A Guide To Tofu

Tofu is the perfect pantry ingredient, as it has a mild taste that absorbs any flavours that you cook with. It is revered for both its incredible variety of textures but also its very delicate flavour. Tofu is also a healthy meat alternative, owing to the fact that it’s created with low fat and high protein soybeans and is ideal for soups, salads and many Asian dishes.

Tofu is made from grinding soybeans with water into milk, which is 'cogulated' or set using a setting agent. The tofu is then pressed in stages and depending on how many times or how firmly the resulting tofu is pressed and how much water is used, you will get different forms of tofu.

Like tofu, seitan is also a great meat alternative. Make your own using vital wheat gluten flour.

How To Use Different Types Of Tofu

All varieties of tofu share one thing - they are made from the milk of soybeans. However, they vary in texture and character and different types of tofu are better suited to different dishes. Take a look at the most popular varieties of tofu and how they are used.

  • Silken/ Soft Tofu is made with less soy milk and more water and isn’t as firmly pressed as other varieties of tofu. For this reason it holds flavour well, but is very delicate. It’s best used as an addition to soups and in sweet dishes as it has a consistency similar to custard. It’s often thought of as more challenging to cook with as it falls apart easily. You wouldn’t add soft tofu to a stir fry or try to bake it, as it wouldn’t hold its shape at all. It's available both refrigerated and in long-life packets. Freshly made silken tofu is a luxury absolutely worth seeking out on your travels. 
  • Silken/ Firm Tofu: This version of tofu still maintains its softy, silky texture but holds its shape in cooking and can be used in noodle dishes and broths as well as being great for baking and grilling. Firm Tofu is ideal for deep frying too, as the inside remains soft but holds enough shape to allow the outside to crisp up when coated in e.g. potato flour.
  • Firm Tofu: Firm tofu is usually refrigerated. It is more firmly pressed than silken tofu, and may have a very slightly grainy texture. Firm tofu is very easy to slice, griddle, bbq and deep-fry as it holds its shape extremely well. To think of the textures in fruit / vegetable terms, slicing firm tofu is like slicing a peach, whereas slicing silken-firm tofu is more like slicing a very ripe avocado. 
  • Organic Tofu: Organic tofu can be any form of tofu where the soybeans are organically grown.
  • Beancurd Skin: Although not strictly tofu, when you rapidly boil soy milk a skin forms on the surface. This is lifted off and dried to make beancurd skin. Rehydrate the rolled beancurd skin sticks in boiling water and then use in recipes with richly flavoured stocks much like you might cook firm tofu. 

Tofu Health Benefits

The health benefits of tofu are vast, and are mainly derived from soya beans. Soya beans are a great source of protein, and have a lower saturated fat content that their meat alternatives. Variants like the Satono Yuki Tofu have over 25% soya content, making them especially high in protein, fibre and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Tofu is also naturally gluten free and low in calories, making it perfect for those who want a lighter option or are trying to lose weight. Due to the amount of LDL fats (good fats) it’s thought to have a positive effect on the heart and may even lower cholesterol and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

How To Cook Tofu

If you’re just beginning to learn how to cook tofu, then you may want some inspiration. Take a look at these popular ways to cook tofu, that will allow you to add it to any dish as a healthy meat alternative.

How To Cook Marinated Tofu 

Marinating tofu is an amazing way to allow the ingredient to soak up flavours. Beware though - adding oil to a marinade will make the absorption tricky. Instead of oil, use a blend of herbs and spices like the Thai Seven Spice mix with soy sauce and leave it for around an hour before cooking. 

Adding marinated tofu to a noodle stir fry can be a great option, or alternatively cook marinated firm tofu on a griddle pan and serve with roasted vegetables.

How To Grill Tofu

Using a gridlle pan to give delicious charred marks on marinated tofu is a great way to keep it at healthy as possible. However, for this technique, you will need to use extra firm tofu that won’t fall apart when griddled.

Spicy tofu is great on the grill and is the perfect addition to a summer salad. Simply marinate tofu with soy sauce, cayenne pepper, chilli pepper, garlic powder and paprika and cut it in to slightly thinner, longer strips before grilling it. Add this to a salad of your choice.

Or if you are still keen to add tofu to a roast vegetable salad and only have a firm silken tofu available, leave the marinated tofu to drain on kitchen paper in a colandar before cooking. And then pan-fry in a tiny amount of oil. 

How to Smoke Tofu

Extra firm tofu is great hot-smoked in a stovetop smoker, again without adding any extra fat during cooking. Just drain it well, pat dry on a tea-towel and then hot smoke it for around thirty minutes.

The smoked tofu can be sliced to bring flavour to more mellow dishes, for example an egg-fried rice recipe

Smoked Tofu Fried Rice

How To Use Tofu in Ramen Dishes

Tofu tastes amazing in Japanese ramen, and soaks up all of those delicious flavours perfectly. It’s a really quick and easy addition to your traditional ramen broth, simply cook up your ramen as you usually would and then add the tofu and leave to simmer for 2-3 minutes.

How to Use Tofu in Soups

Tofu is a classic ingredient in Japanese soups and broths. Most famously tofu is added to simple Japanese miso soup, or even to add a protein to more elaborate miso broths with noodles and roast vegetables

Rich and spicy tofu stew in Korea

Tofu served in a spicy broth in South Korea

How to Deep-Fry Tofu

Agedashi tofu is one of Japan's most famous tofu dishes. Silken tofu is patted dry, rolled in potato flour and deep-fried. Although the tofu is very mellow, you add flavour by serving it in a rich broth of sake, soy sauce, Japanese mirin wine and dashi. 

You can also deep-fry firm tofu. It is still best to pat the tofu dry, and then coat the tofu in flour before frying, to give it a crisp golden crust.

Tofu in Desserts

Soft, silken tofu tastes amazing in desserts as it has a custard-like texture that absorbs sugars well whilst holding its shape when baked. Many people use tofu in desserts such as dairy-free cheesecakes and sweet pies. They are also a fantastic addition to dairy-free smoothies and milkshakes as they add a lovely creamy thickness.

Tofu Recipes from Around the World

Tofu, Mushroom & Sesame Burgers with Kimchi Recipe 

Tofu, Mushroom & Sesame Burgers with Kimchi

Genevieve Taylor’s Korean-inspired burgers combine firm tofu with bouncy mushrooms and cooked brown rice. These patties have a meaty texture, so they hold their shape really well on the grill. 

Yakitori Tofu, Pineapple & Red Pepper Recipe

Yakitori Tofu, Pineapple & Red Pepper Recipe

Genevieve Taylor soaks cubes of firm tofu in a sticky soy, rice wine and sake marinade for these punchy BBQ skewers. Drizzle any leftover marinade over your next batch of steamed rice for an added kick. Try the recipe here!

Bean Curd Skin Rolls Recipe

Bean Curd Skin Rolls Recipe

Bean curd skin rolls are a regular on dim sum menus across Hong Kong. Instead of pastry, a thin sheet of tofu encases a chicken, spring onion and soy sauce filling. Click here for the recipe.

Kung Po Tofu Recipe

Kung Po Tofu Recipe

Ching-He Huang’s Sichuan dish of tofu cubes stir-fried with peppercorns and chilli balances numbing, spicy, sweet and tangy flavours for an impressive side dish. Try the recipe now!

Hot-Smoked Tofu In No Time: Vegetarian Egg-Fried Rice Recipe

Hot-Smoked Tofu In No Time: Vegetarian Egg-Fried Rice Recipe

Hot-smoking is a great way of adding flavour to tofu. Here we show you how to smoke your own tofu at home, and suggest a simple fried rice recipe to use it in.

Agedashi Tofu Recipe

Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi tofu is a quick-to-make Japanese starter or side dish. Normally it’s deep-fried, but our recipe calls for shallow frying instead. Using potato flour gives the tofu a wonderfully crisp texture. Recipe available here.

Tofu In A Light Miso Sauce Recipe

Tofu In A Light Miso Sauce Recipe

Match tofu with miso sauce in this light, nutritious dish. Try serving alongside stir-fried vegetables to make a meal of it.

Shira Ae Creamy Japanese Tofu Salad Recipe

Shira Ae – Creamy Japanese Tofu Salad Recipe

In this classic Japanese dish, firm tofu is drained, sieved and then mixed with sesame seeds, white miso, sugar and salt to make a creamy dressing that’s stirred through vegetables.

Vegan Turkish-Style Breakfast Tofu Recipe

Vegan Turkish-Style Breakfast Tofu Recipe

Start your day with this punchy tomato stew, spiced with Aleppo pepper. Cubes of silken tofu are simmered for a couple of minutes before being added to the pan, where they promptly soak up all those aromatic flavours.  

Pock-Marked Woman's Beancurd (Mapo Dofu) Recipe

Pock-Marked Woman's Beancurd (Mapo Dofu) Recipe

A classic Chinese dish, mapo dofu calls for a spicy chilli paste, soy sauce, vegetable stock and potato starch concoction, which is stirred through pickled Chinese cabbage and cubes of tofu. Great served with rice. Click here for the full recipe.

Kimchi Wang Mandu Korean Dumpling Recipe

Kimchi Wang Mandu – Korean Dumpling Recipe

Korean dumplings can be filled with sweet or savoury ingredients, as explained by recipe authors Da-Hae and Gareth West. Here, fried pork mince is combined with kimchi, spring onions and crumbled tofu for an umami dumpling filling.

Shop all tofu and learn more about fermented foods with our ultimate guide.

1 comment

  • Great article, been looking for a guide like this for a while plus all the recipes look delicious 😋

    Victoria on

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