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The following I copied from VegSource (hope they won't mind!!!) and I thought it was an incredibly great explanation of what these things are that most of us have heard of and never knew what the difference was (I've formatted a bit).

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http://www.vegsource.com/talk/beginner/messages/8066.html

Soy (or Soya in the rest of the world) beans are just that, the whole bean. Bean Curd is the curd that is formed when a mineral salt or acidic substance (commonly vinegar or lemon juice) is added to soy "milk" (cooked, mashed soybeans, that have the liquid squeezed out of them through a strainer). This process also works for blood, and there is such a thing as blood curd. Ick. Anyway, bean curd was a Chinese invention, but just as we know cooked wheat gluten as "seitan", bean curd is known to us by its Japanese name of "tofu."

Tofu comes in two main types:

Chinese style & Japanese style


Chinese Style is further broken down into 4 more types:
Silken, Soft, Firm, and Extra Firm. Silken and Soft are great for desserts, while Firm and Extra Firm are great for stir-fries, especially if they have been pressed with a weight, or frozen and thawed.

This type is usually packed in little water-filled plastic tubs.

Japanese Style is very different from its Chinese counterpart, except for Chinese Silken. It is broken down into 3 main types:

Silken Soft, Silken Firm, Silken Extra Firm

Japanese Style is best for desserts. Do NOT use them for stir-fries, even the Silken Extra Firm, no matter what the package says :)! This type is often found in shelf-stable packages. I think the most popular brand is Mori-Nu.

Tofu should not be seen as a one to one replacement of meat. You should rely more on green, leafy vegetables to gain needed minerals and vitamins.

Also, there is another major soybean product known as tempeh. It is an Indonesian invention. Basically, whole soybeans that have had their hulls removed are packed together tightly. A mold culture is applied to them. This mold spreads all over the soy beans and sends microscopic strands throughout the beancake, forming it into a pretty solid mass. If this grosses you out, remember, this process is identical to what happens to all dairy cheeses ;). Tempeh can be cut into slivers or cubes and holds up well in stir-fries as long as you are not to vigorous in your cooking. Tempeh is nutritionally superior to tofu, as it has more fiber, more available iron and zinc, and is more easily digested. Tempeh has all these advantages because the mold breaks down phytates in soybeans, substances that hinder the absorption of iron and zinc.

Whew! What a mouthful! Hope this all helps in your veggie journey!
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