The Ultimate Tofu Guide
This ultimate tofu guide will give you everything you need to know on the types of tofu, and how you can include this nutrient-rich, high-protein, incredibly versatile plant food on your menu.
Tofu has gone mainstream and it’s about time! There is everything to love about this healthy, plant protein with off-the-chart versatility. This traditional soy-based protein has been a staple in Asian countries for centuries, and its modest mark on the Western world has finally moved into the spotlight. Undoubtedly, it’s due, at least in part, to the growing popularity of plant-based eating because there is no meat alternative quite like tofu. It is an easy swap for any animal protein, from eggs and poultry to meat. Tacos, lasagna, stir fries, casseroles—tofu steps in deliciously, and even undetectably. It’s mild, benign flavor partners beautifully with other ingredients and it’s easily baked, sautéed, or stir-fried. If you’ve been thinking about trying tofu or you’re looking to do more with it, this guide has all you need to give tofu a place in your plant-based meals.
What is Tofu?
Tofu, sometimes called bean curd, is a staple ingredient in many Asian countries. The tofu production method consists of three essential steps: the extraction of soymilk from soybeans, coagulating the soymilk to form curds, and pressing the curds to form tofu blocks. The amount of liquid released from the tofu varies on the degree of pressing, which affects the consistency of the end product. As a result, there is a wide range of tofu with different levels of softness to cook from, from silken to firm. We had the unique opportunity to see firsthand How They Make Tofu during our visit to a tofu-making factory.
Where Did Tofu Originate?
Tofu was first introduced in China more than 2,000 years ago although the date of its origin is clouded with several theories. One theory is that tofu was founded by Prince Liu-An during the second century B.C. It was thought that its creation was accidental, when the sea salt from nigari (magnesium chloride, a byproduct of extracting salt from sea water) acted as a natural coagulant in pureed soybean soups, turning it into tofu. However, it is known that the spread of tofu was influenced by vegetarian Buddhist monks, who advocated eating tofu as an alternative to meat, when visiting Japan and other South East Asian regions.
As a result of being passed between cultures and across eras, tofu became a core ingredient in various cuisines including Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, and more. In the Chinese custom, tofu is presented as a food offering when visiting graves. Douhua is a traditional tofu pudding snack that is widely popular among Asian cultures. There are many different ways to make it. In Hong Kong, Douhua is made as a cold and sweet snack with a sugar syrup eaten to relieve summer heat.
How Do You Cook with Tofu?
The flavor of tofu can be described as mild or subtly nutty or beany. Because of its benign flavor, it pairs well with most any dish, sweet or savory. As tofu is able to absorb and take on the flavors of other ingredients, there are many diverse ways to complement tofu. For example, tofu can be a fat alternative, thickener for sauces, substitute for dairy products, and ingredient in desserts. Firm tofu is convenient to use, as it does not require such careful handling compared to soft tofu, so it’s ideal baked, steamed, grilled, and fried.
Is Tofu Healthy?
Tofu is a healthy food from its nutritive perspective. Its nutrient composition varies according to its consistency, in which the firmer the tofu, the higher the protein, calories, and fat content. It is one of the few plant foods considered “high quality” protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids in good amounts. Tofu is a good source of calcium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. It is also high in isoflavones, which are associated with many potential health benefits, like improving age-related diseases including osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. These act as phytoestrogens, chemicals with the potential to reduce risk of breast cancer and treat menopause symptoms, according to research. Using tofu as a meat alternative has been shown to lower saturated fats and cholesterol levels, supporting cardiovascular health. Check out our
Ultimate Tofu Guide to learn more about the various types of tofu you can use in your kitchen.
Ultimate Tofu Guide
|Types of Tofu||Description||Brands||Protein (100g)||Ways to Use|
|Silken tofu is an unpressed tofu that contains the highest water content among all other tofu types, so it falls apart easily. It’s produced by curdling the soy milk directly in the final packaging without pressing. Silken tofu comes in different consistencies, which are all softer than regular tofu. As the soy curds are not pressed, the texture is not porous like regular tofu and resembles more of a pudding.||Nasoya
|8 g||-Can be served hot/cold or cooked/raw
-Ideal for creamy/blended foods (i.e., smoothies, puddings, salad dressings and sauce)
-Great substitute for eggs and dairy products in baked goods.
-Not ideal for frying.
|Soft tofu is a pressed curd, which results in a porous, spongy texture. This texture allows the tofu to absorb flavors. It is the next highest in water content following silken tofu, but has a firmer consistency.||House Foods
|6 g||-Can be used similarly to silken tofu in smoothies, puddings, dips and salad dressings.
-Ideal for cooking in stews and soups as a protein source.
-Not ideal for frying.
|Medium firm tofu
|Medium Firm Tofu has a firmer and more porous texture than soft tofu, but is still fairly delicate and may crack when handling. It does not hold its shape as well because it has a moderate water content.||House Foods
|8 g||-Can be used to make vegan scrambled tofu in place of eggs.
-Ideal for braising or gentle simmering in soups/stews.
-Not ideal for frying.
|Firm Tofu||Firm tofu has a dense and very firm texture. It’s able to hold its shape nicely. Due to its firmness, it’s very versatile and can be used in most types of cooking methods.
|9 g||-Ideal for stir-frying, pan-frying, baking and braising.
-Great as a meat alternative, including ground meat when crumbled.
-Can be crumbled into casseroles.
|Extra firm tofu
|Extra firm tofu is a great meat alternative due to its amount of protein per serving and its firmness. It has the highest protein content of all other block tofu because most of its liquid has been pressed out. Due to its firmness and compactness, it is suitable for any cooking method.||House Foods
|10 g||-Ideal for meat substitutes (i.e., burgers, tacos, skewers)
-Great for grilling, pan-frying, deep-frying, stir-frying, braising and stewing
-Great to add to dishes like Pad Thai and other stir-frys
|Fermented tofu is usually sold in glass jars as a Chinese condiment or delicacy. Its strong, umami aroma and flavor profile is commonly used to flavor various Asian style dishes. The tofu is fermented for at least a month in a brine made with rice wine, water, and salt. Fermented tofu has a very soft and spreadable texture, similar to a paste. The longer it is fermented, the stronger its flavor. Can be stored in the refrigerator several months once opened.||Wangzhihe
Hwang Rhy Shiang
|8 g||-Ideal to add in soups and to flavor marinades.
-Commonly used as a condiment for rice or porridge
-Can be used to flavor various stir fry dishes
-Great substitute for blue cheese
|Yuba is a staple ingredient in Chinese and Japanese cuisines. It’s made traditionally by hanging the coagulated top of simmering soy milk to dry. Purchase fresh or dried. Its stretchy, rubbery texture forms a sheet. Yuba is commonly layered to imitate the flavors and textures of duck and chicken in vegetarian Asian dishes. Dried yuba has to be rehydrated first before eating.
It contains the highest source of protein in grams due to its texture.
|51 g||-Great as a meat substitute
-Ideal to wrap rice and is popular in dim sum dishes
|Smoked tofu||Smoked tofu is the consistency of firm tofu that has been seasoned with spices, baked, and smoked. It’s sold ready to eat out of the package and can be used as a protein source in dishes. It is normally seasoned with hickory smoked flavor and soy sauce. As a result, its outer layer retains a deep brown color. Excellent flavor and one of the highest sources of plant-protein from tofu.
Tree of Life
|19 g||-Ideal as a meat substitute
-Ideal addition to salads and sandwiches or as an entrée
-Great substitute for preserved meats
|Baked tofu||Baked tofu is sold marinated and baked, and ready-to-eat. It is vacuum sealed, which allows more time for the tofu to marinate before opening. It is made using firm tofu to hold its shape and texture during the baking process.||Wildwood
|14 g||-Ideal in sandwiches, stir fries, or as an entrée.
-Ideal added to salads as protein source.
-Great substitute to ham/preserved meats.
|High protein tofu||High protein, or super firm, tofu is sold to use without the need for pressing/blotting the tofu prior to cooking, like most other tofu blocks that are usually sold immersed in water. It is already pressed and vacuum sealed, so it does not retain much water. It has one of the highest protein contents among all other types of tofu.||Wildwood organic
|17 g||-Ideal for frying or deep heat cooking methods and manipulation
– Ideal for stir frying, pan-frying, grilling, braising, and barbequing
Written by Jooshan Ooi, Dietetic Intern and Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
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