Tofu is one of the world's most ancient cooking ingredients, using a recipe that's hardly changed at all in thousands of years. You only need three basic ingredients and a little patience to learn how to make tofu at home. Then you can continue the tradition of this historic soy-based food from your home kitchen.
In today's article, we explore the different types of tofu that you can prepare at home, before providing step by step instructions for preparing tofu from scratch. It's an intriguing procedure that takes time, but at its core is a simple process!
Keep reading to find out how to make tofu at home!
What is tofu made of?
Tofu is the type of food you see in the shops and on menus in restaurants; you know what it is, but may have no idea what the process is or what ingredients you use when making tofu.
Tofu has been produced for thousands of years, ever since it was accidentally invited in China. It's a staple of Asian cooking, and you'll commonly find it in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Southeast Asian dishes. Increasingly, it's becoming a central part of vegetarian and vegan diets worldwide, given its high protein content and adaptability.
Tofu is made from soybeans. Tofu is entirely vegan, but it's made in a strangely similar way to cheese products. Producers soak the soybeans in water, which are then turned into liquid soymilk before a coagulating agent is added. As the soymilk is heated, soybean curds float to the top and can be skimmed off. The solid soybean curds are then pressed into tofu blocks.
Making tofu needs just three main ingredients: soybeans, water, and a coagulating agent. Once you have your tofu ingredients ready, making tofu isn't too difficult (although it does take time!).
Different types of tofu
If you've ever been to the tofu aisle in your local store, you'll notice that there isn't just one type of tofu. We aren't just talking about different brands, either, but specific tofu variations.
While the process and ingredients remain essentially the same for all types of tofu, you can slightly vary the production method to create tofu with different degrees of firmness. Tofu is measured by how firm it is.
The softest tofu is called silken tofu, followed by soft tofu, firm tofu, and extra-firm tofu.
Different recipes call for different types of tofu. Extra-firm tofu is better at absorbing flavors, so it is often used as a meat substitute. Silken tofu is almost creamy in texture, and you can use it in desserts (tofu cheesecake, anyone?).
What is the coagulating agent for making tofu?
Many different coagulating agents can be used when making tofu. The job of the coagulating agent is to produce the beancurd. Tofu firms when you add the coagulating agent to the liquid soymilk. Like cheese production, the coagulating agent allows the solid curd (from the tofu beans) to separate from the liquid whey.
Regardless of the coagulating agent you use, the essential process of making tofu remains the same. The different coagulants do give the tofu different flavours and textures, however.
There are three major coagulating agents:
- Gypsum powder (calcium sulfate)
- Nigari (extracted from seaweed)
- Lemon juice
The most authentic coagulating agent is gypsum powder, which is otherwise known as calcium sulfate. Gypsum powder has been used for thousands of years in China and is the most traditional way to start the coagulation process. The coagulant is tasteless when added to the soy milk and won't affect the flavour.
Calcium sulfate comes from quarries, but don't worry, because you can find food grade gypsum powder in the shops for your homemade tofu.
Nigari is a slightly more unusual coagulating agent, but it's popular in Asia's coastal areas because it's a byproduct of seaweed harvesting. Nigari is also known as magnesium chloride. It forms into salt when you extract seawater from the seaweed.
Nigari is popular in Japanese tofu, where it's added to create a smoother, almost creamier texture to the tofu. It has a slightly more pronounced taste (saltier) than adding gypsum powder as a coagulating agent.
Lemon juice is the most widely available coagulating agent to consider when you're making homemade tofu. Citric acids work well as a coagulating agent, while also providing a unique taste to the finished tofu.
Using lemon juice creates a lemony flavour and adds a silkier, smoother texture to the tofu than using gypsum powder. If you're trying to produce super-smooth, silken tofu for desserts, you can consider using lemon juice as your coagulating agent.
Makes 2 large blocks of tofu
- 2 cups of dried soybeans
- 120 ounces / 3.5 litres of water
- 1 1/2 tsp of gypsum powder (calcium sulfate) for coagulation
- Measure out your dried soybeans into a large bowl. Cover them in water, then leave them to soak up the water. Make sure you soak them overnight for the best results.
- The soybeans will expand as they soak up the water. When they have soaked, place the soybeans in a food processor with more water and blend them into smooth soymilk.
- Place the smooth soymilk into a large pot. Place the pot on the stovetop, turning the heat up to medium.
- Bring your soymilk to a gentle boil and use a large spoon to collect the foam that forms at the top of the pot.
- As your soymilk heats up, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of gypsum powder to a small quantity of water and mix.
- When the soymilk hits its boiling point, add the gypsum powder to the pot. Turn the heat off and stir the gypsum into the soy milk.
- Leave the pot off the heat and allow the coagulating agent to get to work. You'll start to see beancurd forming in the liquid.
- When you have a sizeable quantity of beancurd, use a large spoon to remove them from the pot. Place a muslin cloth into a large, square, or rectangular dish (or a dedicated tofu mould, if you have one).
- Place the beancurd into the cloth before wrapping the cloth tightly around the beancurd. Press down on the top of the cloth to set the tofu into the mould.
- Keep a heavy object over the mould for at least 20 minutes. This step allows the tofu to fully set and will produce firm tofu. Removing the tofu after 15 minutes creates a softer firmness. Leaving for longer than 20 minutes will make the tofu extra firm.
- Transfer your tofu from the mould to a resealable container and store it in the fridge until you're ready to use it!
How to Make Tofu: Preparation Tips
How long is tofu good for?
Once you've set your tofu, you need to store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. We don't recommend drying tofu as it quickly loses its moisture and spoils if left on its own.
When you store your tofu, you need to keep it in water and keep the water from drying out if you aren't using the tofu immediately.
You should use your tofu within four days of setting and placing it in the fridge. To remove the excess liquid from the tofu, you'll need to use a tofu press. The tofu press allows you to quickly drain all the liquid the tofu absorbs during the production process. You can also press the tofu using a chopping board or sheer strength, but it's not quite as easy.
Can tofu be eaten raw?
You can eat tofu raw, as it's composed of edible beancurd. It doesn't matter how soft or firm it is. You will want to drain the water before eating raw tofu, however, and ensure that mould hasn't grown on it if it's been left out for a while.
Tofu can also be cooked, of course, and this is the safer way to eat your homemade tofu. You can boil tofu, fry tofu, marinate tofu, grill tofu, or steam tofu.
Is homemade tofu healthy?
Tofu is incredibly low in calories but high in protein. It's perfect for a vegetarian or vegan diet and for anyone looking to lose weight while retaining muscle.
For this reason, it's a fantastic alternative to meat. You can even flavour your tofu using marinades, to give it a meaty taste and texture.
That's how to make tofu at home!
We hope we've answered that most fundamental of life's questions: how is tofu made?
It's not nearly as difficult or tricky as you might have imagined. Like most things, it takes time and practice to master in its entirety.
Save our tofu guide and start producing your own homemade tofu!