What Is Tofu? And much more

What is tofu

If you are new to vegetarian, vegan or Asian cooking, there are many ways to use tofu. This versatile plant-based product can be used in many dishes, including dessert. But what exactly is tofu?

What is tofu? 

  1. Tofu is a creamy, high-protein, low-fat soy product that is usually sold in blocks.
  2. Tofu is high in calcium and iron.
  3. It is made from soybeans, water and a coagulant.
  4. Soy absorbs flavors from spices, sauces and marinades.

Tofu is a versatile product, which can be used in many dishes. This article discusses what tofu is, what to do with it, how to store it, and much more.

In our blog ‘ How to Marinate Tofu ?’ you can read all about tofu marinating and tofu seasoning.

What Is Tofu Made Of? 

The ingredient list for tofu is simple: soybeans, water, salt coagulants (e.g. calcium), and sometimes an acid coagulant (e.g. citric acid). The different types of salt and acid create different styles of tofu.  

How To Make Tofu?

First, the soybeans are made into soy milk which is then curdled with various salts as mentioned above. The so-called “soy curds” are then pressed into that familiar block shape.

You can buy different types of tofu, from extra soft silk tofu to extra firm tofu. The type you buy will depend on how you use it. Silken tofu can be ideal for desserts (like cheesecake), while extra firm tofu can be diced and cooked in oil in a pan until crispy or roasted in an oven. The advantage of cooking with tofu is that tofu is a very mild protein and it takes on all the flavors it is combined with, making it a versatile ingredient.

Home cooks and hobbyists agree that buying locally made tofu is preferable to making tofu yourself. The process of making firm tofu has similarities to making cheese, a difficult undertaking that may not be worth the effort.  

Tofu Meat Substitute

Soy is the basis of many types of meat substitutes such as hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers and meat products. These products are on the “bad” side of health, as they are extremely processed into a product that eliminates many of the nutritional benefits of soybeans and other vegetables consumed. They may not look unhealthy at first glance, but always read the label when buying such a product in the store.

Tofu Flavor

Tofu itself has a mild flavor or has no flavor at all. Instead, tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it is seasoned or cooked with. It adds substance, nutritional value and texture to a dish.

Different Types of Tofu

You can find tofu in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. It is also available pre-fried and seasoned. Here’s an overview of the different types available. 

Silken/Silk Tofu

This is the softest tofu. It’s best when you need creaminess, such as in desserts, smoothies, or dips. Silken tofu can be firm or extra firm.

Normal Tofu

Although slightly firmer than silky tofu, regular tofu still has a light, soft texture. It is often used in miso soup alongside stock and seaweed.

Firm Normal Tofu

This designation is a bit misleading, the tofu is still quite soft. Firm tofu is an excellent substitute for scrambled eggs, taco meats, and sandwiches (e.g., “egg salad” made with tofu).

Extra Firm Normal Tofu

This one is easiest to cut into cubes, strips or slices. It is delicious when baked, added to salads and used for kebabs, stir-fries and curries.   

Pre-fried And Seasoned Tofu

Use this type of tofu when you’re in a pinch and want to quickly make a savory dish. Choose the flavor that suits you best. You can find this prepackaged or in the supermarket. It is already diced and seasoned. It can be added to, for example, a wok dish or salad.

How To Press Tofu?

Tofu is a highly absorbent food. It retains water from both production and packaging which often contains water to keep tofu from drying out.

That water must be removed before cooking or the tofu won’t absorb other flavors and the dish will be soggy.

To do this, press firmly on tofu to expel the excess water with, for example, paper towels, a cutting board and books.

For best results, cut the tofu block into several layers and place them on a baking tray lined with kitchen paper. Also put kitchen paper on the tofu slices, followed by, for example, a heavy cutting board.

Place a heavy object on top, such as a cookbook and wait an hour to squeeze out the water. Don’t forget to include this step in your prep time.

If you don’t want to do all this, buy a tofu press.

How To Prepare Tofu? 3 Tips.

Once the excess water has been removed, see above, tofu is an easy ingredient to work with. The main purpose of cooking tofu is to turn the soft, white pieces into golden, crunchy cubes. Here are three tips for making the best tofu. 

  • Add flavor. Tofu is a chameleon in the cooking world, taking on the flavors that surround it, thanks to its porous structure. Although it can be cooked easily, the marinade transforms it. From a neutral tasting ingredient to a flavorful addition that adds texture and substance to a meal. Cut the tofu into slices and let them soak in a marinade in the refrigerator for an hour. Note: make the marinade based on water. Tofu contains a lot of water and this repels oil so that marinades made from oil are not absorbed by the tofu.
  • Fry over high heat (sauté). To achieve that crispy exterior, fry tofu over high heat. Be sure to use oils that can withstand high temperatures, such as coconut oil or sesame oil. Not only will they prevent the tofu from burning, but they will also add a bit of flavor along with crunchiness.
  • Bread the tofu. There’s another quick step that gives tofu even more crunch. Cut the tofu into cubes and toss in a mixing bowl with cornstarch before cooking, shaking off the excess.

Prepare Tofu

Tofu can be prepared in many ways. Below are 4 basic principles about preparing tofu.

How To Bake Tofu?

Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Toss bite-sized squares of tofu cubes into the pan and stir until browned on all sides. Although pre-marinating the tofu works well, it can also be added while sautéing (= frying on high heat). The sauce will burn on the tofu and make crispy, flavorful pieces of tofu. The tofu can be mixed with stir-fried vegetables or added to a soup or salad.

How To Bake Tofu In The Oven?

Fried tofu is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This does not require cooking oil, so this is an advantage. Heat an oven to 180 degrees. Slice the tofu and place in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. For extra flavor, place the tofu in a glass baking dish and pour a light sauce—such as a soy teriyaki marinade—over the pieces. Serve over a bed of rice with, for example, steamed broccoli.

How to Fry Tofu?

Frying tofu is quick and easy. Simply cut firm or extra firm tofu into 1cm thick triangles. Pour olive oil into a frying pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Place the pieces of tofu in the sizzling oil and fry for ten minutes, turning the pieces halfway through and season with salt. They are ready when both sides are golden brown.

Optionally breaded you get crispy tofu, which you can eat on its own or serve it with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, or tamari, spring onions, garlic and sesame oil. 

Tofu Crumble

Similar to fried tofu, crumbling tofu is quick and easy. Heat oil in a frying pan and add the tofu slices. Start breaking up the tofu with a spatula until it becomes grains. Stir the pieces around in the pan. Add spices depending on how you plan to use the tofu. Sprinkle over spicy herbs, such as chili powder and paprika, to make the tofu the perfect ingredient for tacos.

How to Store Tofu?

Uncooked tofu should remain submerged in water added in the original container. If you have taken it from the refrigerated shelf of the supermarket, it should also be kept in the refrigerator at home, even unopened. Tofu in a shelf-stable container can be stored in the pantry.

If you have leftover tofu, you can easily store it in the fridge for 3 days in a sealed container, submerged in water. Changing the water daily will prolong the freshness of the tofu. You can also store leftover cooked tofu in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

You can freeze firmer varieties for up to three months, although you may notice a change in color as it turns yellowish. For best results, cut the tofu into slices or cubes and pack them per portion. Put them in the freezer, in a plastic bag or freezer container. Thaw tofu in the refrigerator before using. You can keep it for about 4 months.

Tofu that smells or looks bad or has mold should be discarded. The advice in this one is always: look, smell, and taste.

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