The Only Tofu Guide You'll Ever Need

October 04, 2015

The Only Tofu Guide You'll Ever Need

It’s not a secret that vegetables are good for you. I’m sure at one point everyone has had the thought, “I need to eat more vegetables;” a dietary adjustment that is difficult for many of us who aren’t sure how to incorporate more plants into our diet, or perhaps just dread the taste. 

If you’ve decided to reduce your intake of red meats, you’ll need an additional source of plant-based protein… and that’s where tofu comes in. Tofu is versatile and can easily be a substitute for most meaty dishes. Tofu can be a little intimidating at first, so follow this tofu guide to learn the basics.

What is Tofu?

For non-vegetarians, or those just starting out, tofu is a bit of a mystery. Most people are vaguely familiar with it and might even know that it is a soy product (though more and more often tofu-alternatives made with ingredients like almonds and chickpeas are popping up in stores). If you’re anything like me, though, the most curious (and, honestly, terrifying) thing about tofu is the texture.

Tofu is made a lot like cheese. It is curdled from soymilk in much the same process that cheese is curdled from milk. So, tofu shares a similar texture to many forms of cheese—a good thought to keep in mind when you open your first package of tofu and find yourself face to face with a spongy, white, gelatinous square.

Cooking with Tofu

If you go to the store to buy tofu, you may find yourself overwhelmed with choices. Turns out, just like there are dozens upon dozens of choices of cheese, there are many different types of tofu, too. If you want to have a good experience with your tofu (especially if you’re new to the stuff) then you need to make sure you buy the right type for your meal. Here’s are the various types of tofu you need to know:

 

Silken Tofu (Japanese Tofu)

Silken Tofu, just as it sounds, has a silk-like texture that is smoother and softer than other forms of tofu. This is because when the tofu is made it is not pressed like other types of tofu, providing it with the most moisture content. Because of this, silken tofu is best when used blended into creamy dishes, such as what a dressing or smoothie might call for. 

Soft Tofu

Not to be confused with silken tofu, soft tofu, though still having a high moisture content, has been slightly pressed and is sold as a solid block in water, just like the other types of tofu below. It doesn’t quite have the silken texture of silken tofu, but it’s also not as firm as other tofu. It can be used as a substitute for silken tofu where a thicker and/or denser consistency is desired. It simply requires more blending.

Firm/ Extra Firm Tofu

If you’ve had tofu before, it’s likely been firm or extra firm tofu. If you haven’t already guessed from the names, these types of tofu are the most solid and hold together better than soft or silken tofu because the moisture content has been nearly pressed out completely (firm having a little more moisture than extra firm). Why does moisture content matter? If you’re going for a crispy outer texture, the less moisture, the crispier the result. You can even press your tofu yourself to squeeze out even more moisture, if you so desire. Because of the consistency of firm and extra firm tofu, they are great options if you are baking, scrambling, or frying your tofu.

Speciality Tofu

More and more you can find tofu that ranges outside of your basic silken/ soft/ firm/ extra firm varieties. These types of tofu are often made with differing ingredients, such as “Sprouted Tofu,” which is made with sprouted soybeans, and “Black Tofu,” which is made with black soybeans and is slightly higher in protein. Both of these types, though slightly varying in texture from regular tofu, can still be used in the same ways.

Trying Tofu for the First Time

Tofu can seem a bit exotic, and if you’re anything like me, it’s raw appearance may seem less than appetizing. If you’re new to the stuff, trying it in a dish before you buy it and make it yourself is a good option to decide whether it’s a food for you. A good Asian cuisine restaurant will likely have some great tofu dishes that are newbie friendly. Though not the healthiest of options, I personally love the way Pei Wei cooks their tofu.

If you’ve decided tofu is for you and you’re ready to try your hand at making it yourself, find a recipe and make sure to follow it thoroughly. When you are learning a new food and its quirks, it’s always best to leave the experimentation behind until you are completely comfortable with it. Once you’ve mastered cooking with tofu, it makes a great alternative to even your favorite meat dishes, and you might just find that you actually prefer it in some cases. There is a certain rendition of Veggie Korma that I can’t get enough of that uses chunks of tofu in place of higher-calorie chunks of cheese, and I love it so much I could honestly eat it every day for the rest of my life. Win-win, if you ask me.

Happy (tofu) cooking!




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