Whether you love it or hate it, you've probably been seeing tofu more often. If you'd like to learn more about it, but don't know where to start, we've got you covered.
This comprehensive guide will cover best practices for cooking and storing tofu as well as a bunch of cool facts and recipes to try out!
Be sure to use the table of contents below to skip to the topic you'd like to learn more about.
What is Tofu Exactly?
Tofu is good old fashioned soy milk that's been curdled, pressed, and formed into a block. While this may sound kind of strange, It's actually pretty cool!
Once the soy milk has been strained of all of the pulp, a coagulant is added to it - namely nigari - which is another name for magnesium chloride which is a type of salt.
After the soy milk is coagulated, it's molded and pressed into the block that everyone is familiar with.
The video above does a great job of outlining the entire process in a home kitchen.
This guide by Just Hungry is another excellent resource.
What's the Best Way to Store it?
Tofu will stay for quite a while in the refrigerator and store-bought packages tend to have pretty accurate expiration dates. We've actually tried to eat some expired tofu and wouldn't recommend it. It tastes really bad.
You can freeze tofu to extend its shelf life, but this will change its texture (in a positive way).
More details on freezing tofu to come...
How Long Does It Last?
If you've made fresh tofu at home and haven't applied a proper seal to it, you're tofu is likely going to only last a few days in the refrigerator. Probably around 3-5.
However, store bought packages tend to be dated at least 1-2 months in the future. Obviously, this will vary.
The reason for the drastic difference is in the seal. Tofu manufacturers have sealing equipment that keeps the air from getting into the block of tofu which makes a huge difference on its shelf life.
We haven't conducted or found any long-term studies, but we think its safe to say that 3-6 months is a good estimate for how long tofu will last in the freezer.
Freezing tofu isn't only a means of making it last longer. When tofu is put to cold temperatures the water crystallizes and forms holes in its structure. This gives the final product a spongier texture.
Best Preparation Practices
Here's what you need to know to get the best outcome when cooking tofu. These aren't necessarily hard and fast rules and you don't have to use any of them if you don't want to.
If you're feeling lazy, simply slicing your tofu up and throwing it in the oven with some seasonings is a great way to enjoy it.
These methods also mainly apply to baking or frying. If you're going to be throwing it into a soup or stew, these aren't necessary.
Use Cornstarch to Make It Crispy
Whether you're baking or frying, using cornstarch to lightly coat your tofu is a great way to make it super crispy. It's not totally essential, and we regularly make our tofu without it. However, if you don't use it, it's hard to make tofu really crispy without fully dehydrating and shrinking it.
Press it To Remove Excess Water
Pressing and draining tofu is a great way to improve the texture and flavor. By removing all of the excess water from the tofu, you end up with a more condensed block and a firmer, less spongy texture.
It also allows you to better infuse the tofu with flavor from marinades. As the water comes out it allows room for flavorings and seasonings to come in.
Using a good tofu press makes this process quick and easy.
Freeze it to Make it Spongier
During a tofu freezing experiment that we did, we were delighted to learn that freezing tofu changes the texture pretty drastically.
When frozen, ice crystals form within the tofu which creates extra little spaces. This allows for sauces to get in and gives the final product a spongy bite.
The photo above illustrates what the final product looks like.
Freezing your tofu to form these holes is great for making buffalo tofu or any sort of tofu nuggets where you want a crumbly texture.
Once you've got rid of the excess water, its a great time to marinate the tofu. You can literally use anything that you think will taste good.
Because tofu has takes on the flavor of everything, simply look up a marinade for a flavor profile you're looking to hit and let it sit for at least an hour.
Quick Tip: You'll want to remove as much water as humanly possible if you're using adding oil to the marinade. It will allow for maximum flavor absorption. Water and oil don't mix!
8 Awesome Tofu Facts
Tofu Has Been Around for Thousands of Years
While it may seem like a recent health trend in Western countries, Tofu has actually been enjoyed for centuries in Asia. It has been estimated to have first appeared in China over 2000 years ago!
Even more interesting, the oldest documented reference is actually a poem titled "Ode to Tofu".
It Was Discovered By Accident
Scholars believe that tofu was an accidental discovery and coined the term Accidental Coagulation Theory. The theory states that someone was making a soup out of pureed soybeans and decided to season it with unrefined sea salt. Because unrefined sea salt contains natural nigari (magnesium chloride) it would have formed curdles in the soup - similar to how tofu is made today!
This accident likely caused people to experiment with then straining out the soybean pulp and eventually even pressing the curds to make them more firm and able to be sliced.
It Doesn't Cause "Man-Boobs"
In certain circles, people may advise you not to eat tofu because it contains phytoestrogens which can cause "gynecomastia" or enlarged breast tissue in men. This is simply not true.
While there are a select documented cases of this occurring, it was only with extremely high soy consumption to the tune of around 3 quarts per day.
As a final point, it's worth noting that beer also contains phytoestrogens - in much greater concentrations than soy!
We'd bet that many people telling you to avoid tofu enjoy a nice glass of beer now and again.
Check out our article on soy to learn more about this topic.
Tofu is Being Enjoyed in Public Schools
Many public schools in New York are embracing a meatless Monday lunch menu. Others are going meatless all five days of the week!
In addition to other staple plant foods such as beans and legumes, dishes such as tofu and Chinese noodles are becoming quite popular among youngsters in public schools.
While this might seem like a huge leap for Westerners, it would likely be quite commonplace in many countries throughout Asia.
It's VERY Unlikely to Contain GMOs
Most tofu sold in the store is organic which means its non-GMO. While we recommend staying away from GMO-soy products because of pesticides, it's not something you generally have to worry about with tofu.
Most of the GMO soybeans that are produced are used for feeding animals.
There are certainly some brands that aren't organic, but it isn't the norm. Additionally, they don't run you any cheaper so there's basically no upside to buying them.
See Also: Paneer vs. Tofu
You Can Make it With Chickpeas
If you're allergic to soy-based tofu, don't worry! With a few easy steps, you can make your own "Burmese Tofu" at home using chickpea flour.
Check out the video below to learn how to do it yourself - it's quick and easy!
You can even even black bean flour to make a Southwest variety!
It's Still Made the Traditional Way
As mentioned earlier, tofu is made from curdled soy milk.
While the word "curdled" may sound disgusting it actually just means to "congeal" or form curds. By adding a coagulant to soy milk, you're causing a chemical reaction that causes it to form lumps and eventually be molded into a solid block.
Current practices of making tofu don't really differ too much from the traditional way of doing it. Producers simply curdle the soy milk and then turn it into blocks!
There are Several Different Tofu Varieties
People that aren't generally into tofu might be surprised to learn that there are several different types. Here are the three basic ones you're going to find in stores, but we may be missing some of the niche varieties:
As you might imagine, the firm and extra firm are ideal for holding up on tofu kebabs or in stir fries.
Silken tofu is ideal for smoothies and dressings, which brings us to our next section...
You Can Eat Tofu For Dessert
While its texture might be the most questionable upfront, the silken variety is great for making a wide variety of desserts. Because of its smoother texture, it won't have the signature grit of the firm or extra firm.
Here are a few of the many desserts that you can with silken tofu:
Now onto our curated list of awesome tofu recipes...
Tofu Recipes (Let's Get Cooking!)
1. Vegan Tofu with Creamy Grits and Greens by Rabbit and Wolves
2. Sesame Soba Noodles w/ Crispy Tofu by This Savory Vegan
3. Baked Tofu Casserole with Quinoa by Loving it Vegan
4. Vegan Kung Pao Tofu by China Sichuanfood
5. Tofu Popcorn Chickn (Vegan) by Happy Healing
6. Simple Baked Tofu by Dianne's Vegan Kitchen
7. Crispy Tofu with Garlic Sauce by Omnivores Cookbook
8. Thai Black Pepper Garlic Tofu by Fat Free Vegan
9. Crispy Sweet and Sour Tofu by Hot For Food Blog
10. Indian Butter Tofu by Vegan Richa
11. Tofu Bolognese by It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken
12. Veggie Tofu Stir Fry by The Minimalist Baker
13. Teriyaki Peanut Tofu by I Love Vegan
14. Hijiki Tofu Burgers with Carrot Ginger Dressing by Vegangela
15. Peanut Tofu Curry Satay by Rhian's Recipes
16. Turmeric Pineapple Tofu Kebabs by Ambitious Kitchen
17. Crispy Orange Tofu by Namely Marly
20. Tofu Stir Fry Meal Prep by Workweek Lunch
21. Sticky Chili Ginger Tofu by A Virtual Vegan
24. Tofu Makhani Curry by Holy Cow Vegan
25. Vegan Tofu Feta Cheese by Simple Vegan Blog
26. Sesame Tofu with Broccoli by Budget Bytes
27. Asparagus & Mushroom Quinoa Quiche by Emilie Eats
28. Blackened Tofu Tacos by Making Thyme for Health
29. Vegan Tofu Ricotta Lasagna by The Glowing Fridge
30. 5-Ingredient Baked Tofu by A Clean Bake
31. Black Pepper Tofu by Cilantro and Citronella
34. Spiced Tofu Kebabs with Vegan Yogurt Sauce by Lauren Caris Cooks
35. Easy Tofu Bacon by Eat With Your Means
36. Coconut Crusted Tofu by Well Vegan
37. Tofu Veggie Frittata by Forks Over Knives
38. Kimchi Chigae with Tofu by The Korean Vegan
39. Southwestern Tofu Scramble by Healthy Tomato
40. Baked BBQ Tofu by Oh My Veggies
41. Vegan Tofu Nuggets the Lazy Broccoli
42. Tofu Poke Bowl by the Edgy Veg
43. Tofu Scramble Breakfast Pockets by the Breakfast Fairy
44. Enchilada Bowls with Tofu by Full of Plants
49. Vegan Tofu Taco Meat by Fooduzzi
50. Spicy Black Bean and Tofu Sofritas by This Savory Vegan
51. Pineapple Stir Fry with Tofu by Veggie Inspired
52. Butternut Squash Tofu and Thai Curry by The Flavors of Kitchen
53. Tofu Fish Skillet by Happy Herbivore
54. Vegan Tofu Pesto Sandwich by Ex Sloth
55. Dorito Crusted Tofu (Vegan) by Bake and Destoy
56. Crispy Harasa Tofu with Sesame Noodles by Will Frolick for Food
57. Vegan Mapo Tofu by Serious Eats