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?
You're likely familiar with the packaged white block, suspended in a liquid that sits in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
But what, exactly, is tofu? This white block of mystery meat substitute is a combination of soybean curds and water. Manufacturers take soymilk, add a coagulating agent that turns the milk into solid curds, and then press the curds into slabs.
What does tofu taste like?
Tofu has the dreamy texture of a fluffy cloud and a taste that is almost undetectable. However, it can be a bit of a hard sell for people who struggle with different food textures - that's where the right preparation comes in.
As far as the mild taste, tofu picks up the flavor of whatever you cook with it. We almost always recommend marinating firm tofu before cooking and making a rich, savory sauce to amp up the taste.
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.
What is silken tofu?
Silken tofu is much different than firm and extra-firm. Silken tofu is incredibly soft and creamy, with an almost custard-like consistency. It falls apart easily and doesn't always require refrigeration like the other tofu types. You should not use silken in the frying pan or the grill.
Silken is the best choice to replace milk and cream in recipes - you'll often find it in soups, salad dressings, and desserts.
What is firm tofu?
Firm tofu is the most common, middle-of-the-road tofu. It's much firmer than silken, yet softer than extra-firm.
It's the best tofu to use for marinating, as it's soft, spongy texture can absorb the most flavor. You can virtually cook this tofu any way you choose, including pan-frying, baking, and grilling.
What is extra firm tofu?
Extra-firm tofu, as the name suggests, has the firmest texture of the three. This tofu can be cooked in the same ways as firm tofu, resulting in a more dense and chewy texture.
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?).
How to make tofu taste good?
The first time anyone tries tofu can make or break their opinion on this light, vegan protein. Soggy, bland, or underdone - improperly prepared tofu is unfortunately all too common. This is especially true outside of the Asian and vegan communities, who have more experience working with this underrated protein.
But when tofu is done right, it's succulent, flavorful, and incredibly versatile. Create creamy vegan desserts with silken tofu. Firmer varieties of tofu taste great fried crispy in a piping hot bowl of crispy Korean bibimbap.
Learn how to prepare your tofu at home so that it tastes good.
How to press tofu: steps for preparing tofu
We think the ultimate key to making tofu taste good is in the press. Unfortunately, it seems like this step can get overlooked and skipped, resulting in a soggy dinner.
Silken tofu is barely pressed and has high water content. It's so soft and will crumble apart when pressed, so keep this type exclusively in dishes that need a creamy element.
Firm tofu is the one you'll be working with most often. It is further pressed, though much of the water remains. You need to press the block before cooking. We love to use this press - it's simple to use, and cleanup is easy.
- To press your tofu, place the block in a tofu press. Place the lid on the press and turn the knob until it clicks. Leave the tofu to drain for 15 min.
- If you don't own a press, you can wrap your tofu in a dry towel and press it between two heavy plates. This method takes much longer; leave the tofu pressing for 2-3 hr minimum.
Once the water is pressed out of the tofu, it will be primed and ready to absorb the marinade fully. Think of it like a sponge - a dry sponge will sop up liquid, while a wet one has no more space to absorb the extra liquid.
Extra-firm tofu still contains water, so it will often need pressing, but for a shorter time.
How to marinate tofu: building your tofu flavoring
Once your tofu is pressed, it's marinating time! A marinade is the best way to start adding flavor to the tofu block.
Pick your marinade, pour it into a shallow dish, and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes to soak. For the best results, leave for 4 or more hours. We love to slip our tofu into a marinade in the morning so that it's full-flavored and ready to go when dinner time rolls around.
Because tofu's natural flavor is so light, it pairs well with almost anything you choose. We love Asian-inspired marinade with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fresh garlic and ginger, and spicy chili paste. Decide how to season tofu based on what dish you are creating.
How to cook tofu: fried, baked, & grilled
These are the three primary ways you can use to cook the best tasting tofu.
My personal favorite is pan-frying tofu into crispy, golden cubes. It's simple and, even more importantly, quick!
- Cut your marinated tofu into 1-in cubes.
- Heat some cooking oil (we like sesame) in a pan over medium heat, and add in the tofu.
- Pan-fry the cubes, occasionally stirring until all sides are golden brown. Each side will take 2-3 min.
If you like your tofu extra crispy, dredge it through some cornstarch before frying. It adds a crispy, light outer coating to the tofu without too much oil or heaviness.
If you're looking to avoid cooking with oil, try baking your tofu. It will still be crisp on the outside, with even more water baked out for a denser, chewier center.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut your tofu into 1-in cubes and place them on a lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 30 min total, flipping halfway through.
Grilling tofu is the perfect way to offer a vegan option at your next barbecue. Grilled tofu is smokey, crunchy, and super tasty.
- Cut your tofu block into six thick slabs.
- Heat your grill to medium heat. Oil the grates and spread the tofu over the grill.
- Cover the grill and cook for 10-15 min, flipping once.
Preparing tofu - FAQ
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!