Types of Tofu
Tofu is bean curd made from soya which, admittedly, is a hideously unsexy way to describe something that is utterly delicious when prepared the correct way. But what are the types of tofu? Tofu is made by coagulating (yes we know, it just got even unsexier but please stick with us) fresh soya milk in the same way as dairy cheese is curds and whey from cow’s milk. To reach maximum hippy level and/or get all cheffy in the kitchen, check out the whole chapter we have dedicated to making your own tofu.
Fresh homemade tofu is delicious and rewarding but *warning* it’s time-consuming so only do it if you have a lot of spare time and nothing better to do.
We jest of course! Only the cool kids make tofu so, if you want to go ahead and make your own – and we really do suggest you give it a go, here – in a nutshell – is how you do it:
- soak dried soya beans overnight
- whizz them up with water
- boil them
- sieve them
- bring it back to heat on the stove
- add a coagulant which will make it separate into bean curd (or tofu) and whey (bean water or aquafaba*)
*If you really want to look like a smartarse and impress your friends, aquafaba can be whisked up and used as a vegan alternative to egg white in recipes such as vegan meringue, vegan mousse, vegan macarons and even vegan things that don’t begin with an m.
Why press it?
Firm blocks of tofu come packaged in water to keep it fresh, as – like people and the vegetables growing in your garden in the summer – it spoils quickly unless kept hydrated. If you press this water out first, your cubes of tofu will hold together, have a firm bite and crisp up to perfection when fried. An unpressed block of tofu will be saturated in water and unable to absorb any flavour from either the sauce you’re cooking it in or the marinade in which you’ve left it to soak.
If you cook firm tofu without pressing it first, you’ll be put off for life and won’t want to eat it again ever. Remember – press to impress!
What are the Types of Tofu
Silken tofu has, unsurprisingly, a silken texture as opposed to the more coarse/crumbly firm kind. You may have to hunt around for it in the supermarket, so tell your children you’re on a treasure hunt if they get bored while you’re looking for it, but brace yourself for the looks of contempt on their faces when they realise the treasure is tofu.
Silken tofu is commonly found in the ambient department which, in Asda-speak, means ‘next to the packet instant mash’ but Sainsbury’s and Tesco usually have it in the vicinity of the tinned tomatoes and/or noodles. You may also find it in the World Food section (the aisle like the Chinese/Indian/Italian/Mexican bit but more interesting).
Silken tofu is vacuum-sealed so it keeps in the cupboard for a long time but, once you’ve discovered how fab silken tofu chocolate mousse is, it probably won’t even make it to the cupboard after you’ve brought it home from the supermarket. You’ll want to use it straight away and you’ll be whipping out the blender faster than Prince Andrew whipped out his ‘Pizza Express in Woking’ alibi.
Silken tofu’s smooth texture, along with its high water content, means it breaks down easily and can be added to soups or stews just before serving. It is also an excellent consistency to use as an egg replacement or in place of cream or soft cheese. Gym-goers can add it to a smoothie for an additional protein boost or you can make a smooth, silky dessert by whizzing it up with some raw cacao and maple syrup. See our recipes here for omelette, scrambled tofu for those who like a softer scramble, various flavoured cheesecakes and a delicious and very healthy chocolate mousse.
Firm tofu is the most common type of tofu and you’ve probably seen it in the chilled vegetarian section of the supermarket hanging out with the Quorn products. The most well-known brand of tofu comes transported in water to keep it fresh and, when we say ‘transported’, we actually mean ‘waterlogged’. This tofu is wet and spongey and needs to be pressed first to improve its texture and flavour. Tofu – bless its little heart – is delicate and you can’t just squidge it quickly with something heavy or with your hands as it will crumble and fall apart.
When it comes to pressing, you have a couple of options and one of these options is far better than the other for various reasons, as will become apparent:
Tofu pressing option 1:
Wrap the tofu in kitchen roll and leave it on the draining rack under a pile of heavy weights such as books or a cast-iron frying pan. Be careful your heavy weights do not topple off and break the tiles on your kitchen wall your partner has only just decorated.
Tofu pressing option 2:
Use a super-duper-once-you’ve-tried-it-you’ll-never-want-to-be-without-it Tofuture Tofu Press. With a light 20 minute press, you can then crumble the tofu into a quiche, pie or Bolognese. For a more solid result to cube, fry, bake, slice or barbeque, the tofu needs to be well-pressed. We suggest 4 hours but preferably overnight or all day. A good pressing will result in extra-firm, super-absorbent tofu, like Andrex in tofu-form.
You don’t need to be a genius to realise extra firm tofu is firmer than firm tofu. This is because it has less water content than firm tofu and therefore needs less pressing to achieve the same results. It is often available in Chinese supermarkets and can be bought in bulk to save money or, if you’re tofu-obsessed, to prevent the staff of the Chinese supermarket thinking ‘oh, there’s that weirdo who comes in every day to buy tofu again’. If you do buy it in bulk purely to save money and don’t want to spend every single day eating tofu before it goes off, you can cut it into portion sizes and freeze them individually. Just take however much you want out of the freezer and put in the fridge to defrost overnight. Freezing changes the consistency of tofu so it is worth experimenting with.
When not to press it
Tofu can be purchased already pressed, vacuum-packed and smoked. You can also buy it already marinated and cut into pieces. ‘Hooray!’ you might think. You might also think, ‘If it’s already pressed and flavoured, why the blinking flip would I bother with stuff that isn’t?’ You might also think, ‘Why have you made me get this far before telling me this? I could have gone to the shop and bought ready-to-eat tofu by the time I read this, dammit’. All very good points but, although this type of tofu can be taken directly from the packet and added to salads or sandwiches or stir-fries and is undoubtedly convenient if you don’t have much time and you want your tofu already flavoured or smoked, the disadvantages are that it costs more and, more importantly, these types of tofu are less versatile as you can’t vary the flavour to suit the dish you are preparing. Make the effort to prepare your own tofu – it’s worth it!
Fermented tofu is soaked in a brine typically made of salt and rice wine or vinegar to preserve it. This type of tofu has a salty and mildly sweet taste and smooth texture. Because fermented tofu is ripened with microorganisms it is long-lasting and has a stronger flavour than when the soya bean curd is simply pressed. You can also add flavours such as chilli, sesame oil or lemon zest. Advantages of fermented tofu is that it can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. Fermented soy products include:
Natto: sticky soybeans with strong taste
Tempeh: a fermented soybean cake with firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavour
Miso: fermented soybean paste with salty, buttery taste that is often used for making soup
Block tofu can be frozen to give it a chewier texture and kept in the freezer for 3-4 months. If it isn’t pressed before freezing, the water will expand in the tofu to make it spongy when defrosted.
Please note that on the packaging of some brands of tofu, it says not to freeze it. You can ignore this warning (it’s only there because freezing changes the texture – it’s not there because of health/safety reasons) but make sure to take the tofu out of the packaging first because otherwise, if you freeze it in its watery cocoon, it will take approximately three years to defrost and that’s a long time to wait for your dinner.
We hope you now no longer feel like a tofu-noob and understand the different types of tofu – you are now fully prepared to tackle that bewildering beige block!