Starting Out: Getting to Know Tofu

My Initial Struggle With Tofu

When I first became a vegetarian, all I knew about tofu was that vegetarians ate it, a lot of it, or so I thought. I had never tried it before, didn’t know what to do with it, and was a bit surprised when I brought home my first package of silken style tofu, tried to pan fry it, and ended up with a weird half-burnt lumpy mush that was a far cry from anything edible. I decided I needed help. After hunting around online for advice, I became overwhelmed with information and differing opinions on how to work with my new soy curd friend. Some suggested freezing it, others deep frying, and still others recommended draining the liquid using cheese cloth. This sounded like an awful lot of work for someone who was new to cooking, and I quickly decided I would just have to make due without tofu.

I didn’t touch tofu outside of restaurants again until six years later when I moved to Daegu, South Korea and took a Buddhist vegan cooking course from a friend. The recipes were based off the same fundamental ingredients the monks used in temple cooking, including very simple, traditional items such as lotus root, seaweed and tofu. I recognized the silken tofu as soon as she brought it out, and explained in blatant terms my last embarrassing experience with the stuff. She laughed when I got to the part about the frying pan. “Fry? You tried to fry this? But this is silken tofu!” She said, smiling. She then explained to me that there are a few different types of tofu, and that tofu can be used in a variety of ways as either a meat substitute or a protein-rich addition, but that it is important to select the right kind of tofu based on what you want to do with it. I will now pass on the very valuable advice she gave me which helped me to overcome my fear of bean curd and starting cooking some top-notch food using tofu.

Types of Tofu

Silken Tofu is a very soft form of tofu that is has the consistency of flan or custard. It is (generally speaking) best used uncooked and can be added to salads, or eaten by itself with a light dressing or soy, seaweed flakes and pepper (a popular dish in Korea and Japan.)

Soft Tofu varies from silken tofu in that it is more condensed and less custard like. It is thicker and firmer, can be cooked but is also excellent in soups and stews uncooked. Normally we want to use soft tofu in recipes where we want a very soft texture similar to how tofu tastes naturally. This kind of tofu is excellent for marinating and eating raw, but flavored.

Firm Tofu is the sort of tofu we generally want to put in the frying pan, deep fryer, or oven. This kind of tofu is an excellent meat substitute and when drained of water and cooked often has a texture that goes nicely in dishes as varied as mexican recipes, soups, stir frys, and scrambles. There are a few ways to prepare and cook firm tofu. The cheese cloth method I first learned about can certinaly be used to drain the water out of tofu, but so can paper towels, simple pan frying (cut the tofu into 1/2″ thin strips and press down on the tofu with your spatula to help squeeze out the moisture), or deep frying (you’ll want to squeeze some of the water out before doing this using the paper towel / cheese cloth method). Sometimes firm tofu is subdivided into medium, firm, or extra-firm tofu. You’ll want to select the option that is best suited for the meal you are preparing- extra firm for very hard textures and medium for softer textures.

Dried Tofu / Pre-cooked Tofu Many stores carry pre-cooked or dried tofu which does not require much preparation. You can recognize this kind of tofu by its golden brown color (the other two kinds of tofu will be white). Unlike the other kinds of tofu, this sort of tofu will not be prepackaged in water. Usually pre-cooked tofu has a skin that is rough and thick. The inside is tender just like normal firm tofu. It can be eaten by itself with a marinade (sometimes this is already included with the tofu) or used in salads, pastas, or scrambles. You’ll probably need to experiment with these a bit before you find the “right” tofu for your recipes as pre-cooked tofu varies greatly in terms of consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tofu

How do you store tofu?

For long-term storage, tofu can be placed in the freezer for up to 4 or 5 months. Once opened and sliced, depending on the size, tofu can become difficult to store and keep because it is a perishible product that requires water to retain moisture and prevent spoilage. The best way to keep tofu is uncut and in as big a “block” as possible. Put the block in a air-tight plastic container filled with water (up to the height of the tofu block). Re-fill the water every day to ensure the tofu stays moisturized and fresh. If the water is changed every day, the tofu can last several days, up to 5 days.

How long does tofu take to go bad?

If stored unopened and in the freezer, tofu can last up to 5 months after the date of purchase. It is important to keep an eye on the expiration date, of course, and only to open the tofu directly before you intend to use it. For opened and re-stored tofu (placed in the fridge and in water), re-freshing the water daily can allow it to keep up to 5 days. If stored as left overs, it is best to eat as soon as possible as spoilage will depend on the other items included in the recipe.

How can you cook tofu?

Tofu can be eaten raw with or without a sauce or marinade. It can be cut up and placed in soups (soft tofu is recommended for this). It cake be over-baked, pan-friend, or deep-fried. There are a number of recipes in this blog that show you how to use tofu. Click the “tofu” tag for a list of recipes, or use the search function.

Where can I find tofu?

Tofu can be found in many supermarkets in the vegetables section. It is usually located next to the organic greens and fresh dressings. Asian and oriental markets are a great resource for different kinds of tofu. Vegetarian and organic grocers will generally carry tofu.

Can I freeze tofu?

Yes. Freezing tofu is a common long-term solution to tofu storage. Tofu can be frozen up to 5 months after the date of purchase, depending on the expiry date and temperature. It can later be defrosted for immediate use.

How much tofu should I eat?

This is a question that has been debated by nutritionists for quite some time. One thing to be aware of is that soy allergies are very common, so it is important to go slow when adding tofu to your diet. Try one meal a week and work up to adding more if things go okay. If you notice any sort of allergic reaction, stop and if necessary consult your doctor. Another important thing to consider is your general nutritional and dietary needs. Tofu, unfermented, is a whole protein. The amount of protein the average person needs will vary based on their size and activity level, not to mention general metabolic makeup. That said, here’s a calculator that may help give a general idea of your protein needs. 100 grams of firm tofu contains about 11.5 grams of soy protein. It is important to get enough protein in your diet as protein is essential for maintaining bodily health. That said, many doctors believe having too much protein may put pressure on your kidneys or other organs and all nutritionists agree that eating too much of one thing is never a good idea, generally speaking. It is best to use your judgment as to how much tofu you should or shouldn’t eat, but don’t feel like you have to use tofu in every meal in order to meet your protein requirement. There are lots of sources of protein out there aside from tofu, and it is important to maintain a balanced diet not just for your health, but for your palate!

LINKS:

How to eat tofu without really trying
Wikipedia explains everything about tofu you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask
Soy Vey! Should you eat it or not?
Protein calculator
Preparing and Cooking With Tofu

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    yally said,

    This has been far more helpful than anything else I’ve ever read on tofu, thank you! x

  2. 2

    Bendi Benri said,

    I have a complete love relationship with tofu. I mainly use it as a dairy replacement! It’s versatility is amazing. Off to check out your recipes now. Always on the look out for new ideas. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. 3

    Spoon said,

    Thank you! Ive been looking for some straight forward advice on tofu. Fantastic post.


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