Eat Your… Tofu


When asked to name a food that vegetarians eat that is not eaten by meat eaters, most people think “Tofu!”. And like my mom would tell me while I cooked dinner for the two of us, “Don’t you dare put any of that tofu shit in my food!” Well, she eventually tried it and liked it — I hope you will too!

What is tofu made of? How is it best prepared? What can it be used for? The answers may surprise you.


Tofu originated in China long ago but the exact date is still debated. Most likely it became popularized around 500 A.D. Its use has spread globally, yet tofu is still most commonly associated with Asian cuisine and presented in its basic, cubed form. In the United States and other Western cultures tofu has taken on other dimensions as veggie burgers, pies, milkshakes, and more.

Tofu is nothing more than a compressed block of curds derived from the coagulation of soy milk (using salts or acids as the coagulant). In some Asian recipes it is simply called “bean curd”. This process shares similarity with cheese making, although unlike cheese, tofu doesn’t really have a distinct, rich flavor of its own.

Types of Tofu

Even some vegetarians are unaware (as I once was) that tofu comes in more than one form. I will describe each below and list some types of cooking or preparation methods that each is good for. Links are for information purposes only, I do not endorse any particular product. I encourage you to explore the world of tofu on your own; if you don’t like the first brand that you buy, try a different one next time.

Most tofu is available in soft, firm, or extra-firm variations. I prefer extra firm for most purposes because it holds up well and I like a more chewy, meaty texture. You may like soft or firm better.

Sample recipes, courtesy of the linked sites, follow each description.

Firm or Regular Tofu

Regular tofu, generally sold in hand-sized blocks, plays many parts. It can be cubed and thrown in a hot stir fry or cold salad, sliced into strips and pan fried, or cut into slabs and grilled for a sandwich. For most applications it should be gently pressed to remove excess moisture.

Find it in the refrigerated section. Commercial tofu comes in plastic packaging and is surrounded by a thin layer of water. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Homemade tofu, found refrigerated at local Asian markets, should also be kept in water. Just make sure to change the water every day and use it within 3 days.

Link: Nasoya Extra Firm Tofu (product)

Link: How to Prepare and Press Tofu (info)

Recipe Examples:

Everybody Likes Sandwiches: Green Beans and Tofu

Herbivoracious: Tofu in the Style of Southeast Asian Steamed Fish

Silken Tofu

Silken tofu has a consistency somewhat like jello. It is very dense, a bit slippery, and falls apart easily. I have most often seen it used blended or mixed. It whips nicely and makes a great base for soy milk shakes, or as a thickener for soups and stews. The absolute best use for silken tofu? A chocolate pie that will have your non-veg friends scratching their heads and begging for the recipe! I’ll present it later in December — just in time for the holidays. Stay tuned.

Find it on the shelf, in unrefrigerated aseptic packaging. With a stable shelf life you can keep a few boxes in your cupboard.

Link: Mori-Nu Silken Tofu (product)

Recipe Examples:

Fat Free Vegan: Mini Crustless Tofu Quiches

Husband-Tested Recipes from Alice’s Kitchen: Pomegranate Smoothie

Other Types

At many natural foods markets and larger grocery stores you can often find tofu in italian, curry, thai, and I’ve even seen “aloha” flavored tofu (whatever that means). Of course it’s all a gimmick but sometimes the results are pretty good. At Asian specialty stores many more forms of tofu are available. You can find pre-fried versions with a skin on them (the Japanese version is called agedashi), tofu sold as “mock chicken”, and pickled tofu.

The main point here is that tofu comes in many, many forms, varieties and flavors. Be adventurous! Somewhere out there is surely a tofu for you!

Link: Pickled Tofu (info)

Link: Agedashi Tofu (photo)

Link: Tofu Veggie Burgers (product)

See you next week!

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Now Playing: Go Forth by Les Savy Fav.

Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).