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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.

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