Tofu is popularly used as a protein source in vegan or vegetarian diet. It is incredibly versatile and can be used in sweet and savory dishes, cooked and raw. A bit like a chameleon, it adapts to its surroundings, taking on the flavors of whatever you are cooking it in.
So, what exactly is it, and what does tofu taste like? In this guide, we’ll demystify this interesting ingredient so you can stop wondering and start cooking.
What Is Tofu?
Tofu is a soy product with a similar look to cheese as it generally comes in a block form. It is available in varying consistencies from soft and squishy (although still holding its shape) to firm types that have a similar consistency to feta cheese. Despite having a similar consistency to cheese, it does not taste at all the same.
This soy product is completely vegan, made by soaking soybeans until they swell to double their size. They are then crushed to separate into bean fibers and soy milk. This is heated and reduced as the moisture evaporates, forming a thick paste.
The paste is spun in a centrifuge machine which separates the soy meal from the milk. The milk portion is thickened into a curd and pressed with a tofu press to squeeze out any excess liquid and form the blocks. Plain tofu is sometimes spiced in the process to amp up its mild taste.
What’s in Tofu?
The ingredients of tofu or bean curd mainly consist of soybean, water and some salt coagulants such as magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate to adjust the firmness and consistency when making tofu.
Tofu Nutrition Facts
|Nutrition Facts||Hard tofu||Soft Silken Tofu||Fried Tofu|
|Calories||145 kcal||55 kcal||270 kcal|
|Protein||12.7 g||4.8 g||18.8 g|
|Fat||9.99 g||2.7 g||20.2 g|
|Carbs||4.39 g||2.9 g||8.86 g|
|Fiber||0.6 g||0.1 g||3.9 g|
Types of Tofu
Think back to our comparison of cheese. Just like cheese comes in various consistencies that are firm like cheddar, or soft like cream cheese, this soy product also comes in different consistencies. The different types will lend themselves better to certain types of cooking. Also, the taste of tofu will depend on the types and the cooking method.
This type comes in soft, firm, or extra firm types. It is made without curds forming when coagulated which results in a smooth and creamier product without any lumps.
Since it is a lot softer, it needs to be handled carefully and cannot be pressed with the same pressure as medium block tofu as it won’t hold its shape. It is often used to thicken soups and sauces and is also the ideal option for creamy desserts and mousses.
Soft silken tofu has a high water content, creamy texture, and does not hold its shape when used in cooking but it does mix well into other ingredients such as smoothies, sauces, and fillings for baking. It can be used as a substitute for eggs or yogurt.
Extra firm and firm silken tofu are also smooth but slightly firmer. They have a heavier consistency and will just hold their shape with light cooking but are still not as sturdy and firm as block types.
This type is firm and is made by pressing the soy milk curds into block shapes that can be cut or sliced. It is available in soft, medium, firm, and extra firm types.
The curds have been pressed tightly together and the product is dense with a chewy texture. Extra firm tofu types are best for fried, crispy tofu, or dishes requiring a hearty bite. It can be stuffed, baked, stir-fry and pan-fried in any savory dish.
Soft block tofu has a texture similar to set gelatin. With its high water content, it works best in sweet dishes. Medium block crumbles easily when manipulated. You can dab it with a paper towel to remove excess moisture and marinade or batter it before cooking. It also works well in salads.
Fried Tofu or Bean Curd Puffs
These are usually store-bought fried tofu pieces in a package that you can purchase from Asian supermarkets. Depending on the size and thickness of each piece, the taste may vary.
For small and thin pieces, they will taste a little bit chewy and fatty as it’s fried in oil. For thicker and larger pieces, the outside layer is a little bit crunchy and hard (because it’s fried) but the inside will taste just like regular whilte tofu.
Fried tofu pieces have yellow color and are usually packed in plastic bags.
Frozen tofu is usually white tofu blocks that some people keep in their freezer to extend the shelf life. Because tofu is made from soybeans and water, when freezing tofu, the texture and taste will change slightly. When you thaw frozen tofu, some of the ice pockets will melt which will make the surface of block tofu not look as smooth and firm as the fresh ones.
How Does Tofu Taste
The four conventional elements of taste are salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. This is how the soy product ranks.
Keep in mind that tofu is technically a type of coagulated or curdled soy milk. It has a very mild flavor, some would say bland, yet a slight touch of sweetness. Silken types especially are very creamy and rich since they are made with richer soy milk. Some versions have a hint of nuttiness.
If your product in the container tastes or smells sour, we’re sorry to say, it’s probably gone off and needs to be discarded.
Natural, unflavored tofu is not highly salty, however, you do get flavored or spiced types. It also takes on the flavor of whatever you are cooking, marinading, or soaking it in, which can quickly add a salty punch.
Fresh tofu has no bitterness on its own, unless your tofu goes bad and develops an unusual taste.
What Can I Make with Tofu?
The more appropriate question is probably, ‘Is there anything you cannot make with tofu’? There are loads of great tofu recipes available from decadent dessert recipes to egg salad, and gourmet dishes. It is so versatile and can be cooked in almost any way depending on the type you are using.
Use silken types with soft texture for creamy desserts such as vegan cheesecake, vegan mayonnaise, chocolate spread and mousse, cake fillings, savory dips, and to ‘creamify’ sauces, soup dishes, stews, and curries.
Slightly firmer types can be pan-seared, deep-fried, crumb coated and fried, marinated and grilled, cooked with stir fries, curry, stews, casseroles, noodles, broth, and vegetable dishes.
Swap it out as a meat substitute in your favorite saucy chicken or beef dish, or grill it skewered on the barbecue. Marinade small squares or crumbled bits in salt water, a soy sauce marinade or other dressing, and toss it into a salad or taco. Firmer types can also be cooked or glazed with sweet syrups as dessert.
It generally comes packed in water. Always store it in the fridge and change the water daily. If you do this, it will last up to a week. Silken types do however go bad quicker than firm types and may only last 3 to 5 days.
If you freeze tofu, it lasts up to 6 months but is best used within 3 months. The texture may change on freezing.
Due to the high water content of softer types, they have fewer calories, carbs, protein, and fat. Firm types are condensed soy milk curds and therefore have less water with higher protein, more nutrients, and more calories. Check the label to determine the significance of the difference as they sometimes only mount up to one or two grams.
Whether you’re making vegetarian food or not, tofu is great either raw or cooked. You can make creamy dips and desserts with raw tofu, air fry tofu, or make baked tofu. Eat it any way you like!
Yes, it takes a little time but it is a very simple process and only requires soy beans, water, gypsum (natural calcium sulfate), or lemon juice as an alternative curdling agent. The beans are soaked overnight and blended with a little water. Once strained the milk is thickened with the gypsum for a sweeter taste or lemon juice which will give it a tangier flavor. It is skimmed, strained in cheesecloth, pressed, and molded to form your very own homemade block.
Yes you can eat tofu raw. Technically, tofu is made from boiled soymilk so it’s already gone through the cooking process. Some people prefer using tofu in dishes such as hotpots, soups, stir-fry and stew. It’s not hard to find a tofu recipe online that suits your tastebud.
You can buy tofu from any Asian supermarkets. Because tofu is a staple food in Asian cuisines, the Asian groceries usually have many different types of tofu that you can choose. Some even have stinky tofu.
Usually most plain tofu by itself is gluten-free unless it’s flavored with glutenous ingredients, so make sure to read the package for details.
Whether you are making sweet, salty, spicy, or creamy dishes, raw or cooked tofu can be incorporated as a healthy low-fat, vegan alternative. Even meat-eaters can discover a whole new world of cooking by trying it out fried or as a healthier alternative to cream in sauces.
See more: How to tell if tofu is bad
*image by Wirestock&bhofack2/depositphotos