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Why do people like extra firm tofu?

So I'm half Japanese, have grown up eating tofu, and I love it. Most Japanese-American folks grow up eating "regular" tofu, which has a nice softness to it and just enough firmness to hold together.

However, I keep noticing that my local stores, Trader Joe's, etc. have mostly "firm," "extra firm," or "super firm" tofu, and regular is not to be found. So unless I want a trip to Japantown, I end up buying firm. And I think firm is unpalatable -- too stiff, cardboard-like, and lacking in good flavor.

Having hard tofu used to be considered an insult to the tofu maker, but now everyone seems to want it.

So am I missing out on something? Why do people like extra firm?

My Korean-Canadian housemate has a hunch that people who are introduced to tofu for the first time as adults like "super firm" better because it "tastes more like meat." What do you think?

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  1. Recipes often specify firm tofu. Who knows why. I'd only buy it for grilling.

    You might want to start another topic on the SF board asking for places to buy soft tofu close to your home or work.

    1. See, I only like firm tofu (or very soft tofu, like dofu fa) -- I think the soft stuff has a nasty, overly metallic "soy" taste and an unpleasant texture. But then, I've finally come to terms with the fact that Japanese cuisine is based on a totally different set of esthetic values (smell, taste, texture) that don't appeal much to me.

      As your Korean friend said, I like the meatiness of firm tofu, and the way the rougher curds hold sauces. My impression is that firm tofu is more Chinese -- it stands up better to being tossed around in a wok.

      1. A lot of Americans eat tofu as a substitute for meat and not in the way a lot of Asians eat it in -- soups, stews, on its own, etc. So the extra firm tofu is the more appropriate choice for them.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Miss Needle

          I'd also like to mention that silken tofu can be popular as well as some people like to puree it in smoothies and salad dressings.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            I agree. When I ate tofu in Japan, it was typically in one of the three ways you've mentioned. I don't really feel like I'd want an extra-firm tofu in a miso soup or a stew, but here I've usually seen it grilled or fried in preparations where a firm tofu seems more appropriate.

          2. They're very different things for different purposes. Just as beef tenderloin has its proper place, so does beef brisket. Just not for the same uses. The different tofus aren't meant to be interchangeable.

            1. Firm tofu is better for braising, as well as for some stir-fry dishes.

              1. Since most Americans have to be "brought to" tofu, and many are skittish at best, if the soft tofu is the first they try, they may be turned off from ever trying any other type. The firm tofu is much more acceptable to the average American palate; with its ability to be stir fried and incorporated into other food, as well as its texture.

                3 Replies
                1. re: laliz

                  I never much ate tofu until I went to Japan, and then I was delighted by how delicate it could be and how flavorful. It bears no resemblance to "firm" American tofu; for one thing, it's usually much fresher, and for another, it is meant to be eaten of itself or with a little sauce. It isn't supposed to be Tofurky or Tojerky or any of those iterations. However, our local groceries carry several different kinds because we have a sizable Asian community.

                  1. re: brendastarlet

                    Actually tofurkey and tofurkey jerky and most iterations are made from seitan not saying it doesn't have tofu product, it is just mostly "seitan" also known as wheat gluten

                    1. re: brendastarlet

                      I had the same experience - I don't dislike firm tofu, but it's never been high on my list of favourite foods. Then I was introduced to the soft Japanese style, served with nothing but soy sauce and a little bit of grated ginger, and loved it.

                      I tend to like tofu in general more when it's cooked as tofu, though, rather than as a meat substitute. Ma po tofu, mmmm....

                      My husband was kind of startled when I served him a salad of soft tofu, fresh tomatoes and basil, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. I like the version with fresh mozzarella a lot, but can't get the cheese here, while good quality soft tofu is 20 cents a package, so I substituted. He liked it, though.

                  2. It all depends on what I'm cooking....for the awesome ma po tofu, I always go with the softer tofus...the firm just won't do for me in that recipe. Now, on the other hand, for a recipe that calls for *marinating* the tofu, only firm or extra firm will do...why? Well, because you can press off the extra moisture and then marinate it ... soft tofu will just fall apart and is to me, sort of custard-like. Then after you marinate the firm tofu, you can brown it on both sides. Can you do that with soft or silken tofu? Not that I know of...and maybe that IS a meat-substitute thing as you said...hmmm, I think you are right! I'm still somewhat of a novice to tofu, but I love it and respect it and am always looking for new tasty recipes using it...all different kinds! The brands I buy are Mori-Nu (for my ma po) and Nasoya (firm or extra firm).

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Val

                      You can totally brown soft or silken tofu and even deep fry it. The trick is to steam the tofu first and let it cool before doing anything frying.

                      of course it also takes some experience

                      1. re: kobetobiko

                        Very interesting...thank you for the information...I will try it!

                    2. I think sometimes the recipe just requires a tofu that holds its texture better (e.g. It would be difficult to stuff silken tofu). Firm tofu is good for being stuffed too.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: designerboy01

                        Hmmm...never heard of stuffing it! Interesting...have any good links to recipes or suggestions?

                        1. re: designerboy01

                          Most of the Cantonese dishes use soft tofu for stuffing and then steam.

                          1. re: kobetobiko

                            I'm cantonese and I think its firm tofu stuffed with fish paste. Its really a Hakka dish, but many Hakka had settled in Guangdong Province.

                            1. re: designerboy01

                              That's why I said Cantonese food. What I was referring to is the classic Cantonese style stuff tofu with shrimp meat stuffed in silken tofu then steam with oil and soy drizzle on top when done. I am sure you know what I am talking about. We were just thinking about different dishes in the threads above.

                              The stuff tofu with fish paste sometimes use fried tofu too. But that dish is usually braised as casserole, though I have seen a steam version as well.

                              1. re: kobetobiko

                                Yes there are a couple of versions of it. But the original one is Hakka.

                        2. If I'm making tofu "jerky", a meat substitute (you dry it slowly in the oven, frequently basting with a solution of soy sauce, five spice and sugar), I use extra firm.

                          1. There are many different types of tofu:
                            pressed
                            dried
                            silken
                            fried
                            shredded
                            smoked
                            As well as preparations such as stuffed. Maybe others can name more. They all have different purposes, and I love them all.

                            1. Because to us gaijins it's awesome. Great texture. I can say I don't like soft seafood or meats, either, I like foods that have some resistance and texture. Firm tofu rocks. And not because it has a meatier texture. If I want mushy I'll eat some oatmeal.