Uncooked Soybeans. Photo courtesy of Denver Tofu Co.
Traditionally, tofu is made by soaking, pulverizing, and cooking soybeans in a soymilk maker; then adding a coagulant. The soymilk solidifies into large blocks of tofu that are cut into smaller blocks. The process is very similar to how milk is made into cheese.
Tofu is perishable and needs to be kept in water, which should be changed daily. Japanese style silken tofu does not need to be kept in water, but does require refrigeration.
In 1985, Mori-Nu, a California-based silken tofu manufacturer, invented an aseptic system that packages bacteria in cardboard containers. The tofu can be stored without refrigeration for up to a year if unopened, while remaining light, creamy, and fresh-tasting (it must be refrigerated after opening).
Types Of Tofu
There are distinctively two types of tofu: traditional Chinese-style tofu and Japanese-style silken tofu. Both styles are available in the same degrees of firmness or texture, a function of the water retained in the tofu: soft, firm, extra firm and sometimes, super firm. Though Chinese-style and Japanese-style tofu are available in the same textures, Japanese-style silken tofu, no matter its firmness, is much more delicate and susceptible to breaking apart.
Lite Tofu. There is also “lite” tofu, which contains less calories and fat.
Chinese Style. Chinese-style tofu, doufu, is made the traditional way and tends to be spongier because the slurry is not drained before it solidifies.
Japanese Style. Japanese tofu, kinugoshi, is referred to as “silken tofu” because of its fine, creamy, and custard-like texture, as if “strained through silk.” Made from soymilk that is filtered before any coagulant is added, Japanese tofu is produced similarly to yogurt—protein is not hardened into curds, so the soymilk and whey remain together.
Each type of tofu has a different purpose in cooking, and there are numerous cookbooks dedicated to the topic. What you plan to make will dictate the kind of tofu you need to buy. You don’t want silken tofu to melt in your stir-fry and a chunky tofu cheesecake won’t exactly be a palate-pleaser.
Silken tofu is ideal for recipes that call for blending, like dips and sauces, sweets like puddings, and beverages (smoothies and shakes). It is used to make lower-fat, vegan versions of yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, and
Soft tofu has the consistency of al dente pasta. It can be mashed or scrambled, or can substitute for a low-carb version of pasta.
Firm tofu is delicious in omelets (or egg-free scrambles) or as fillings for dumplings.
Firm and Extra-Firm tofu are used here tofu needs to keep its texture after it is sliced and diced: for hearty main entrees like stir-fries, stews, or even as fried appetizers—dishes that need substantial protein substitutes in place of meat. The blocks can be split and turned into a tofu version of stuffed shells.
is dense and contains the least water. It holds its shape and has a meaty texture, which makes it great for dishes like stews or casseroles. Extra Firm tofu also has the most protein and fat content.
Firm also maintains its shape, but is not as thick in consistency as Extra Firm. It is a good substitute for dairy products like cubes if mozzarella cheese?
Soft is much more pliable and can crumble easily. It is creamy like pudding, but firm like Jell-O, which works well as a sauce or salad dressing. This tofu can reduce or substitute the amount of egg used in a recipe or replace sour cream or yogurt. It is lower in both protein and fat.
is very fine and smooth in texture. It is available in extra firm, firm and soft, but is creamier and more delicate than any other tofu. It can be used as traditional tofu, but must be handled much more carefully, as they all can break apart easily when cooking.