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I need tofu 101

I want to start incorporating more tofu into my diet as a meat replacement. I eat a lot of meat. I have many questions:
What should I look for and where should I buy it? I have an Asian grocery store nearby but I've never bought tofu there. Does Trader Joe's or Costco carry it? Is fresh in water better than than packaged? Are there preferred brands? Do they all pretty much taste the same? What is the shelf life? What's a fair price?

Thank you!

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  1. You may want to see if your library has Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen. It has EVERYTHING!


    1 Reply
    1. I just had an amazing lunch with tofu. I bought extra firm tofu from Trader Joe's but I've also bought it at H Mart and Whole Foods. I would definitely read the link provided by c oliver. There are different textures of tofu - silken, soft, firm, extra firm. There's also sprouted and fermented tofu, it's a crazy soy world out there.

      They don't all taste the same, fresher is better. The sealed packages last a while before you open them. Fair price - it's usually pretty cheap. I bought a lb for $2.

      My super simple amazing lunch involved pressing tofu for an hour or so to get rid of some of the water, marinating for an hour, dicing into 1 inch cubes, baking and tossing into a kale soup.

      1. Men shouldn't eat a lot of soy, just not worth the risk

        Plenty of alternative protein sources

        10 Replies
        1. re: Alan408

          Not necessarily only true for men but women should consider the negative aspects of soy as well. I don't eat it often for these same reasons.

          1. re: fldhkybnva

            Wow, I was unaware of the health risks of tofu and other soy products. Thanks for the heads up.

            1. re: zackly

              Yes, there's a lot of mixed literature if you want to peruse. To guide your search, you might Google soy and phytoestrogens or thyroid function. It's a conflicting body of literature as with most nutritional research but still very interesting.

              1. re: zackly

                Most of the soy controversy is surrounding processed soy foods such as soy protein isolate.
                Whole food soy products like soymilk, tofu, and edamame can be a healthy part of your diet when eaten in moderation.

                1. re: Ttrockwood

                  I agree, though isn't tofu fairly processed? I actually thought of you when I was making tofu today, I guess I just associate you with vegetarian options :)

              1. re: EWSflash

                asians with far better lipid profiles than most american men.

              2. re: Alan408

                Alan408. meta analysis you might want to read:

                Hamilton-Reeves, Jill M.; Vazquez, Gabriela; Duval, Sue J.; Phipps, William R.; Kurzer, Mindy S.; Messina, Mark J. (2010). "Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: Results of a meta-analysis". Fertility and Sterility 94 (3): 997–1007. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.038. PMID 19524224.

              3. Trader Joe's does carry tofu in a sealed container with water. I prefer extra firm tofu with which I occasionally make lunch.

                I make soup with ramen noodles, sauted onions, chopped mushrooms from a can, soy sauce and homemade hot sauce for flavoring. I discard the flavor packet that comes in the noodle package because of the salt. There's plenty of salt in the soy sauce. The tofu is sliced into small cubes.

                1. I'd suggest TRUSTING people running Asian market for advice. Market near me has several varieties (soft, silken, firm, etc) prepackaged... last a LONG time in fridge. Was suggested I FREEZE, then press out water!?! Then 'marinate" in soy/hoisin and things. Cubed up and stir fried, it's pretty solid and "meaty"?? Alone... pretty much NO flavor, IMO!?!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: kseiverd

                    Good point, you can freeze tofu but it alters the texture. Some prefer it that way so definitely worth it to try it from frozen as well.

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      How is the texture different? It might actually help me with my veggie chili- does it get crumbly?

                      1. re: EWSflash

                        Yes. If you freeze and then thaw firm tofu, squeeze out all the liquid, and crumble into a chili it will absorb all of the chili flavors and have a firm yet chewy texture.

                    2. re: kseiverd

                      At our Asian market, generally there's only one person working there who speaks English well enough for me to be able to communicate with him. And "Asian" is a mighty big category for one young man to know a whole lot about. At least that's been my experience. YMMV.

                    3. Get Andrea Nguyen's book Tofu. It will tell you everything you want to know.

                      1. the most important thing to know is:
                        THEY DON'T TASTE AT ALL THE SAME

                        to really enjoy tofu, you will need to do some comparative taste testing.

                        also, they come in jillions of different shapes and textures, each one is best in it's own way for use in only certain types of dishes.
                        for instance, silken tofu (very soft/mushy) is the best kind for making tofu "cream" sauce in the blender
                        tofu sheets are the best for making with mustard greens
                        firm tofu is best for tofu fajitas

                        the brand with the flavor that i like the best only comes in firm, SAN DIEGO TOFU DAIRY.
                        i get it in the refrigerated section of whole foods.

                        1. This tofu at trader joes is really firm and doesn't even need to be pressed! The texture is wonderful, like a semi firm cheese:

                          Pressed and then marinated extra firm tofu is excellent baked, in stir fries, or seared. Tofu scramble is a great way to also add lots of veggies and have tofu at breakfast.

                          Tofu can also be used as an egg substitute for a frittata or eggless frittata muffins.
                          Blend a soft tofu in the blender until smooth, fold in chopped veggies etc for the frittata and then bake in a pan or muffin tin. The texture is surprisingly similar to eggs and even puffs up some!
                          If you can find smoked tofu it has a great smokey flavor, you won't want to eat much of it at a time, its a great addition to miso soup or eaten as an app like you would a smoked cheese.

                          Tempeh is a lesser known whole grain unprocessed high protein alternative to meat or tofu (nearly 20g protein per serving) and when crumbled it can be swapped for any recipe that calls for ground beef. Sauteed crumbled tempeh with mushrooms makes a delicious taco filling, and seared tempeh cubes with a splash of sesame oil are a great addition to make a salad more hearty.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            I agree, I just bought the extra firm tofu from TJs and it was super solid. I pressed it but barely any liquid came out.

                            Have you ever tried scrambled tofu? I was planning to try it on Saturday but was stuck at work. It seems like it'd be tasty though I worry about the texture.

                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                              Scrambled 'fu is great! I wouldn't use the high protein tj's for that since it won't break apart enough, firm or extra firm in the water tubs drained well, most of the water cooks out anyhow so don't worry about pressing. If you have any of the fancy black salt from india with a slightly sulfuric flavor this is where to use it. If you can find the tofu scramble spice packet made by nasoya that stuff is magical (and no longer in production as of january...:/ )
                              Isa has the best simple instructions here:

                              1. re: Ttrockwood

                                Thanks for the link, it was indeed delicious!

                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                  Oh that looks awesome! Glad you liked it :))

                                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                                    Thanks, tomorrow's continued adventure in the world of tofu will involve soup. It should be a simple adventure.

                          2. There are two tofu makers in my city, one Japanese, and one Vietnamese. Both produce excellent products but they are different. They're both better than the ubiquitous supermarket style tofu that are available everywhere, like say bread from a bakery is better than supermarket bread. I usually buy the Vietnamese as the Japanese maker is not so firm, and I like to deep fry best. Not very creative, i know. For soups and such I like a softer texture better.

                            I'd say find a recipe that you want to cook, and see if you can find the right tofu for it.

                            Here's a Japanese oriented overview: http://justhungry.com/looking-tofu

                            1. Is GMO free tofu readily available?

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: zackly

                                  Yes! Look for organic tofu. Many companies also label as GMO free as well.

                                2. The first thing to realize is that there are lots of types of tofu, which can be cooked in different ways.

                                  There's your standard tofu, which is medium firm, but a bit crumbly, with a fairly soft texture. It can be cooked in chunks or scrambled, and in Chinese cooking is often deep fried in chunks before being used in dishes, to give it more texture and flavour.

                                  There's pressed tofu, that's the very firm stuff that will stand up well to stewing or stir frying - it's had much of the water pressed out of it. It will soak up the flavours of the food around it.

                                  Silken tofu has a very soft, custardy texture, and is used a lot in Japanese cooking (and is the kind in mapo tofu). It can be pureed and used as a base in creamy soups or puddings, or sliced and used in soups or stews.

                                  You've also got a kind where they take basic tofu and freeze it and then thaw it. The ice crystals give it a spongy, chewy texure. This is popular in hot pot, and would go well in stews.

                                  You've also got tofu skin, where they take the skin that forms on the heating pot of soy milk (much like on milk), and dry it. This is the basis of the so called "vegetarian chicken" you find in Buddhist food, and can also be used in hot pot or stirfry. You usually soak it before using it.

                                  I do find a difference between good tofu and mediocre in taste - I'll happily eat good silken tofu straight up, with a drizzle of soy and some fish flakes. The flavour is mild, and the firmer tofus will pick up the taste the surrounding sauce.

                                  Edamame are young soy beans, and can be used much as you would green peas. The whole pods can be boiled, and eaten as a snack.

                                  As far as soy and health - I think the main problems with soy consumption come from cases where people are swapping all their meat for soy based substitutes, which is significantly more soy than even a Chinese Buddhist vegetarian will eat.

                                  My personal preference is to use tofu as tofu - check out east Asian recipes. I'm not keen on tofu as a meat replacement ("Beef stew with tofu!") because it's a dreadful meat substitute - the texture, taste, and cooking are totally different from meat.

                                  1. I want to start incorporating more tofu into my diet as a meat replacement.

                                    See, that's your first problem.

                                    Treat tofu like an ingredient all unto itself, and never as a substitute for anything else -- meat or otherwise.

                                    You need take and pass Tofu 1 before you enroll in an upperlevel course like Tofu 101.

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Eat tofu cause it tastes so damn good!

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Actually, eat tofu because you like it.

                                        Don't treat it as the culinary equivalent of Castor Oil. It's not something that should be choked down so you can achieve some tangential end other than the pure personal satisfaction and enjoyment of tofu quiddity.

                                        Life's to short to have to "learn" to like any food, tofu included.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          I have a hard time eating something "just" because it's good for you. Once I got turned onto tofu, I became a convert.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            No kidding.

                                            I cannot imagine a monastic life of eating food that is only "good for you" but which each and every single bite is like chewing nails and swallowing sandpaper.

                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                            "Life's to short to have to "learn" to like any food, tofu included."

                                            This is the worst advice ever on Chowhound. Just like nobody is born liking opera, long novels, or anything complicated at all, tastes have to be developed.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              Plus it just doesn't sound terribly Chow-ish.

                                              1. re: Steve

                                                This is the worst advice ever on Chowhound.

                                                Gushing with pride.

                                                Finally, something to hang my hat on.

                                                [doing the happy dance as we speak]

                                          3. re: ipsedixit

                                            I agree. I don't use it as a meat substitute. I eat tofu when I want tofu.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              I like tofu in Asian dishes like hot & sour soup & stir fried with veggies in soy/garlic sauces. However, after my post I was made aware of the health concerns about soy products.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-merc...
                                              I associate eating soy products primarily with vegetarians & healthy eaters who use it as a non-meat protein source. I generally think of these people as ones who would avoid GMO vegetable, MSG, HFCS etc. etc. Are they not concerned about the health risk of soy products or do they believe they are untrue?

                                              1. re: zackly

                                                They might just believe in moderation

                                                1. re: zackly

                                                  Moderate consumption of whole soy products and fermented soy foods have significant health benefits. Non GMO organic soy is easily found.
                                                  The subjects in these "studies" often consumed nearly 25servings of soy daily. That's 12.5 cups of tofu......aka not a real life scenario

                                              2. I had a delicious tofu scramble for breakfast today. Soft (or silken) tofu, drained for awhile (1-2 hours) in a fine mesh colander (I always used to use cheesecloth, this was way easier). Sautéed some onion, garlic, kale, grape tomatoes. A bit of veg stock, added turmeric, oregano, tamari, hot sauce, cumin. Then the tofu and let it braise a bit after breaking it up. I've never done a "Mexican" take on a tofu scramble before, but this was delicious with a side of black bean salad and avocado.

                                                More generally - I love tofu! All kinds! I think I prefer the softer types rather than extra firm. But they all have their uses. Otherwise, I agree with what's already been said. It may not be the healthiest vegetarian protein, but it's delicious. From what I've heard, fermented soy (ie. tempeh) is much healthier.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: equalibra

                                                  Hmm I was going to try scrambled tofu but wouldn't think to use soft. Maybe I'll try two versions-soft and firm.

                                                  1. re: equalibra

                                                    I ended up eating this everyday mon-fri for breakfast this week. Because it is so delicious. So much for moderation :)

                                                  2. Here's a simple prep to sort of gauge your natural inclination for tofu.

                                                    Dice up some garlic, add it to soy sauce with some sugar and chili sauce. A pinch of white pepper doesn't hurt either. Mix and incorporate and let it rest in the fridge for about an hour.

                                                    Then take a cube of soft silken tofu, and cube into four equal sections so essentially you have a Rubix cube of tofu squares.

                                                    Take the soy sauce marinade that is resting in the fridge and drizzle it over the tofu, garnish with some toasted sesame seeds, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, and some chopped peanuts.

                                                    Eat on its own, but best enjoyed with a bowl of rice and some Chinese sausages.


                                                    6 Replies
                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                        I vacillate with recommending ginger in tofu concoctions.

                                                        I don't like it in this prep because I already have the heat from the chili sauce.

                                                        If I want to do a full-blown ginger prep with Silken tofu, I do something like this.

                                                        Combine minced fresh peeled young ginger, minced fresh horseradish root, with rice wine vinegar, a dash of Sake, and sugar to taste. Let it sit in the fridge for about an hour to rest and incubate and for all the ingredients to get to know each other. Pour over tofu, and garnish with some Gari -- preferably homemade.

                                                        Heck, now that I think about it, I could just eat tofu with Gari. 'Natch.

                                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                                            The Sake takes it over the top, in my opinion.

                                                            It's unfortunate, but Sake is often an underutilized and overlooked ingredient when it comes to cooking.

                                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                                            I cleared my sinunses (?) just reading that recipe.....

                                                            Sounds amazing to me! I've never made gari- probably not a good idea since i buy a jar, eat it until its gone (zero self control) and then bitch about my stomach ache....!

                                                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                                                              This is somewhat similar to one of my favorite restaurant tofu dishes - a bowl of silken tofu with chili oil, cilantro, scallions, seaweed, za cai. Similar to the fuss his Dunlop or serious eats recipe.