Welcome to the Wonderful World of Tofu! We’re so happy to be the ones to bring the beauty of the bean curd into your kitchen. And maybe even into your heart. We promise our tofu guide will ease your reservations about chomping into this vegan powerhouse.
Tofu is not only delicious in recipes, but also a great addition to a healthy diet. It’s high in protein and calcium, along with a good amount of fiber and essential amino acids. It’s also well-known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, and iron content.
When you think of tofu, you might have one of two reactions. Either you’re cast in the ‘YUM! I love tofu!’ crowd or part of the ‘Ew, gross!’ party. If you give me a chance, I’m sure I can sway you into giving it a try. There are so many ways to prepare this plant food–one of them is bound to beguile you.
What Is Tofu?
Can you believe that these wiggly white squares actually come from a bunch of green soybeans? Another name for tofu is “bean curd,” which is a term commonly used on Asian restaurant menus. Bean curd shouldn’t be confused with cheese curds (which are made with dairy) and are completely plant-based.
How Is Tofu Made?
Here are the simple steps that transform soybeans into this magical ingredient:
- Source soybeans.
- Soak to rehydrate.
- Grind into a slurry.
- Slurry is cooked and then separated into pulp and soy milk.
- Soymilk is then mixed with a mineral coagulant (usually either nigari or gypsum) to form a curd.
- The curd is blended up and then wrapped into a cheesecloth.
- After that settles, the mixture is pressed into blocks.
To see exactly how tofu is made, check out our tofu-making tour. (You’ll love it—it’s like watching a Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood ‘Picture, Picture’ video!)
Draining, Drying, and Pressing
Before you can even begin to taste your tofu, you may need to do some prep work. If you’re using a silken (or sometimes regular) type, there’s no need. For draining and drying will bring doom upon your desired recipe. But, if your main focus is a mouthwatering marinade, then these steps are key.
- Drain – Take your tofu out of the container and pour the excess water into the sink.
- Dry – Place a three-layer paper towel (or folded up cloth towel) into a dish, place the tofu on top (cut into your desired shape), and cover with another layer of paper towels or cloth towel. Press firmly to release most of the extra liquid and pat dry.
- Press – If you’ll be frying your firm or super firm tofu, this step is crucial for the crispiest outer crust. You can either use a commercial tofu press (This one is nice and it’s made of bamboo!) or create one at home using everyday items. Similar to the drying step, create a layer of absorbent cloths inside of a sturdy pan. Add the tofu and top with more towels. Place a heavy object, such as a large book or a heavy pan, on top of your tofu tower. Let it sit for at least an hour, preferably a few hours. After that, your tofu is ready to go!
- Optional Freezing – Some people find that freezing their tofu overnight helps with the pressing process. Take your tofu out of its container and drain. Place into a freezer safe container and place in the freezer. In the morning, take out your tofu and let it defrost for a few hours or until ready to use. When defrosted, hold the tofu in your hands and squeeze out the excess liquid. The theory is that the freezing process creates ice crystals to form that make the tofu firmer, chewier and spongier.
Five Types of Tofu to Try
First, let me tell you about all the types of tofu there are and the best way to use them. They each have different levels of firmness and are used in a recipe for that particular texture. Choosing the right consistency will make or break your recipe, so it’s best to know ahead of time.
- Silken – Creamy, silky, and best for blending into creams, cheeses, fillings, sauces, smoothies, and/or desserts. This type has the highest water content and is also known as ‘Japanese-style’ tofu.
- Regular – A bit more firm than silken, but still more of a wet cheese consistency. This type holds onto flavors really well and is excellent for using in stews, dips, and making scramble. Not suitable for frying.
- Firm – The most popular and versatile type of tofu found in supermarkets. If dried or drained properly, firm tofu is perfect for marinating and frying. It has a feta-like consistency and can also be found pre-packaged either smoked or seasoned.
- Extra Firm – With less water than firm tofu, this type does not mix with marinades well. Extra firm is mostly for frying, stir-fries and deep frying. Many people confuse this kind as being the best for taking on the flavors of other foods. Make sure to choose the firm style instead.
- Super Firm – The firmest of the family, this type is the most similar to meat in texture. It is super dense and solid, making it an excellent addition to any savory dish. Best eaten cut up into chunks, cubes or slices and fried. Super for snacking or making vegan cheese-stick substitutes.
When choosing tofu, make sure to buy organic so that you can limit your exposure to genetically modified soybeans and the hexane used to produce these GMO beans.
As you can see, there are so many ways to use this versatile ingredient, both for texture and taste. Here are some of our favorite tofu techniques:
- Stir fry
- Toast on the grill
- Bake in the oven
- Crumble into a scramble or as a taco meat replacement
- Blend into a cheese, smoothie, pudding, sauce, or cheesecake
Inspiring Tofu Tips
- Start off with simple snacks like our Marinated Tofu Triangles.
- Get your toes wet by trying your first Island Teriyaki Tofu Scramble.
- You can totally make tofu in your slow cooker. Our Red Curry recipe is perfect for this!
- Salads are not strangers to this plant protein. Adding tofu to Tabbouleh or as a feta cheese substitute in a Greek Salad will just make your salad more terrific.
Terrific Tofu Recipes to Try:
- Vegan Lasagna With Tofu Ricotta
- Vegan Stuffed Shells
- Yellow Curry With Tofu
- Greek Salad With Tofu Feta
- Marinated Tofu Triangles
- Vegan Quiche
- Silken Chocolate Pudding
- No-Bake Silken Chocolate Pie
This Tofu Guide for the Tentative Cook is not sponsored by any of the brands or companies mentioned, and we only share products and companies we sincerely adore. This article includes affiliate links when available, and shopping through these links supports World of Vegan. Tofu photos from Canva.com.