What Is Tofu?
Let’s shine the spotlight on tofu, the super-versatile soy protein that’s become loved as a delicious plant-based staple. Tofu recipes are extremely popular for those eating a plant-based diet because tofu is a great flavour vessel for all sorts of dishes. Speaking of which, we’ve got loads of vegetarian recipes and vegan recipes for you to try. Now let’s talk tofu.
What is tofu and how is it classified?
Tofu is a type of soy protein and is also known as bean curd. There are numerous varieties of tofu including silken, regular, firm, extra-firm and super-firm. These are categorised by texture, which is based on the water content in the tofu. More water means a softer (or silkier) texture, while less water creates a firmer consistency.
- Silken – try and pick this up and it will fall apart in your hands. It’s super soft and great for using as cream or soft cheese in bakes, smoothies, pasta dishes and dips. Silken tofu can also be eaten raw – try covering it in hot chilli and garlic oil for something with a kick.
- Regular – firmer than silken tofu and spongy at the touch, regular tofu is like a vessel for flavour and works nicely in soups and stews, or as a vegan take on scrambled eggs.
- Firm – the most popular form of tofu is easy to chop and can be cooked in a range of ways. Just remember to fully dry this tofu before cooking to help it absorb any marinade used.
- Extra-firm – the main difference between this tofu and firm tofu is that this one doesn’t soak up marinades as well. However, it’s easier to stir-fry or deep-fry.
- Super-firm – this is the most compact kind of tofu and is a great meat substitute. Simply mix with your chosen flavourings and fry.
So what does tofu taste like? It’s a little sweet and nutty, meaning there’s lots of room for flavour to be added when cooked.
How is tofu made?
Similar to making cheese, tofu is made by curdling fresh soya milk and pressing the curd into blocks which are then left to cool.
To make soya milk, dried soybeans are first washed and soaked for at least six hours, then ground to a pulp. The amount of water added at this stage will determine the creaminess of the soya milk.
The pulp is then simmered for 15 to 30 minutes before being drained through a piece of cloth in a sieve. The thick pulp that remains is squeezed hard so that all the nutrients end up in the final product: the soy milk.
This liquid is then heated at a low temperature and mixed with a water-soluble coagulant, like vinegar, lemon juice or nigari (boiled seawater) to curdle it.
Eventually, a mass is created of solid white curds and yellowish liquid whey. The white tofu mass is spooned into moulds along with a cheesecloth, then covered with a weight that will press moisture out of the tofu.
The weight and time for this draining process determines the type of tofu, from silken to extra-firm.
How to cook with tofu?
Before you cook with tofu, you might need to press it to release moisture. Depending on which kind you’re using and what you’re making, pressing tofu will help it absorb marinades and spices better. It also means you’ll get a crispier crust when frying and less splatter in the pan.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a tofu press, there’s an easy method you can use instead. Simply wrap your block of firm or extra-firm tofu in a clean tea towel, place on a plate and put a chopping board on top. Then place something heavy on the board and let the tofu drain until you find it firm enough.
Tofu can be frozen. More advanced tofu cooks swear by freezing it as a method for extracting liquid. Two things happen when you freeze tofu.
- Water turns into ice crystals, which makes it easier to drain.
- Ice crystals that form create small holes in the product, and this makes it spongier and firmer, plus you’ll find it’s easier to crisp up and absorb flavours.
How to marinate tofu
Marinating tofu before cooking with it allows for a deeper flavour. However, there’s no need to marinade if you’re putting it in a stew or letting it simmer in a broth. But for all other types of prep, it’s always better to marinate the tofu first thing. Here are some tips:
1. Maximise flavour
Use a ‘conductor’ like rice vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice, rice wine or even a little bit of water to make sure the herbs and spices are distributed equally.
2. Avoid using oil in marinades
Depending on the amount of moisture in the tofu, added oil can form a layer around the tofu, stopping it from absorbing flavours. When grilling tofu for instance, brush with oil only after it has been marinated.
3. Create a sweet crust
Marinades with something sweet added, like sugar or maple syrup, are not only delicious, but also create a crispy crust, as the sugars caramelise when heated.
4. Create a crispy crust
For an extra crispy crust, roll marinated tofu pieces in some rice flour, potato starch, corn flour or grated coconut before frying. Just make sure to use a non-stick pan with a good amount of oil. Deep-frying is also an option if preferred.
5. Think about timings
The bigger the tofu cubes or pieces, the more time it needs to absorb the marinade. Aim for at least 15 minutes, and if you have time, marinate the tofu overnight.
How to cook tofu in a pan
When it comes to pan-frying tofu, all kinds of firm tofu work well. Cook in a pan and you’ll end up with a crispy outside and a soft centre, just ensure the tofu is dry first.
Heat a pan and add a layer of cooking oil with a high smoke point like sunflower oil. Let the oil heat up, then fry the tofu while turning the pieces often so that all sides are nicely browned. Once cooked, remove the tofu from the pan and let it dry on kitchen towel.
What about eating tofu raw?
That’s not a problem. Tofu can indeed be eaten raw, however it will taste quite different to baked tofu.
Our four best tofu recipes
Now that you’ve had a peek into the tremendous world of tofu, you might fancy rustling up a tofu-based dish.
Miso Soup with Noodles and Tofu
This nourishing tofu soup has sriracha added for a bit of heat, and is a wonderful idea for a weekday dinner.
Sichuan-Style Tofu and Aubergine
The firm tofu used in this recipe soaks up the flavours and adds protein to the dish. Delicious and nutritious.
This tofu-based ramen is quick, easy and sure to please friends and family alike. It’s warming too, ideal as a midwinter meal.
Tofu Tacos with Black Beans and Avocado
Try another way to taco with the help of these crispy, spicy tofu tacos with black beans and avocado. Yum.
That’s all we have to say about this amazing soy product.
Ready to cook? Shop for tofu (and lots more) in our Vegan Shop.