TOFU-The Other White Meat

Simply put, tofu is fermented soymilk curd. A type of soy cheese if you will. The process is about 5000 years old. There is no such thing as just plain "tofu." It comes in a variety of textures, hardness, and flavors. There are several very different textures of tofu available in markets today:

Tofu Types

Regular Tofu:

This texture resembles a sponge and is fibrous with a silken texture. In most cases, when a recipe calls for just "tofu," it is a safe bet to use this texture. Note that manufacturers do not use the term "regular" for this tofu. They'll typically call it "tofu soft, medium firm."

Soft Tofu:

For regular textured tofu, this hardness is similar to a soft water-logged sponge with really small holes. We know this does not sound appealing, but we're only describing the hardness, not the flavor. For silken textured tofu, this hardness is similar to really soft jello. In many cases, however, soft silken tofu will just have the label of "silken."

Firm Tofu:

For regular textured tofu, this hardness is denser -- similar to a firmer water-logged sponge with small holes. And for silken textured tofu, the jello consistency just gets firmer.

A hardness cannot be made any softer but it can be made firmer by freezing and thawing, boiling in water, or pressing. These three methods change the texture of the tofu in different ways.

Freezing & Thawing: Freezing and thawing makes the tofu more porous so that it soaks marinades and other liquids very quickly. For additional information on freezing and thawing tofu, see "Storage" in this article.

Boiling: When boiling tofu, the outside is cooked more than the inside, causing the outside edges to be a little tougher. This may be exactly what you want when using tofu as a meat alternative. A typical boiling time is 20 minutes; however, boiling it for longer or shorter periods of time certainly will not hurt it.

Pressing: Pressing tofu makes the entire block uniformly firmer. This is the technique to use if a recipe calls for firm tofu and you happen to have soft tofu in the refrigerator. To press a block of tofu, place it between towels and put a heavy weight (such as a cast iron frying pan, concrete paving blocks, or bricks) on top and let it sit for an hour or so. Storing or cooking pressed tofu in a liquid will undo the effects of the pressing.

You are not limited to just one of these techniques to change the hardness of your tofu. You can use any combination of them or all three. You can even repeat any of the techniques or combinations to really toughen up your tofu. When you go to your local health food store, you may notice a wide variety of tofus flavored with herbs. These are not what the authors of your recipe books are referring to unless, of course, they've specified a particular flavor of tofu. Feel free to try these flavored tofu treats in your own creative recipes.

Nigari/Calcium Rich/GDL (Glucono Delta Lactone)

Nigari is a natural component of sea water, primarily magnesium chloride. It is used to make Japanese style tofu. Nigari tofu are generally firmer and more tender.

Calcium Rich tofu is make with food grade gypsum, a natural earth mineral, calcium sulfate. It is traditional Chinese tofu ingredient. The Calcium Rich tofu is softer and smoother.

GDL Tofu is silken tofu. GDL is mixed with the soy milk in the tofu container. The coagulation takes place inside the tofu container. The tofu is never pressed. Therefore, silken tofu has the highest water content. This make silken tofu soft.

Certified Organic:

What is Organic?

Organic refers to methods of growing and processing foods that rely on the earth's natural resources. Pests and weeds are managed using earth-friendly means such as beneficial insects and mechanical controls. Organic farmers work to build natural nutrients in soil which help fertilize plants without reliance on synthetic fertilizers

Organic Production

Offers food produced within nature's own balanced and fertile system. Helps keep our air, soil, and water free of toxic chemicals.

Ensures that animals are humanely raised, without synthetic hormones or antibiotics, and only fed organic feed.


Fresh tofu should have a mild smell when you open the package. A package of tofu should show an expiration date.

Tofu that has spoiled turns moldy, is filmy to the touch, and has a sour, sharp, or biting taste and smell. Some suggest that if it only smells sour, it can still be used in many recipes other than those with very delicate flavors such as mousses and puddings. However, if it smells sour, we suggest that you just throw it away -- it's not that expensive.


Tofu can be purchased refrigerated and packed in water or packaged in vacuum packed plastic containers. After opening a water pack refrigerated package, drain the fluid, cut off the portion you want, and decide how you are going to store the remainder of the tofu. To maintain its store-bought texture, put it in the refrigerator. To change the tofu's texture and make it tougher (more meat-like), put it in the freezer.

If you want to store it in the refrigerator (which you can do for up to 7 days), cover with fresh cool water. Replace the water daily to prevent it from getting cloudy and making a good home for bacteria. Also be sure that the tofu is completely submerged.

If you want to store it in the freezer, place the drained tofu in an airtight bag or container. The white tofu, once frozen, will turn yellow; but don't worry, when you thaw it, it will become white again. Freezing tofu drastically changes its properties. When you freeze it, thaw it, and squeeze out the water, it will have a more meaty, chewy consistency and will soak up marinades and sauces more readily than non-frozen tofu. To squeeze out the water, simply place sliced tofu between paper towels and press with the palm of your hand to remove as much water as possible, or perform the "pressing" technique described earlier. To thaw tofu quickly, microwave it on a paper towel or in a bowl. You can also boil it for 5 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the tofu chunk. It is usually easier, however, to leave it on a plate on the kitchen counter for a few hours.

Preparing Instructions


Marinating tofu is one of the many ways of flavoring it. When a recipe instructs you to marinate tofu and it does not tell you the tofu texture or hardness to use, we recommend using a regular firm or extra-firm tofu. If you are marinating for less than one hour, it can be done at room temperature covered with wax paper, paper towels, or a towel. However, for longer periods of time, marinating should be done in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage.

Frozen and thawed tofu absorbs marinades faster than unfrozen tofu. In fact, if the marinade is thin, you may only need to quickly dip the tofu in the sauce on each side for it to be fully absorbed into the tofu. However, if the marinade is thick, the tofu may still require several hours or even overnight to absorb the marinade fully.


Tofu can be mashed, blended, whipped, ground, crumbled, marinated, simmered, steamed, baked, broiled, sautéed, barbecued, fried, or deep-fried. Basically, you can do anything to it. Use your imagination and creativity. Remember, tofu has very little flavor of its own, and it will pick up the flavors of the ingredients it is cooked with. Also remember that tofu can be so soft and creamy that it melts away in the dish, or so firm and leathery that it takes a bit of chewing. Choose your flavors and textures.

Tofu may not only look like a sponge, but in some cases it actually acts like a sponge. If you have gone through some time and effort to remove the water from your tofu (i.e., to make it firmer or to maximize the flavor of a marinade), don't put it back in water or other liquids such as soup stocks. The tofu "sponge" will absorb liquid and drastically dilute the marinade and return the tofu's firmness to its original state.

In a soup or stew, you can "lock-in" the flavor of a marinated tofu by first cooking it with a little oil. Deep frying, pan frying, or covering with a non-stick cooking spray and broiling are all methods that may be used. If this locking-in process is skipped, the tofu's flavors will have a tendency to be leached out by the soup or stew broth.

The Power of Soy Foods

Scientist note that people who consume diets high in soy have significantly lower raters of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer (breast, colon and prostrate), and fewer menopausal symptoms. Several components of the soybean, including protein, fiber, calcium, essential fatty acids, and isoflavones offer the potential health benefits of soy. The daily recommendation of isoflavones (the active ingredient is soy) is 47mg. This equals ¾ cup tofu or tempeh or 1-1/2 cups soy milk.

'Anti-cancer' properties of soy are thought to be related primarily to its isoflavone composition. Studies have shown that soy isoflavones decrease the development of breast and prostate tumors and slow the growth of human breast and prostate cancer cells.

Researchers are focusing on soy isoflavones and their potential role not only for the slowing of cancer growth, but also in the prevention of breast, prostate and other types of cancer. Antioxidant properties of soy isoflavones help reduce formation of free radicals.

OSTEOPOROSIS - Soy foods contain calcium, which helps promote bone health in all age groups. It has been suggested that a diet high in soy isoflavones may also reduce the risk of osteoporosis by potentially reducing bone loss and improving or maintaining bone density in certain groups of men and women (in individuals with low estrogen).

CORONARY HEART DISEASE -The results of numerous studies suggest that consuming soy protein daily may potentially reduce the risk for coronary heart disease by 18-28%. A diet high in soy protein (a minimum of 25 grams per day) has been shown in several studies to exert potential cardiovascular benefits including decreased total cholesterol (9.3%), decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (13%), increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels, decreased triglyceride levels, antioxidant properties, and possible protective effects on blood vessel walls.

MENOPAUSAL SMPTOMS - Due to its rich isoflavone content, diets high in soy (a minimum of 25 grams per day) may have the potential to control menopausal symptoms (length and severity of hot flashes, mood swings, excess hair growth) in women with low estrogen.

LACTOSE INTOLERANCE - Soy products contain no lactose, and provide an important component of lactose free diet.

Please consult with your physician before making any extreme dietary changes.

Here are some recipes that use the principals of this lesson.

Basic Japanese Miso Soup Stock Recipe

Serves 6-8

5 cups of water
3-4 TBS of Aka Miso (red soy bean paste)
(Miso comes in a variety of flavors, textures & colors. Generally white types are sweet, red types are salty - usually found in the refrigerated section.)
1 package or 3 TBS - dried shaved bonito flakes (shaved salted Tuna)
3"x3" piece of kombu or 1 sheet of shredded Nori (sushi wrap)
3 scallions - chopped

Supplementary Ingredients used in this miso soup recipe:

6-8 dried shitake mushrooms
1/2 pkg. of tofu - cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1-2 bundles of somen (a very thin white noodle - bundled in the center with a paper strip)
or a handful of rice vermicelli

Soak dried shitake mushrooms in warm water till tender and rinse. Cut out and discard stems and slice thinly.

In a medium sauce pan, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, add miso and bonito flakes, and whip until miso is completely dissolved.

Add Mushrooms, scallions and tofu. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Meanwhile cook somen to package directions (2-3 minutes). Pour soup over somen, top with fresh cut scallions and serve.

*** For a light clear miso soup called “shirumono” which means "soothing to drink", it is usually served for breakfast or as an appetizer in the first course of the Japanese meal.

Bring water to a boil.

Add; miso, bonito flakes, dashi & scallions. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow bonito flakes to settle to the bottom. Pour through a strainer.

Top with fresh cut scallions and serve.

Supplemental ingredients for miso soup recipes:

Add some variety to your miso soup with these supplementary ingredients to the basic stock recipe.

Serve with a bowl of rice or over noodles. There are also many different variety of noodles - my favorite are; somen - very thin and soba - very thick. Here are just a few additions but try adding anything you like.

Dried Seaweed: 2-3 strips of dried kombu. Soak the kombu strips in warm water till tender and rinse. Cut into 1" x 2" strips or tie knots along the strip and cut between the knots or slice in long thin strips.

Gobo Tempura: Fried fish cake with burdock. Slice into rectangular strips. It is precooked and found in the refrigerated section. There are many varieties.

Spinach / Lettuce: Rinse and tear lettuce into 3x3 squares / cut spinach leaves in half. Add just before serving.

Marinated Tofu Stir FryServes 6-8

Marinade Ingredients:

½ cup Soy Sauce (I prefer low-sodium tamari, a wheat-free Japanese soy)
Sesame Oil, a few drops
Rice wine vinegar, to taste
Garlic (2 cloves minced)
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. block of Firm or Extra Firm Tofu

Stir-Fry Ingredients:

1 each medium sized red and green pepper (julienne cut)
1 medium onion (julienne cut)
1 carrot (julienne cut)
2 stalks celery (bias cut)
1 cup fresh brocolli florettes
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
4 cups cooked rice
Oil (for cooking)


Gently squeeze the extra liquid out of block of tofu with a paper towel. Cut tofu into ½ inch by 1inch pieces.

Mix all marinade ingredients together and toss tofu in marinade. Let stand for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better) tossing occasionally.

While tofu is marinating, cut all ingredients for the stir-fry. If necessary, cook the rice and have ready.

In a wok or deep sided fry pan, heat to medium-hot, 1-2 TBS of good quality oil (canola or olive oil work well).

Remove tofu from marinade and stir-fry for 2 minutes(save marinade for sauce). Remove tofu and set aside.

Stir-fry peppers, onion, carrot and celery for 3-4 minutes. Add brocolli and sprouts and fry another 2 minutes. Add marinade and bring liquid to a boil.

Thicken the sauce with 1 TBS of cornstarch or arrowroot mixed with a little water then add cooked tofu. Simmer for 1-2 minutes and serve over hot rice.

Tofu Cheesecake

Serves 6-8

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 TBS sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2-16oz. pkgs. firm tofu
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375'.

Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter together until well blended. Press into a 9 inch spring form pan. Bake 8-10 minutes until firm. Let cool.

Blend tofu and all the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into the baked pie shell.

Bake for 40 minutes. Serve well chilled topped with fresh or frozen fruit or any choice of fruit sauces.

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