What Kind of Tofu Do I Buy?

When I first made the switch to veganism, I hated tofu. It was a flavourless, jellylike mass with all the bad and none of the good qualities of desserts served at daycares. And for a vegan, not liking tofu can be a serious problem. Over time, as I learned about the different types of tofu available, I learned to love it. So, if you’re new to tofu, if you’re cooking for a tofu-eater, or if you’re trying to learn to love tofu, you might find this guide useful.

Click through to read the entire post.

Worried or curious about the dangers of soy? Skip to the bottom of the post for more information. We’ve also included some information on organic versus non-organic tofu – we only buy organic.

Varieties of Tofu

Soft or Silken: This type of tofu is sold in tubes, boxes, or packages. It’s very creamy and contains a lot of water. You can get silken dessert tofu that’s sweetened, or unflavoured silken tofu. This type of tofu is meant for blending with other ingredients – it’s an invaluable component of vegan pies, tortes, quiches, and so on. Do not use this type of tofu for a stir-fry, a tofu scramble, or any other dish where you need texture.

Medium Firm: Another very watery consistency of tofu that’s not very well suited for stir fries. Something you can do with this type of tofu is cube it (carefully – it falls apart easily), bread it, and fry it. It’ll turn molten and creamy inside. Medium firm tofu has a similar consistency to silken, but holds its shape better. You can conceivably press the water out of it, but it’s more suited for something like tofu ricotta, where its water content and creaminess is acceptable. Medium firm tofu is often served as the basic tofu at restaurants that don’t know a damn thing about making tofu palatable; in a savoury dish, this type of tofu often ends up feeling jellylike. It will easily fall apart when you cut it.

Firm: Ah, finally, we’re getting somewhere! Firm tofu is my go-to tofu for stir fries, tofu scrambles, and most recipes that require texture out of tofu. This tofu is still packed in water and does need to be drained and pressed before you use it. Click here or scroll down to learn how to press tofu. I often use firm tofu unpressed, so it still has some softness to it, but it’s that very softness that a lot of new tofu eaters and non-vegans dislike, so be careful here. Unpressed firm tofu is excellent for marinating and baking; the baking process dries it out, and using a pressed tofu will result in a dry flaky tofu.

Extra Firm: I’m not sure that there’s necessarily a difference between firm and extra firm tofu, but I usually go for the firmest I can find. Extra firm tofu slices easily and keeps its form. I usually don’t bother pressing extra firm tofu.

Pressed: You can purchase firm tofu already pressed; it will be packed in water but won’t actually have much water content. This tofu is excellent for slicing for sandwiches; it has the texture of a firm cheese and can be cut similarly. This kind of tofu is probably too firm for a stir fry.

Pre-Cooked Tofu

Smoked: Unless you have a home smoker (like the folks at What Do Vegans Eat), you’ll probably have to buy this from the store. There are two brands available in Vancouver, though this will vary. This is a firm tofu with a dark crust that has a smoked flavour to it; our cheese-loving friends compare it to smoked gouda. It’s excellent sliced on crackers, grated in salads, or just eaten piece by piece. A truly flavourful tofu that doesn’t need to be dressed up or heated. A friend of ours served it on crackers with vegan cream cheese as lox (smoked salmon)!

Baked: Packaged “baked tofu” is usually a marinated firm tofu that has been baked to perfection. You don’t even need to heat this tofu up – you can slice it and put it on sandwiches right out of the package. If this tofu isn’t available where you shop, it’s easy enough to marinate firm tofu yourself (up to overnight in a store-bought stir fry sauce, for example) and throw it in the oven for twenty minutes or so. Slice it no thicker than one centimeter.

Fried/Puffed: This type of packaged tofu is common in Asian grocery stores. It’s basically deep fried chunks of medium firm tofu packaged. It’s excellent served in ramen soup or in a stir fry. You probably want to heat it.

Alternative Tofu Approaches

Sprouted: I’ve never tried this type of tofu, but click here for more information. The gist is that it’s made from sprouted soybeans, which means it contains more nutrients, but also more fat.

A simple way to change the consistency of your tofu is to freeze it. You’ll probably want to drain it of its container water first, re-wrap it, and toss it in the freezer. Once it’s thawed, it’ll have a chewy texture that’s more “meaty” – think of a chicken nugget. This tactic can be delicious in scrambles, or in any recipe where you’re using tofu as a meat analog.

Okara: This is the pulp that’s left over after soybeans are processed into tofu or soy milk. If you make your own tofu (for which you’d need a soy milk maker), you’ll have this left over. You might also be able to purchase it from any local grocer that makes their own tofu. It’s nutritious – especially high in fibre – but very hard to work with. You can use it for omelettes or faux crab cakes, but keep in mind that it absorbs nearly infinite amounts of liquid and is quite flavourless. I’ve experimented a bit with okara and have never been super satisfied by the results.

Pressing Tofu

You will want to use firm tofu for this.
If you want to use your tofu pressed (firm and without water), you could try buying already-pressed tofu – but that’s not always an option. To press your own tofu, drain the water out of it. Prepare a colander, plate, or cutting board by placing a folded layer of paper towel on the bottom. Place the tofu on the paper towel and cover with another folded layer of paper towel. Place a heavy object, like that dictionary you never use, on top of the tofu, and let drain for an hour.
Use cheesecloth or a tea towel if you want to be nice to the planet.

Caring For Your Tofu

Eat your tofu before the expiration date. If you’re not going to be able to do that (buying a lot at a big sale?) then freeze it. Once you’ve opened a pack of tofu, you’ll want to repackage it in a resealable container, submerged in water. The key is to cover the tofu with water; any tofu that is uncovered by water will dry out and go yellow.
Change your tofu water daily, or close to daily. Once you’ve opened a package of tofu you’ll probably want to eat it within a week.

When Tofu Spoils: The Rainbow of Tofu

You’ll know your tofu is off if it has a pink tinge. Give it a smell and you’ll notice a sweetness about it. Don’t eat pink tofu!
Yellow tofu often happens if it’s left to dry out (not immersed in water) or if you don’t change the water often enough. It’s still safe to eat, but treat it better next time!
Any Other Colour
Where the hell’d you get that tofu at?

The Dangers of Soy

Too much of anything can be bad – after all, you probably all know that trying to survive on a diet that primarily consists of beef or even broccoli. Unfortunately, soy is in just about everything these days, so even if you don’t eat tofu at every meal, you’re still taking in a lot of soy. You can read more about the dangers of soy here – but our opinion is that everything should be enjoyed in moderation.

Organic versus Non-Organic

While certainty cannot, apparently, be reached on either side, I personally think it’s safer to stick to organic tofu. Soy is one of the most genetically modified crops grown today, and in North America, all organic soy is required by regulation to be non-GMO. (For more information, check out this link.) In the UK, there should be a label on your soy telling you whether it’s GMO or not. If you live in a different jurisdiction you’ll want to research the applicable GMO regulations.
Or hey, if you’re one of those adventurous, fearless folks who’s not worried about what genetically modified foods will do to your body – perhaps they are the wave of the future! – then do what you please.

Your feedback on this post is greatly appreciated. I only know so much! Please contribute!

7 thoughts on “What Kind of Tofu Do I Buy?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention mega post about varieties of tofu & how to use them. #vegan #tofu #foodguides -- Topsy.com

  2. Almira

    Great information! I love tofu, but I’m always trying to find ways to make it less horrendous to my non-vegan friends and family. What do you do to the pressed tofu before putting it into sandwiches?

    Also, since you’re in Vancouver, whereabouts do you buy your tofu? I’ve found Costco has a pretty good 3-pack (2 extra-firm and 1 pressed) of organic tofu for just over $6.

  3. malloreigh Post author

    I slice pressed tofu thinly and marinate it in a sauce (for sandwiches I like to use a teriyaki or other stirfry sort of sauce), then panfry it, and refrigerate it for sandwich stuffing later. You could really use any marinade for that.

    Good call on Costco – I don’t have a membership (my kitchen is about as big as a standard washroom, so I have nowhere to put wholesale-sized packages of anything) but that’s very good to know. I buy most of my groceries at Dollar Grocery or Donald’s Market on the Drive – blocks of organic tofu are anywhere from $1.50 to $3.50, which works just fine for me.

  4. Lidia

    I have actually turned all my non-vegan friends into Tofu lovers by making them scrambled eggs for breakfast, cutting some raw med-firm tofu into the bowl, and covering it with soy sauce. It tastes delicious, is super-quick/easy, makes them feel manly for eating nutritionally, and turns them onto the idea of eating tofu in general. After that it’s only a matter of time before I can start sneaking it into other dishes without them minding.

    So yeah, the secret is to wean non-tofu lovers onto it slowly by hiding it within other flavours and then surprising them with the revelation of what they just ate! Just like McDonalds does with their food and all those growth hormones and MSG.

  5. Switters

    The thing that made tofu something that I would actually eat was learning how to press it and then marinate it to put delicious flavor back in it. It’s like marinating meat but it’s way more effective, and of course not meat.
    Thanks for the informative post!
    (i’m gonna try sprouted!)

  6. April

    thank you soooo much for clairfying tofu. i have had many questions, but, no where to turn and i’m new to tofu. your simplicity is greatly appreciated!

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