What is Tofu?

Tofu: The versatile soybean protein that deserves to be in your cooking repertoire. From types of tofu to best recipes, here’s everything you need to know about this magical food.

pan fried japanese atsuage tofu

You’ll want to know what type of tofu to buy, how to cook it and what dishes are best suited for each kind. And don’t forget about all the different ways tofu can be used as an ingredient in other recipes! We’ve got everything you need right here.

Cut tofu glass bowl

What is tofu?

Tofu is a widespread meat replacement that a lot of non-meat eaters head straight for. It is often used in a lot of Asian dishes. It is also known as bean curd and also as soya curd. It closely resembles soft cheese. It is made of condensed soy milk with nigari. The combination is molded and cut into blocks so that it is more manageable. 

The tight, pressed blocks are rather bland on their own, which is why it is ever so important to know how to cook it. The great thing about tofu is that it easily absorbs flavors that it is mixed with. It is versatile and can be incorporated into various dishes. It is gluten-free and also low in calories. This is another reason why it’s a common food in a lot of low-calorie diets. Besides being low in calories, it is rich in other nutrients such as proteins and calcium.

Types of tofu

Firm

One of the types of tofu available is the firm type. This one is a firm favorite (pun intended) for stews or if you still want to see the tofu blocks on your plate. Firm tofu can be cut up and used in stir-fries. You can also crumble it into a dish such as an omelet. Firm tofu has fewer “holes” in it. While this means it holds shape better, it does not allow as much flavor to pass through. 

Cut tofu glass bowl 2

One of the most significant upsides is that it doesn’t have a lot of water content. It has a texture similar to feta cheese. It has a texture similar to feta cheese. As such, it works well for dishes that need to be fried. So say it may also feel similar to meat. 

Silken

Silken tofu, also sometimes known as Japanese tofu, has the highest water content, meaning that it absorbs flavors easier and faster. It is unpressed and undrained tofu. This also means it will not have a shape and structure like what you get with firm tofu. You can find it in different consistencies. Soy milk is coagulated but not curdled to make this type of tofu. You can tell silken tofu from regular tofu because it is softer. Even when it is labeled as being firm, it is still softer. 

diced soft tofu on a cutting boar

The texture is similar to pudding. It is light, soft, fluffy, and creamy as well. You can also liken it to mozzarella or fresh cream cheeses. The light texture makes this tofu an excellent bet for smoothies and liquid dishes where you would want the tofu to blend in seamlessly. It can also be used as an egg substitute in vegan recipes. You can find silken tofu as soft, medium, or firm tofu. While these varieties exist, the tofu is still exceptionally smooth. 

Soft

Soft tofu has a thick creamy texture, similar to that of yogurt. This is the Chinese version of silken tofu. The surface of soft tofu is well suited for absorbing flavors well. It is not as smooth as silken tofu. It does well in soups, and it can be served raw. You can also use it to make spreads, thanks to its soft consistency. The obvious downside with soft tofu is that it doesn’t hold up, which means it immediately blends into whatever dish it is incorporated into. 

japanese silken tofu

Medium

Medium tofu is similar to soft tofu, except it has more structure, which means you can mold it into various shapes. Also, it is porous, which allows a lot of flavors to seep through. Medium tofu is excellent for stewing recipes that would do well with a bit of texture in it. The porous nature and ability to soak in flavors make it a good ingredient for vegan curry recipes. You can also use it in different sauces. 

Fermented

Fermented tofu is also known as chou doufu in China (‘stinky tofu’), and once you catch a whiff of it you’ll see why. It dates back to ancient China, and as such, it has been incorporated into many different recipes. It is tofu that has been fermented for about a month by boiling it first. The boiling helps to drain the tofu of excess water and also kills harmful bacteria.,The tofu is often allowed to ferment for about 2 or 3 days. 

Deep fried stinky tofu fermented bean curd

Once the initial process is done, there are now cultures present in the tofu. It then needs to be preserved by keeping it in water, salt, and sometimes rice wine. This brine will help keep things fresh. You can use fermented tofu to make marinades, sauces, and dips. It is a drier version of fresh tofu and can be cut into stand-alone blocks. This means that it can help to add texture. 

How to cook tofu

Firm

Firm tofu is often used for frying and grilling because it has a definite structure. You can pan-fry and also grill it on kebabs or stuff breakfast tacos. Just make sure that it is properly drained of any excess water. 

Silken tofu

It is silky and soft and is great for scrambling because it easily blends with other ingredients. Even though it is soft, it comes in different varieties of firmness, and the type you choose will determine what you can do with it. You can steam the tofu and then add spice on top for added flavor.

Soft

You can stir soft tofu into kimchi or puree it into smoothies. You can also use it in curry or a stew. 

Medium

Medium tofu can be steamed and then seasoned the way that you want. Your other option would be to boil it. It can also be baked or braised because the texture allows you to do so. 

How to cut tofu

It is always best to make sure that your tofu is cut into sizable chunks that are practical on your plate. If you want to keep it to use later, it helps cut the pieces into something that will work for the recipes you will be making. For instance, if you will be scrambling the tofu, size doesn’t matter. But if you will be putting the blocks on skewers, you may want perfect or nearly perfect cubes. 

To get the right size:

  1. Cut the tofu lengthwise in half.
  2. Flip the block with the cut pieces in place onto its side.
  3. Cut lengthwise in half again.
  4. Rotate a quarter way, and cut in half again.
  5. Cut the half into another half, still cutting lengthwise.
  6. Do the same for the other half. This will help give you smaller pieces of equal sizes. 

Expert Tips

How to press tofu & why you should do it

Tofu has quite a bit of water in it, but this doesn’t do well when you want to fry it. Pressing tofu helps to release the water in it. The importance of doing this is to avoid the tofu splattering as you fry it or grill it. Also, when it has less water, it fries crispier and gets an outer crust that adds flavor to a dish. 

To press tofu, you can use a specially made tofu press. However, if you don’t have this, you can make do with whatever heavyweight you may have in the kitchen, which can squeeze the water out of the tofu but not squash the tofu cubes open. If you are not using a tofu press, start by laying parchment paper so that the tofu doesn’t stick to whatever you are using to press out the water. 

Place the tofu cubes on it, and then place another piece of parchment paper. Put a plate on the cubes and press down. The other option is to place the tofu between two dish towels, which will help soak in the excess water as it drains. Then place a plate and weigh it down with a pot of water or whatever you think will do the trick. You can let up once you think you’ve drained enough water. 

Marinate tofu for maximum flavor

Tofu is generally bland and not very rich in flavor. As such, it often needs a bit of spicing up. Marinating it is a great way to get flavors infused into it. Marinating the tofu helps you get taste through the pores. Marinating with the right sauces and herbs permeates through pores to get to the core of the tofu, making sure that every bite is full of flavor. Soy sauce and garlic are great ingredients to consider in your marinade. 

Consider freezing tofu before marinating

Freezing tofu has the added advantage of allowing the marinades to soak in better. You may want to consider this before you marinate. However, you will have to deal with the fact that frozen tofu tends to be a little chewier when you’ve thawed it. 

How to fry tofu without breaking it

To fry tofu without breaking it, make sure to be gentle. Also, you can coat it or crumb it. Then also, make sure that you are placing the tofu in hot oil. You can also expose the tofu to hot water before frying it. 

Use cornstarch for extra crispiness

If you are looking for crispy tofu, then you can coat the tofu with cornstarch. It adds a crispiness to the tofu when it is fried. 

Make sure the pan is hot

Make sure that the pan is hot enough. This way, the tofu will not stick to the bottom of the pan. A lukewarm pan will not give you the crisp result that you want. 

Ditch the olive oil

Olive oil doesn’t always do the best job when it comes to frying tofu. This is because frying tofu requires oils that can burn very hot. As such, vegetable oil works better.

Season generously

Because tofu is generally bland and has a good amount of water, the seasoning needs to be enough to encompass every inch.

Storage

You can put the tofu in the fridge, and it will be good for about one week. Simply place the tofu in an airtight container and top it with water. The water helps keep the tofu fresh, so you need to change it out once a day.

Should you freeze tofu?

You can put tofu in the freezer as long as you are willing to deal with chewy tofu afterward. It is often more spongy after it has been put in the freezer. When tofu is frozen, it can keep for about three months. It helps to store it in small amounts that you can use at a time. That way, you are not thawing out more than you need. The biggest plus of freezing tofu is that it holds marinade better.  

Teriyaki tofu salad with kale and chickpeas in wooden bowl

Serving ideas

Tofu is one of the world’s most versatile ingredients. Whether you’re using store-bought varieties or using your own homemade tofu, here are the best ways to enjoy it.

Tofu scramble

It is similar to scrambled eggs, only with tofu. You can easily customize it just like you do with eggs and make it your own by adding unique twists. 

Tofu skewers with peanut dipping sauce

This dish is marinated ahead of time, and often, you can use something like Thai curry or coconut milk. The tofu is then grilled and then served with peanut dipping sauce

Taco ‘meat’

Tofu is often used as a meat substitute in a variety of dishes. Tacos are one such dish where you can add tofu in place of meat. The texture is the same, and it also adds to the fillings.

Tofu substitutes

The best way to find a real substitute is to look at it in the context of the dish it is in. then look at what qualities tofu brings to the table. That way, you can look for a suitable substitute. You can substitute tofu with chickpeas, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, or different types of beans. You can also use mushrooms or lentils depending on the recipe and what you need the substitute to cover the gap adequately.