“Tofu is a high protein food with virtually no fat and a high amount of iron. As a food that is relatively bland in taste, this makes tofu an ideal carrier for other flavours.”
by Emma Chow
When I was a kid, I thought tofu was disgusting. My parents couldn’t pay me to eat it. I was the embarrassing child who looked Asian on the outside but who attended family banquets at fancy Chinese restaurants with a McDonald’s paper sack in hand. My four-year old loves tofu; he’ll eat a bucket of tofu before a piece of cheese, or anything touched by vegemite or tomato sauce. My mother thinks this is the greatest thing ever, as he is only half-Chinese and embarrasses the hell out of my childhood.
These mysterious cubes and blocks, of squishy white stuff that can be funky or flavourless can be scary to anyone unfamiliar with tofu. Tofu is also known as bean curd, which better indicates what it actually is. It is a sort of soy bean cheese; tofu is made from soy milk that has been coagulated with salt solutions and enzymes, much in the same way that cheese is made. Tofu is a high protein food with virtually no fat and a high amount of iron. As a food that is relatively bland in taste, this makes tofu an ideal carrier for other flavours.
The Different Types of Tofu and How to Use Them:
Firm tofu: Fry/Soups/Stir Fries
This is the most common type of tofu that you will find in large blocks and in tubs at your Asian grocer. These days they even sell it in major supermarket chains. For this sort of tofu, soy milk has been coagulated, curdled and pressed to release moisture. It is bouncy, springs back when pressed and might have a vague criss-cross pattern on the outside, which is from the muslin cloth with which it was pressed and drained. This is the most versatile type of tofu and can be fried, added to soups, stews, stir fries.
Silken Tofu:Use for Both Savoury and Sweet
This is a soft and delicate type of tofu which is used for both savoury and sweet dishes. Silken tofu is made from soy milk which has been coagulated but not heated enough to curdle, and is generally set in the package you buy it in. Like pot-set yogurt. It has the highest moisture content of any tofu. This stuff is tricky to handle. You can cube it with a sharp knife, but don’t press on it as it with crumble. I add little cubes of this to miso soup or place it on rice and pour teriyaki sauce over. Silken tofu is sold in water and needs to be drained carefully on a paper towel before using.
Momen Tofu: Flour and Fry
this Japanese variety of tofu is firm tofu in that it can be handled easily but tastes more like silken tofu. If you’ve ever had agedashi tofu (fried tofu in a dashi based sauce) in a Japanese restaurant, often this is type used because while retaining a delicate flavour and texture, it can be cubed, floured and fried. You’ll find this in better Asian grocers, though I did once see it stocked at an IGA.
Extra firm – this is like common firm tofu, just firmer and with less water.
Tempeh: Not a Tofu! Meat Replacement
This isn’t actually a type of tofu, but is generally found in the same section and also made from soybeans. Tempeh originated in Indonesia, and is made from whole soybeans. It is very firm and has a strong flavour. It is very high in protein and fibre, making it an excellent meat replacement.
Fried Tofu: Soups/Stir Fries/Stews
If the package of tofu you’re looking at has yellow skin, then it’s probably been pre-fried. This has often been cut into cubes or triangles. You can refry this stuff, add it to soups, stir fries, stews. I’ve even seen people have a go at grilling it.
Tofu Skin: Delicious
If you’ve ever had Inari sushi, you’ve had fried tofu skin. Technically this isn’t a type of tofu as there is no coagulant used to make it. It is basically the dried film that forms on the surface of soy milk as it is boiled. Like the disgusting milk skin that forms on top of your hot chocolate. However tofu skin is delicious.
Fermented Tofu: Generally Avoid This.
Sometimes known as tofu cheese. It’s salty sweet and it stinks. Unless you’re using it for some very specific Chinese dish, avoid. There is actually also a type of tofu called ‘stinky tofu’ which has been fermented in a brine made of fish and vegetables and smells like a rotting dead body.
How to Store Tofu?
You want to use silken tofu within a couple of days of opening. To keep the leftover uncooked tofu for the next day, put it back in its package or a shallow bowl and top with fresh water.
For firm varieties of tofu, as above you can replace it in its tub or put it in a lidded container and top with fresh water. Change the water every day until you use it, and it can keep in the fridge for up to a week.
You can freeze silken, firm tofu and tempeh. Freeze it on a parchment lined plate or tray, and then put it in a plastic bag or container to keep for up to 3 months. To defrost, allow to thaw at room temperature. You can gently squeeze the tofu to release water. Because in freezing and defrosting, the tofu loses water, it will be firmer in texture than previous. Silken tofu can now be cubed and fried.