In the US tofu has become a focus for laughter due to vegetarians
over-using it and trying to build turkeys out of it for Thanksgiving
dinner - as well as tofu sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers and jerky. Now
I'm not anti-vegetarian, and was a vegetarian for almost the regulation
9 years (though never an "ethical" vegetarian), but I think building
vegetarian imitations of dead animal parts is a little funny, despite
it's long history in Asia. I use various forms of bean curd fairly
regularly, but just can't resist calling it "bean crud".
In most of Asia tofu is used in moderation as a flavor absorbing and
textural ingredient in many interesting dishes, but only occasionally as
a main ingredient and then usually as an appetizer or desert. Consumption
is heavier in parts of southern China, but rice is still the main
staple and tofu an accessory. This is as it should be while there are
open questions regarding health impacts from heavy tofu consumption - see
Soybeans and Health for more information.
Because of the many uses to which tofu is put, there are a number of
ways to make it resulting in different textures. This may be controlled
by choice of coagulant, by draining and/or pressing.
- Silken Tofu: [Kinugoshi (Japan)]
This form is made from relatively thick soy milk and precipitated in
tight containers so the whey does not drain but is incorporated into
the tofu. Once set the block is loosened from the mold into water where
it is cut into blocks of the desired size. The finished tofu is soft
and with a totally smooth texture with no porousness at all. This is
a luxurious tofu but it must be noted that since the whey is not
pressed out it includes more of the hormones, mineral blockers and
toxins soybeans are accused of than normal tofu does - so perhaps it
should be eaten on occasion rather than every day.
- Soft Tofu: [Momendofu (cotton tofu) (Japan); Tubu Mou
(Korea); Lao doufu (China)] This is the most standard form of tofu in
the US and Korea - kind of an all purpose tofu. In Japan a fair amount
of silken tofu is used but "cotton" still dominates. In Asia this may
be called "firm tofu" but here it's always "regular" or "soft", with
firm reserved for what in Asia is called "dry".
- Firm Tofu: [Dry Tofu; Dou gan
(China)] This form is common in Chinese cooking and not much known in
Japan, but a few Korean recipes also call for this form. It holds up
better in stir fried and stewed dishes than soft tofu. Though the
Chinese name means "dry tofu" it is packed in water just like all the
rest. In the US it always carries the "firm" designation (there's
also an "Extra Firm" grade).
- Extra Soft Tofu: [Sui-dofu (China)]
Similar to Silken Tofu but more so - this form is so soft it must be
eaten with a spoon rather than with chopsticks. It's often so soft that
in China it's ladled out into bowls brought to the tofu shop by
customers. It's a common item in the Korean markets around here packed
in tubs or plastic sausage tubes - often labeled "Extra Mou" (isn't
there a Korean word for "Extra"?). This form is often used with syrups
and toppings as a desert. As with Silken Tofu, moderation may be
- Egg Tofu is a savory variety made in Japan
by adding raw egg to the soy milk before adding the coagulant. Not all
labeled "egg tofu" is actually tofu though - some is just egg custard.
Buying & Storing:
Vast quantities of tofu are
manufactured here in Los Angeles and put up in sealed plastic tubs. Common
sizes are 13oz, 16oz, 18oz and 19oz. I have cookbooks that imply a block
is 8oz or 10oz. The Book of Tofu says 12oz. Recipes invariably call for
"one block of tofu". OK lady, what size is a block of tofu in your
country? You'd think scales hadn't been invented yet.
When I first bought tubs of tofu many years ago it needed to be used
in just a few days or it would go sour. Sanitary packaging has been
improved to the point some brands don't expire for 3 months and probably
Tofu tubs should be kept refrigerated at all times. Once opened tofu
should be used up in just a couple of days. It is recommended that opened
tofu be kept refrigerated submerged in clean water that's changed every
day. If tofu smells or tastes at all sour it has turned and should be
discarded. If it's very faintly sour it may be refreshed by cutting into
large cubes and par boiling them in lightly salted water for about 3
Some of the tofu made here in Los Angeles, particularly for the
Vietnamese community, is not cut into cubes nor packaged in tubs. It is
shaped kind of like a large dinner roll and wrapped in plastic wrap.
This tofu must be delivered fresh daily and used the same day. It would
still be good for deep frying the next morning if properly refrigerated.
Draining & Pressing:
Tofu is just about always drained before use and may be pressed to firm it
up and remove water - particularly if it is to be fried. A convenient way
to drain it is to punch some small holes in the bottom of the tub and an
air hole through the film at the top. Set the tub in a tray with a spacer
under it and refrigerate. Empty water from the tray as
A convenient way to press a small amount of tofu is to prepare the tray
as for draining except remove the top film entirely. Set a full tub of tofu
on top (or an empty tub filled with something heavy). Refrigerate - the
longer it sits the firmer it gets. For larger amounts, and for deep frying
which wants a hard pressing, a rig like that pictured is needed. Set a board
on a shallow slant, cover it with a dish towel, slice the tofu to size and
arrange the slices on the board. Cover with another board and put several
pounds of weights on top of it. Retired cutting boards are excellent for
this purpose. Press a few hours for deep fried tofu, less for other uses.
Silken Tofu is never pressed - that would destroy its texture.
Deep Fried Tofu -
[Agé (Japan); Zha doufu (China)]
This form is easy to make for anyone with some oil and something to
heat it in. The tofu must be cut to size as desired, then pressed
well to remove most of the water. Generally this is done by spreading
a towel over a slanted board, arranging the tofu over it and covering
it with another board with heavy weights on it.
The outside is crisp and light brown while the inside is white and
spongy. You can eat them as-is, but they are commonly subjected to
further cooking of some sort. While generally put to other uses these
agé can be stuffed, if the puffy kind aren't commercially
available and the hassle of making them at home is not practical. You
do need to scoop some of the white inside out before stuffing.
The photo shows both the traditional triangular form and the
rectangular form more common today. The rectangular pieces were
3.75 x 2.13 x 0.80 and weighed 2-5/8 ounces. In other words, a 19
ounce block has shrunk to less than 8 ounces - but gained considerable
calories due to oil. The photo specimens were fried quite long and
have a fairly thick crust - shorter frying may be desirable for some
Details and Cooking.
This is the prototype veggie burger - no attempt to make it
taste like beef at this point though. Ganmo are made in the form of patties,
similar to hamburger patties, or balls, similar to meatballs. They are
made of tofu and grated or slivered vegetables, then deep fried in oil
(some people simmer them in a dashi stock instead). I prefer patties to
balls as the balls remain kind of mushy inside. Commercial products are
generally firmer but much heavier than home made.
Details and Cooking.
Agé Pouches & Puffs
These are commonly purchased commercially (they are available in
markets serving Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese communities) because
making them yourself is a hassle. To do it right you have to start with
whole dry soybeans because the process is a bit different from regular
tofu, then you deep fry in two different temperatures of oil. They can
be made from commercial tofu in a single pot of oil with careful
temperature control but won't be as light and puffy as when made
right. The photo specimen pouches (13) were 3-3/4 x
3-3/4 inches by 3/4 inch thick and weighed about 1/2 ounce each. The
puffs (14) were various sizes up to 1-1/2 inch.
Pressed Tofu -
This is a form much used in China, but not Japan and I haven't seen any
of it in the Korean markets either. The firmest type of tofu is made and
spread onto cloths. For the thinnest versions a stack of as many as 100
cloths is made. The stack is subjected to very heavy pressure in a screw
press or similar device. This comes in many forms and only some of the
most important are shown here.
Pressed Tofu Blocks -
[Stew Bean Curd, Dou Gan]
These blocks of very firm tofu (about as firm as Monterey Jack) are
available in plain (right) and "baked" (left). The baked variety is
coated with various flavorings. The photo specimens were coated with
soy sauce, sesame oil, chili, aniseed and salt The "standard" size is
roughly 2.7 x 2.2 inches and 0.6 inch thick, sold in packages of
4 squares, weighing 6.7 ounces. Other sizes are also found. The plain
photo specimens were 5.1 x 2.7 x 0.7 inches, two to a package
weighing 6-1/4 ounces. This form can be sliced and diced and
used as an ingredient in stir fries, stews, sauces and even salads.
It can stand up to extended cooking. Purchased for 2016 US $2.49 per
Pressed Tofu Sheet
This is the basic pressed sheet, 12-1/2 x 6 x 0.05 inches with the
fabric pattern pressed into both sides. Actual size, of course, varies
with manufacturer and intended use. These sheets were made in China
and shipped frozen to the US - freezing doesn't seem to bother this
stuff at all (not enough water to crystalize). Ingredients: Soybeans,
For another brand purchased at the same market (also from China and
shipped frozen) the sheets were 18-1/2 x 9 inches and only 0.015 inch
thick. Ingredients: Soybean, Water.
This stuff feels like fabric and stands up very well to handling -
and takes about 15 minutes of simmering to be tender.
Pressed Tofu Noodles -
[Taiwan tofu strips]
These are sold fresh (as shown) and dried (usually straight). The fresh
may be seasoned before packaging and will then be light brown in color.
The individual noodles in the photo were about 0.10 inches square
(slightly variable) but they are often a bit wider and more erratic
in size (11).
Pressed Tofu Knots -
[Dau hu that (Viet)]
These, both by the same company in Los Angeles, were labeled
"Taiwan Soy Sheet Knot" (left) and "Shanghai Soy Sheet Knot" (right)
The Taiwan were tied from a strip 7-3/4 x 2 x 0.05 inches and weighted
1/2 oz each. The Shanghai were tied from a strip 8 x 3-1/2 x 0.015
inches and weighed 1/3 ounce each. Cooking suggestions were,
"Pan fried, stir fried with vegetable, hot pot, marinated"
Tofu Skin -
[Yuba (Japan); Doufu-p'i (China)]
Expensive in Japan but reasonably cheap in China, this product is sheets
of the skin that forms on top of the cooking pots when making tofu - though
some shops make only the skins and skip the tofu. The skin is cut at the
edges of the pot and a stick is run under the center. The stick is raised
leaving the skin draped down on both sides. It is now ready for drying or
whatever other preparation will be used.
Bean Curd Skin - Flat Dried
Found in Chinese markets but also commonly used in Japan this form is
less common than others due to the obvious logistic problems in
transport and storage. These sheets are extremely thin and brittle -
they'll crumble if you look at them wrong. The photo specimen was 21
inches long (unfolded) 7-1/2 inches wide and 0.010 (one 100th) inch
thick. With a 5 minute soak it becomes rubbery and slightly elastic,
suitable for wrappings and similar uses. Flavor is, as with most tofu
products, fairly bland, but it will absorb flavors from other
Bean Curd Skin Sticks
These bunched up sticks of tofu skin have been the most common form
found in Chinese markets but seems to be being overtaken by the flat
sheets. It's more durable than sheet, but not a whole lot. Sticks are
usually broken up and added to a recipe. The photo specimens were
10-1/2 inches long and weighed 3/4 ounce each. Thickness of the
leaves was about 0.015 inch.
Fresh Tofu Skin Pouches -
[Fu bao banh hu ky (Viet)]
These aren't really pouches as they are just a folded flat
roll and the material is too fragile to unroll. They can be used
sliced. The photo specimens were 4-1/2 inches long (twice that
unfolded), 3-1/2 inches wide and weighed 2-1/2 ounces each. The
leaves they were rolled from were 0.010 (one 100th) inch thick.
Cooking suggestions were, "Pan fried, stir fried with vegetable,
hot pot, marinated" (11).
Frozen Tofu -
[Thousand Layer Tofu]
This form is often served as an appetizer but can be used wherever
its porous nature would be good for holding sauces or dips. When tofu is
frozen the water forms large crystals which leave a lot of holes when they
melt and drains out. It leaves the tofu fairly firm and with a slightly
yellow color. The "thousand layer" name comes because the crystals follow
the texture which in pressed tofu gives a layered look where there are
actually no layers.
This form is generally made at home from regular soft tofu. The
relatively slow freezing in a home freezing compartment encourages
large ice crystals thus desirably large holes. It is thawed and drained
(and sometimes squeezed) before using.
Photo by J Samuel Burner distributed under
Attribution 2.0 license.
Freeze Dried Tofu -
This is pretty much a Japan-only specialty. Two traditional methods
were developed taking advantage of bitter winter cold but today this
product is made by conventional freeze drying. Many brands are treated with ammonia gas
before packaging which results in greater expansion when soaked. This tofu
is extremely light weight and will last for 4 to 6 months in a sealed package
kept in a cool dry environment. It must be expanded by soaking (which also
removes the ammonia) before cooking. Recipes for it can be found on-line but
I haven't tried it. The stores around here don't carry it and at around
US $40.00 per pound I can think of other things I'd rather do with
my food dollars.
Fermented Tofu -
[Preserved Tofu, Rotten Tofu, Fermented / Preserved Bean Curd;
Doufu ni (China); chao (Vietnam)]
This is sort of the tofu equivalent of aged soft cheese (think Roquefort
or blue cheese) and is used throughout China and Southeast Asia as an
ingredient and as a table condiment. Your average Asian market will have
a slew of brands and varieties. If you like pungent dairy cheese you'll
probably like this stuff too.
Blocks of tofu, usually about 1-1/2 inch in the longest dimension, are
fermented by a special process (traditionally under straw) and then
packed in liquid with flavoring ingredients.
Details and Cooking.
Stinky Tofu - [chou doufu (China)]
This is a form of very moldy fermented tofu, often of slightly purplish
color, popular in China, particularly Sichuan and Hunan but also in Hong
Kong, Taiwan and Indonesia. It is made by fermenting as long as several
months in a brine made from salt, fermented milk, vegetables and meat,
which may also include shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo
shoots and herbs.
The stench, which even enthusiasts admit smells like rotting garbage,
is noticeable for blocks around stalls and restaurants where it is cooked
and served (generally at night). It is most often pan or deep fried but
the photo specimen is in Sichuan Mala sauce.
Photo distributed under Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
This page couldn't be complete without various attempts, both ancient
and modern, to make tofu imitations of animal parts. The Chinese are very
fond of creating exact replicas of whole animals out of tofu skin but
these are mercifully not much available in the US.
Tofu Chicken - Shanghai Vegetarian
- [Buddha's Chicken, Thit Ga Chay (Viet)]
This product is usually made by rolling up fresh tofu skins,
compressing in a cloth wrapping and steaming. The cloth is then
removed. This process makes the roll very firm with a somewhat
chicken-like texture. The texture is pleasing but making it taste
like chicken (or not) is up to the cook. The photo specimen was
5-1/4 inches long, 2-1/8 inches diameter and weighed 8-1/4 ounces.
Ingredients: soybean, water, salt. Cooking suggestions, "Pan fried,
stir fried with vegetable, hot pot, or soup for flavor"
Tofu Duck - [Buddha's Duck]
This product is usually made by rolling up fresh tofu skins, compressing
in a cloth wrapping and steaming. The cloth is then removed. This
process makes the roll very firm with a somewhat duck-like texture.
The texture is pleasing and the manufacturer has done a decent job of
imparting a duck-like flavor. I rather liked this one. The photo
specimen was 7 inches long, 2-3/4 inches across and weighed 15-1/2 ounces.
Ingredients: Soybeans, Salt, Sugar, Soy sauce, Soybean oil. This
manufacturer (10) makes a chicken the same shape,
size and ingredients but lighter in color.
The label, "Fresh Tofu Sausage", has to be a misnomer, euphemism or
mis-translation - these are clearly tofu chitterlings (pig intestines) -
but they mercifully don't have the smell. Vegetarian Soul Food, anyone?
These were made of very thin, somewhat gooey (how appropriate) tofu skin
rolled up. Individual chitterlings were about 12 inches long, 7/8 inch
diameter and weighed 1-5/8 ounces. The leaves they were rolled from
were 0.010 (one 100th) inch thick.The cooking suggestions were,
"Pan fried, stir fried with vegetable, hot pot, marinated". Available in
Asian markets in Los Angeles (11).
Tofurkey is an imitation turkey roast generally designed as a vegan
stand-in for a roast turkey dinner. It may or may not resemble an
actual turkey in shape or taste. Tofurkey is a generic term, Tofurky
is a registered trademark of Turtle Island Foods (
15). The photo is of their well known Tofurky, 4-3/4 inches long,
3-3/4 inches diameter and weighing 1 pound 12 ounces, and mercifully
not molded into the shape of a real turkey. Ingredients: far too many
to list here (includes roll, stuffing and gravy) but the basic roll
includes: water, vital wheat gluten, organic tofu, canola oil, natural
vegetarian flavors, shoyu sauce, corn starch, white bean flour,
garbanzo bean flour, lemon juice, onion powder, salt, calcium lactate
Details and Cooking
Tofu Cold Cuts
This is a tough one to do well. It's quite similar to the baked
version of Pressed Tofu Blocks, but with a lot
more ingredients to cover up the soy taste and make it more like meat.
The photo specimens are Tofurky brand (15) Hickory
Smoked Deli Cuts, 4 inches diameter and 0.04 thick. They're a credible
effort - but certainly no bologna (too dry for one thing).
Ingredients: vital wheat gluten, organic tofu, canola oil, natural
vegetarian flavors, shoyu sauce, corn starch, white bean flour,
garbanzo bean flour, lemon juice, calcium lactate from beets.
Tofu Italian Sausage
The photo specimens are Tofurky brand (15) and are
the best tofu sausages I've tried to date. They're a bit overspiced
to cover the basic blandness, but have decent texture (though still
a bit pasty) and the color is lighter than others I've tried. They
brown decently if fried and are generally edible. Ingredients:
organic tofu, vital wheat gluten, canola oil, high oleic safflower
oil, water, shoyu sauce, sun dried tomatoes, textured wheat protein,
basil, black pepper, spices, granulated garlic, salt, chili peppers.
"Smart Dogs" (16) - you will not mistake these for
Ballpark brand franks. They have a slightly chemically taste and a
paste texture, but with enough good mustard and chopped onions they'll
stand in for a boiled hot dog (they recommend hot water cooking or
nuking, not frying or grilling). These don't claim to be tofu but I'm
putting them here with the other soy animals anyway. Ingredients:
water, soy protein isolate, wheat gluten, evaporated cane juice, less
than 2% of natural flavors (from vegetable sources), natural smoke
flavor, garlic powder, paprika oleoresin, yeast extract, xanthan gum,
guar gum, carrageenan, fermented rice flour, salt, potassium chloride.
- T10 - Yuan Shian Vegetarian Food, 13759 Amar Road,
La Puente, CA 91746 - 626-337-6654.
- T11 - Asia Foods Company, Baldwin Park, CA 91706 -
- T13 - House Foods America Corp., Garden Grove, CA
- T14 - Dong Phuong Tofu, Westminster, CA 92683.
- T15 -
Turtle Island Foods PO Box 176, Hood River, OR 97031 - 541-386-7766 -
- T16 -
Lightlife Foods 153 Industrial Blvd., Turners Falls, MA 01376 -