A Guide to Tofu

Tofu, aka bean curd, is a food that originated in ancient China more than 2,000 years ago. Tofu production was then introduced to Korea and later Japan around 710 – 794 AD. Then it spread into other parts of East Asia, likely as a result of the spread of Buddhism.

Tofu is made by curdling soymilk (milk made from soybeans) and then pressing the curds into blocks. Making tofu starts with grinding the soybeans with water and then heating them. This separates the soymilk from the solids. Next, a natural firming agent is added to the hot soymilk, causing curds to form. The curds then get pressed to remove the whey; it’s this action that creates the typical block shape.

The Basics

While cooking with tofu couldn’t be easier, there are some tricks to getting the perfectly cooked tofu dish to the table. From draining to pressing to storing, there’s some things you should know. I’ve put together a guide on all the basics to help you become a total tofu ninja. Let’s get to it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tofu has no flavor at all and acts like a sponge which will absorb the flavors of the ingredients in any recipe. This versatility makes it perfect for stir-frys, a sandwich filling, in sauces or soups, in a smoothie, or even in a decadent cheesecake.
Tofu that is packed in water needs to be drained prior to use. It can also be pressed to add additional firmness. Pressing also helps the blocks soak up marinades better than non-pressed.

  • Drain the water from the package
  • Place the tofu between two paper towels and place on a plate
  • Press the tofu by using a couple of cans, a book, or a pan for about 10-20 minutes

or,

  • Press tofu in a tofu press. Learn how here.
Typically, store bought tofu is packaged in water and can be found in the refrigerated produce section of a grocery store. The water keeps the tofu fresh and prevents it from drying out. Once opened, tofu should be stored in fresh water and kept refrigerated in an air tight container. Remember to change the water daily.
There are several signs that tofu has spoiled. Spoiled tofu has an unpleasant odor (or taste) and can be discolored. Be sure to check the Use By or Best Before Date and discard any tofu that has passed those dates.
Absolutely! Here are some tips to help get you started:

Dairy Replacements

  • To replace cream, blend an equal volume of soft or silken tofu
  • To replace soft cheese, use an equal volume of firm tofu

Eggs

  • 1/2 cup of silken tofu is equivalent to 1 egg

Mayonnaise

  • To create homemade dairy-free mayonnaise use soft or silken tofu
Yes, you can! Freezing tofu changes its consistency, making it more firm and dense. After it thaws it is has a chewy and toothy texture.

Tips for freezing tofu:

  • Drain the tofu before putting it in the freezer
  • Tofu can either be pre-cut or stored in plastic
  • Freeze overnight (or until you are ready to use it)
  • Thaw in the refrigerator
  • When soft, press out remaining water
vegan tofu

Soy & Our Health

Soy Isoflavones

Let’s talk about soy isoflavones. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones. There are some who claim that these soy isoflavones act as the female sex hormone, estrogen, and potentially increase the risk of cancer (especially breast cancer), as well as reduce testosterone levels in men. But science, based on well-planned research studies, has yet to uphold any of these claims.

Soy is not only safe to eat, it is beneficial! Soy is one of the most researched foods and the bulk of research shows health benefits of soy consumption when eaten in moderation. There is a large amount of misinformation about the effects soy isoflavones have on health and we recommend the following articles for further details on the health effects consuming soy products:

What’s the deal with soy? Is it safe to eat or not? – Anya Todd, LD RD
Soy: What’s the Harm? – Jack Norris, RD
Soy Isoflavones and Estrogen – Ginny Messina, RD

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory using genetic engineering techniques. Scientists alter genes with DNA from different species of living organisms, bacteria, or viruses to get desired traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides and herbicides.

There are criticisms about the practice surrounding the bioengineering and the production of genetically modified organisms. In more than 60 countries around the world, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of genetically modified organisms. Here in the US, the government has approved the use of GMOs based on information contained in studies conducted by the same corporations who created them (and profit from their sale). (3)

Learn more about GMOs at The Non GMO Project.

When looking at soy tofu, unless the product is specifically labeled as GMO-free, then there’s a good chance the product was made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Look for organic products or products specifically labeled as using non-GMO ingredients.

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Shopping Guide

You can easily find tofu in any local grocer, health food store, or Asian market. By itself it’s vegan, so it isn’t necessary to look for a package specifically labeled ‘vegan,’ but some packages will list it on the label. Tofu made from soy is the most common form, but it’s not the only one. Burmese and hemp tofu are both soy-free alternatives to the traditional soy-based version. Soy tofu comes in several different styles and textures based on the amount of natural coagulants and water used in its production. The key to a successful tofu recipe is choosing the right style for the dish. Here’s a primer to help you make the right choice.

Extra Firm or Firm Style

Extra Firm or Firm has very firm to firm textures. Generally speaking, the two types can be used interchangeably.

Use in:

  • Stir-fry
  • Baked
  • BBQ
  • Braised
  • Scrambled

Medium Style

Medium has a softer texture than Firm or Extra Firm but more firm than Soft.

Use in:

  • Soups
  • Dairy-Free Cheeses

Soft or Silken Style

Unlike the other styles, Soft and Silken styles-the softest of all textures-comes in three additional varieties: soft, firm, and extra firm. This is because soft and silken styles are not drained and pressed like other tofus. It breaks apart very easily.

Use in:

  • Creamy Dips
  • Sauces
  • Smoothies
  • Egg-Free Mayonnaise
  • Desserts

New! Hemp Tofu

Tempt Living Harvest has developed a soy-free version made with hemp. Hemp tofu cooks a little different than the traditional soy-based block. Visit Tempt for more information.
READ MORE

Burmese Tofu

Burmese tofu is of Shan origin, made from water and flour ground from yellow split peas and the Burmese version of chickpea flour known as besan flour. The flour is mixed with water, tumeric, and salt and heated until reaches a creamy consistency. Then it is transferred to a tray and placed aside to set. Unlike the bright white soy tofu, this style is matte yellow. It has a jelly-like but firm consistency, and does not crumble when sliced or cut. It’s lusciously creamy and silky, delicate yet firm, and kind of melts in your mouth.

You can purchase Burmese tofu at your local health food store, look for Pacific brand. Or, you can  make your own. It’s easy to make with just a few basic ingredients and can be a tasty, soy-free alternative.

Soy-free tofu

Homemade Burmese Tofu | My New Roots

How to Cook Tofu

Instructions:

  • Use Firm or Extra Firm
  • Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices and marinate, if desired (see below)
  • Place in a single layer in a glass baking pan
  • Bake at 375° for 35 minutes (or until golden brown), flipping occasionally
Instructions:

  • Use Firm or Extra Firm (pressing recommended)
  • Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices and marinate, if desired
  • Place in a single layer in a glass baking pan
  • Add sauce over top, marinate for 30 minutes
  • Broil or Grill 5 minutes on each side, basting with extra sauce while cooking
Instructions:

  • Use Firm or Extra Firm (pressing recommended)
  • Dry thoroughly with paper or kitchen towel
  • Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices or cubes
  • Heat a high-heat oil in a frying pan
  • Add in small batches, stirring frequently until tofu has a beautiful golden puffed up look
  • Drain on paper or kitchen towel to remove excess oil after cooking
Instructions:

  • Use Medium, Firm, or Extra Firm
  • Crumble desired amount into pan with sauteed vegetables
    and spices
  • Cook for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden brown
Instructions:

  • Use Medium, Firm, or Extra Firm
  • For slices up to 1/2 inch – marinate at least 10 minutes inside refrigerator
  • For thicker slices (greater than 1/2 inch) – marinate at least 2 hours inside refrigerator
  • For maximum flavor, marinate overnight

TIP: Freezing and thawing prior to use will help absorb marinades moreso than tofu that has only been pressed.

Recipes

Vegan Tofu Recipes

tofu guide

Olives for Dinner | Tofu with Ramen

Books

Adding this nutritional powerhouse to your diet can be easy with a little help from great books.

Here are a few to help get you started.

Full disclaimer: Some of the products or services listed below are affiliate links. This means that I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links. Don’t worry, this is at no extra cost to you. The commissions I earn helps me pay for things like hosting and domain fees, and allows me to keep creating quality content that is and will always be 100% free for anyone to use. For my full affiliate disclaimer, please click here. Thank you for your supporting my work. Together we are creating a vegan world.

Do you have a product or recipe that I should know about? Please contact me.

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Your Daily Vegan is committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. The information and data presented in this article has been meticulously researched, and is based on the information available to me at the time of publication. Each guide is periodically reviewed for accuracy and updated as necessary. You can find the update date listed at the end of every guide. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.

1. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Hexane Summary.” Retrieved June 5, 2014

2. Tofurky. “Hexane Extracted Soy Isolates.” Retrieved May 23, 2015

3. Non GMO Project. “Learn About GMOs.” Retrieved May 23, 2015

4. Responsible Technology. “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs.” Retrieved May 23, 2015

5. Wikipedia. “Tofu.” Retrieved May 22, 2015

This page is authored by KD Angle-Traegner. Last update December 2016.