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Nutrition Articles  ›  Meals and Food

Tofu 101

Go from Confused to Connoisseur

-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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For you do-it-yourselfers out there—or for those who just want a better understanding—here is a simple, step-by-step description of how basic tofu is made.

  1. Soak soybeans overnight until tender, then bring to a boil.
  2. Blend the soybeans with water to make a slush.
  3. Strain the slush through a cheesecloth, reserving the liquid. (This liquid is soymilk.)
  4. Add a coagulating agent (nigari, lemon juice, etc.) to the soymilk to curdle it.
  5. Press the curdles into the shape you desire.

This basic recipe is modified to make many different products. Now let’s talk varieties.

Firm Tofu
This is tofu that has a firm texture. You’ll find "Firm" and "Extra-Firm" styles, but actual textures vary greatly by brand. Firm style tofu is best for stir-fries, or for replacing meat in a recipe. The best thing about these varieties is that they take on the flavor of the dish into which they are incorporated. So you can spice, sweeten, or marinate to your hearts content—you decide the flavor. Firm varieties of tofu are available in both refrigerated and shelf-stable packages. Just open, drain the water, slice, and cook as desired. If you don’t use the whole block at once, cover the rest with water and store (tightly covered) in the refrigerator for up to five days, changing the water daily.

Soft Tofu
This is tofu that has a much softer texture. "Soft" or "Silken" varieties are good for making smoothies, pudding, soups, or any other creamy dish—just scoop it straight from the package into the blender or mixing bowl. Like firm tofu, it takes on the flavor of its respective dish, is available in both refrigerated and shelf-stable packages, and should be stored in the fridge after opening.

Flavored Tofu
Relatively new to the scene, flavored tofu has become a popular variety. Basically it’s just plain tofu, already spiced, seasoned, marinated, or smoked for you. It can be eaten right out of the package, on sandwiches or salads, or incorporated into recipes like stir-fries. It is available in the refrigerated section of supermarkets and natural foods stores, and can be kept in your fridge until the best by date. Just make sure you keep it tightly sealed to prevent it from drying out.

With all of the brands of tofu on the market, you’ll have to do some taste testing to find your favorites. But armed with some basic tofu knowledge, you might feel a little less overwhelmed and more likely to enjoy the adventure. So the next time you run into some tofu, give it a chance- you'll be surprised at how delicious it can be!

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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • KITTY-HUT78
    This nutritional idea is excellent. Try my favorite california dinner Tofu, Miso soup. It's nice for lunch time and helps ease digestion. - 4/28/2014 6:37:45 PM
  • I first tried tofu 30 years ago. Tried it a bazillion different ways. Never liked it. Thought it tasted like tasteless mush no matter how I seasoned/marinate
    d/cooked it. Then I did some research on it and found how it screws up your thyroid and other hormones as well as most of it being genetically modified so farmers could spray more pesticides or herbicides on it without it dying.

    So, finally found good reasons for not eating soy and not feeling guilty about not eating it. - 10/27/2013 9:30:28 PM
  • I really love tofu....esp since living in Japan. However, I wanted to add ( sorry if already said I didn't feel like reading 50+ comments lol ) that it is so important that you choose an organic tofu at the grocery. Those that are not organic are most likely made of GMO soy and soooo not good for you. Have fun experimenting if you haven't yet, it's so good in Asian recipes! - 9/17/2013 2:09:32 PM
  • This article is very lacking in adequate research. The only soy that is actually decent for you is fermented soy, of which tofu is not. Tempeh, miso, etc.,. Also, people with endocrine issues should NOT use soy regularly and should drastically limit their intake. Soy is not the health food it is being made out to be. Not to mention, 85% (and climbing) is a genetically modified product. - 3/12/2013 9:57:59 PM
  • okay I understand the article, but the comments have me confused. Guess I will give it a try and see how my body reacts to it. - 1/10/2013 8:50:38 PM
  • 1thirty3 is correct - tofu has its own flavor. It tastes like a very mild bean, and the flavor comes out when it's warm. It takes a lot of time to acquire this taste, but it's worth it. You can learn this flavor by adding cubes of soft or medium tofu to broths, or scrambled with eggs. It's just a little bit like cottage cheese or paneer (Indian fresh cheese) or Mexican fresh cheese. The difference is that it tastes like beans, not like milk.

    The texture takes some getting used to as well. The soft or silken type are a soft custard. Eaten Japanese style, with chopped green onion and soy sauce, some of the flavor comes out. If you go with a milder sauce or dressing you like (something savory or sweet), you can really develop a feel for it.

    When you develop the ability to taste the tofu, the differences between types and brands will jump out at you. - 6/29/2012 1:50:21 AM
  • Thank you for the great information about tofu... I needed it! I learned a lot and shared it with my husband who likes to cook! I like tofu and soy products in different ways and don't eat enough to harm my thyroid or hormones. It's something I like, but don't eat everyday. Thanks again!
    Peace, Mysti~ - 5/25/2012 8:03:59 PM
  • whatever! anything is bad for you if not enjoyed in moderation. even fruit and vegetables can be bad for you. every side has their own opinions and each side will change the facts in their favor. meat is bad , tofu is bad. what should i eat!!!!!!!!!!! - 5/18/2012 9:50:55 PM
  • Here's an article I suggest you read also before going "too tofu"...
    http://www.rati
    cal.org/ratvi
    lle/soydangers.pdf - 10/19/2011 9:20:17 AM
  • What I'm not understanding is whether or not the tofu is actually a "fermented" process. If it is, it should be okay for me. But since I'm already very heavy, I've noticed over the years that many soy products do not agree with me. Soy has phytoestrogen receptors, and being fat already is too much estrogen of my own. So I started having periomenopause long before it was really "necessary" and my periods straightened up and became more regular when I stopped the straight soy, including tofu. Tofu tastes fine, especially when it absorbs the flavors of whatever sauce, marinade, etc. but I can't always tell that any given tofu has actually been fermented. (Evidently the fermentation process does something to make the estrogen-like receptors less likely to bond with the body's receptors?? something... they didn't teach me this 30 years ago in Home Ec!). - 9/28/2011 12:32:32 PM
  • I hate the old "tofu takes on the taste of whatever you want it to!" No, tofu tastes like tofu just like chicken tastes like chicken. You still want to dress it, but its not a flavorless sponge! Prepared correctly you should taste the tofu! Tofu tastes great. - 9/8/2011 7:58:46 AM
  • I have been eating tofu for a long time. I have lots of recipes. I think the key to enjoying it is to marinate it so it has a "taste." You pick the marinade. It's one of my "staples". Makes a good filler for bean burritos....break
    fast wraps.....try it. - 7/21/2011 7:42:34 PM
  • Thanks for the suggestions on how to use tofu. I like it and want to prepare it so that my kids will eat it. - 4/2/2011 11:25:32 PM
  • ALEXANDRA64
    For whatever it is worth, before eating any soy, I recommend reading these articles:

    http://www.west
    onaprice.org/
    soy-alert (64 articles explaining the dangers of soy)


    - 4/2/2011 7:38:33 AM
  • This was helpful. I've been using silken tofu in smoothies for years.. think now I'll try to branch out and try a firm variety in a main meal.. - 3/18/2011 9:17:48 AM