What Is Tofu? A Guide to The Different Types and What to Do With Them

You’ve heard of tofu, and you’ve probably even eaten it, but what really is tofu? Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing it into solid blocks of different softness. It originated in China, and is a traditional component of the cuisines of Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. 

I’ve seen so many varieties of tofu in the supermarket aisle. What exactly are they and which tofu should I use for which recipe?

Silken Tofu

Silken Tofu can come in a few different kinds of textures, from soft to firm, but what makes them all silken tofu is that they are not pressed and have a very high water content. 

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If you get the kind of silken tofu that’s in a box, you’ll find that it has a texture similar to custard. It’s often eaten after being ground into a dip, but it’s also great if you eat it cubed and then topped off with soy sauce, chilli oil, fried onions, or even olive oil. Try experimenting with different combinations of toppings like balsamic vinegar, fried ginger, garlic, crumbled bacon, toasted sesame seeds, and even roasted cherry tomatoes. 

If you buy the kind of silken tofu that’s stored in water, then it’s the variety that has been coagulated to take on a sturdier form. This kind of silken tofu is firmer and sturdier than the one above and can be cubed to add to broth-based dishes. 

Medium or Medium-Firm Tofu Blocks

Medium or medium-firm tofu has little pockets between the cuts, and is the most widely available kind. This kind of tofu is ideal for dishes that need to be simmered for a while, like mapo tofu or thick gravies, because the time the tofu spends in the broth or gravy allows it to absorb the flavours. 

Firm and Extra-Firm Tofu

Firm and extra-firm tofu are pressed down longer to give it more body and have less water content. This makes it perfect for salads and stir fried recipes. 

Super Firm Tofu

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The kind of tofu that comes in vacuum-sealed packages is the super firm variety of tofu. This variety of tofu is quite versatile because of its firm texture and can be used in many ways. While all the other varieties of tofu need to be drained and dried thoroughly before using, super-firm tofu can be patted dry and used immediately. You can grate it finely to use as filling in dumplings or cut into bite-sized pieces for fried rice or noodles, or slice or cube it for gravies, or pan fry it till crisp to use in salads or sandwiches.