Love adding tofu to your meals? We do too! When it comes to enjoying tofu regularly, there are several ways to do so. This superfood, meat alternative, is an excellent source of protein and can be worked into various delicious dishes.
That being said, to truly enjoy the many flavors and textures of this food, you must prepare it properly. Knowing how to cook tofu is the key to making a dish that everyone at the table will love.
Though cooking tofu is pretty straightforward, there is one thing about this plant-based ingredient that often causes confusion—the many different kinds of it. If you recently decided to work tofu into your Meatless Monday recipe rotation and were stumped by the different varieties on grocery store shelves, you're not alone.
From soft tofu to extra firm tofu, knowing which type will work best in your meals is crucial to preparing your recipe correctly. To help you better understand the different kinds of tofu and how to use them properly, we consulted our team of Bob's Red Mill food experts to get the scoop on everything tofu.
Keep reading to learn more about how you can effortlessly incorporate this superfood into your weekly meals.
What is Tofu?
Before we take a closer look at the different tofu types, it's important to know how tofu is made and what makes this meat alternative so desirable. Simply put, tofu is bean curd that is made from condensed soy milk.
When most think of soybeans, they immediately picture edamame. However, tofu is not made from the fuzzy green edamame you're used to enjoying with soy sauce. Instead, it's made from mature white soybeans that have been boiled, curdled, and pressed into a cheese-like block for your cooking preferences.
That being said, soybeans are not the only ingredient in tofu. To make a block of tofu, soybean milk is combined with a coagulant that commonly consists of magnesium chloride, calcium sulfate, or magnesium sulfate.
This combination is then placed into a cloth-line mold and pressed until all of the whey drains out. The length of pressing time determines the firmness of the tofu, and the longer the tofu is pressed, the more firm the finished result will be.
Types of Tofu
Now, let's discuss the many types of tofu and the differences between them. From extra firm to silken tofu, you'll find that there is tofu out there that meets all of your recipe needs—you just have to know which one to choose!
Remember when we talked about the process of making tofu and how it's pressed into a cheese-like block? Soft tofu is a type of tofu that has been pressed for the least amount of time.
Pressed just enough for the curds to blend into the remaining whey, it creates a smooth block that holds texture when broken up and handled. Soft tofu claims a texture similar to Jell-O and has a mild, milky flavor. Most commonly used in dessert recipes, its natural flavor allows it to work just as well in savory dishes.
Soft tofu has high water content, and because of this, we do not recommend frying it in a pan. If you do choose to fry soft tofu, opt for a deep frying method instead.
How to Prepare:
Because of its Jell-O-like texture, soft tofu is easy to squish. Instead of pressing soft tofu, we recommend that you prepare it by draining and blotting it or enjoying it raw.
One of the most popular tofu styles, silken tofu, is made using a slightly different method than the rest. Unlike block tofu, silken tofu is made with soy milk that is thickened without curdling the milk. This allows it to be left unpressed, and as a result, it retains all of its moisture while cooking. Silken tofu possesses a "silky" appearance and is more delicate than block tofu. Silken tofu should be handled delicately, or else it will fall apart.
How to Prepare:
Silken tofu can be enjoyed raw or drained and is commonly added to sauce recipes like smoothies, dressings, and yogurt. Silken tofu should not be pressed or frozen as it is too delicate.
Medium or Medium-Firm Tofu
Medium or medium-firm tofu is commonly referred to as "regular tofu, and because of this, it's commonly labeled as "tofu" without an exact texture or description. A rougher texture than soft, when you cut into medium tofu, you'll likely notice that the curds are visible. Its moderate moisture content makes it ideal for dishes that don't require much handling, like boiling.
How to Prepare:
Medium or medium-firm tofu can be drained, pressed, frozen, or salt-soaked.
Firm Tofu and Extra Firm Tofu
Firm tofu is a tofu block that has been pressed longer than soft or medium tofu. The curds in this tofu are tight and visible, and the texture is much more solid than other types. This solid texture allows the tofu to be handled during cooking. And, because there is less liquid, it usually cooks more quickly than soft or medium tofu. Firm tofu holds up well to most types of cuisine, including frying and stuffing.
How to Prepare:
Firm tofu can be prepared similar to medium tofu and does best when pressed, drained, frozen, or salt-soaked.
The Different Methods of Preparing Tofu
While there are several different kinds of tofu, nearly all of them are prepped in the same way. To help you create a tofu dish that is out-of-this-world delicious, we've outlined the most crucial steps to making tofu below. Because tofu (even after being pressed) has high water content, it's recommended that all excess liquid be removed before cooking to ensure your recipe comes out a success.
While nearly all tofu varieties can be eaten raw, the two most common types of raw tofu are soft and silken tofu. To enjoy tofu raw, drain off the excess water and consume it plain or mix it into a recipe like this Teff Pudding.
Pressing tofu is the most common way to prepare tofu and is often the suggested method in most recipes. To properly press tofu, begin by sandwiching a block of medium to extra firm tofu in between two dish towels or paper towels.
Next, place a flat surface, like a baking dish, on top of the towels and weigh it down with a heavy item from your kitchen—we've used everything from cans of tomato sauce to cookbooks! Lastly, allow the tofu to press for a minimum of 10 minutes and a maximum of 60.
Tofu that is pressed for longer will produce a firmer, drier result. After the tofu has been thoroughly pressed, remove the weight and towels and cut it into the desired size and shape.
If you're a bit overwhelmed by the steps in the pressing process, there is another way you can create a firmer tofu result—no pressing required. Bypass the pressing and soak your tofu in salt water for 15 minutes.
Salt-soaking tofu is an excellent way to pre-season it and create a more crispy coating. After the tofu has been fully soaked, refer to the steps above and drain it properly on a dish towel or paper towel.
Draining tofu is a method commonly used to prepare block tofu. Begin by first removing all of the water from the package. Doing so will ensure that the flavors of your meal are not diluted and that the finished dish is the texture desired.
Begin draining your block tofu by placing it on an absorbent surface, such as a dishtowel, and allowing the towel to absorb the water for 5 to 10 minutes.
Arguably the most straightforward way to prepare tofu is to freeze it. When tofu is frozen, the moisture is removed, and the curds in the tofu are compacted to extract the whey. This results in a spongy block of tofu that will happily absorb all of the seasonings and sauces you add to it.
When freezing tofu, it's vital that you remove it from the package it came in and drain out all of the excess liquid surrounding it. After draining it, place the block of tofu in an airtight container or plastic bag or cut it up into thin pieces or chunks before freezing it. Allow the tofu to remain in the freezer for at least 3 hours before removing it.
Frozen tofu should be defrosted in the refrigerator, microwave, or a pot of boiling water and can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months without spoiling.
Though tofu may look like a sponge, it isn't always the best at soaking up the ingredients around it. Because of this, we recommend cutting them into tofu cubes, and marinating them after it's been cooked instead of before.
Glazing tofu that has been pan-fried or cooked and then adding a marinade is the best way to ensure that it soaks up all flavors. This is the best way to create flavored tofu. If you choose to marinate your tofu beforehand, we recommend using frozen tofu as it's more porous and will better soak up the flavors added to it.
Now that you know more about the different types of tofu and how to prepare them properly, it's time to put that knowledge to the test. Tofu can be used to make various recipes ranging from desserts like this Citrus Pound Cake to savory dinners like this Burmese Tofus with Cilantro Lime Stir-Fried Vegetables.
How you choose to cook and flavor your tofu is entirely up to you! From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, we wish you great success on your tofu cooking journey.