu makes a creamy add-in for smoothies and cheesecakes, while firm tofu is a chameleon equally at home in casseroles, lettuce wraps, and vegan scrambles.

Extra-firm sprouted tofu is great for thicker preparations like the “meat” in sandwiches or the centerpiece of stir-fries or noodle dishes. And of course, to make extra-crispy chunks of deliciousness, don’t forget the chef’s hack of pressing your tofu. Letting tofu sit under a brick, a heavy frying pan, or your hardcover of Gone With the Wind squeezes it down, removing moisture and allowing it to crisp up to perfection.

Though sprouted tofu isn’t quite a supermarket staple yet, it’s becoming increasingly popular and is often available in organic food retailers and chains such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and, of course, Sprouts.

And if all else fails, you can always order sprouted tofu online from Amazon. (Because who doesn’t like healthy food delivered right to their door?)

Sprout it out with these tasty recipes

Still not sure what to do with that block of sprouted tofu that ended up in your grocery cart? Start with these recipes.