What is Tofu and How Is It Made?

By now, we have all heard of tofu. Whether you are plant-based, vegan, or want to add super yummy protein to your diet, tofu is all the rage. What exactly is tofu?

From Ancient history to modern-day superfood

Tofu is becoming increasingly popular across the globe as a healthy low-fat source of complete protein. This versatile food has a high nutrient content and is becoming increasingly common in Western diets. Tofu is low in saturated fats and helps combat bad cholesterol with phytoestrogens in tofu, aiding in reducing breast cancers and reducing the symptoms of menopause.

Tofu originated in China accidentally when a chef curdled soymilk and discovered that soy milk works much like cheese. Tofu quickly spread across Asia; it was introduced to Japan in the 8th century and called Okabe. While tofu has been a staple food in Asia for the last 2000 years, it only started making its way into Western culture in the 1960s.

Is Tofu Safe for Gout Sufferers?

Research suggests that tofu is a preferred protein source, especially in gout patients with uric acid clearance > 6.0 mL/min. This means that replacing meat with tofu is safer than consuming meat. However, portion control and overall diet are still crucial.

From soy milk to meat substitute

This versatile meat substitute originated in China. Tofu is essentially processed soybean curd, much like the way that cheese is produced. Processed and store-bought tofu is made by adding mineral coagulants such as calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride to heated soy milk. The curds are separated from the whey. The curds are pressed and filtered to form a thick paste, which is, in
turn, put into forms or molds. 

The tofu is press to remove excess water. Different kinds of tofu are made by removing varying amounts of water – Silken tofu has the highest moisture contents, with extra firm tofu containing the least amount of water. Each kind has its unique uses and recipes that are created to work with tofu. Tofu is sold in many Asian markets, health stores, and supermarkets, and it is usually repacked vacuum packs or sold fresh suspended in water.

Silken tofu vs Firm tofu

Silken tofu

Silken tofu is soft and comes packaged in cubes; it has the same texture as cottage cheese. Silken tofu is one of the first types of tofu in the production stage. Silken tofu has a creamy texture and is 0ften used in baking dishes, sauces, or any dish that calls for cream cheese or cottage cheese. 

Silken tofu is difficult to fry as it doesn’t retain its shape very well due to the high moisture content. Silken tofu can be used in several dishes such as Chinese silken tofu with crispy onion and garlic oil, New York-style baked cheesecakes, creamy pasta sauces, and vegan scramble (a vegan version of a scrambled egg).

Silken tofu is also great in Sichuan Ma Po Tofu.

Firm tofu

This popular variety of tofu is the easiest to find and use. With the use of a tofu press, excess water can be drained off, making this tofu firmer. Firm tofu can be handled and fried with less risk of breaking and crumbling. 

Firm tofu can be found across Asia in some dishes; it is commonly used in Western cuisine to substitute meats like chicken and pork. Meal ideas for firm tofu include Japan’s Agedashi tofu, South-Western tofu steaks, and tofu chicken-style nuggets.

Extra-firm tofu

Extra-firm tofu is not much different from firm tofu other than processed in a press for longer to remove as much water as possible. It is easier to stir fry and cook with as it doesn’t break; the firmer the tofu, the meatier the texture. For many households with blended diets, extra firm tofu is a popular meat substitute. Extra-firm tofu is an excellent choice as a pork substitute in recipes!
Healthier and packed with flavor! This tofu rib recipe is beyond delicious.

I use extra-firm tofu as a substitute for paneer cheese in Indian dishes.

Homemade tofu

Tofu is easy to cook with and is easy and cost-effective to make at home, meaning that finding tofu is as simple as heading to your kitchen instead of your local Asian market. Tofu can be stored in a bowl of water in your fridge for three days, as long as you change the water daily. Freezing your tofu will add a meaty texture to your final product.

Try this at home:


2 quarts soy milk 
Coagulant of your choice: 2 tsp Gypsum (calcium sulfate) OR 1 tsp Nigari flakes (Magnesium chloride) OR 1/2 tsp liquid Nigari 


Container with holes in for molding the tofu and a heavy chopping board with a weight that fits into the container OR a tofu press like this: https://tofubud.com.

Someone using a tofu press to press tofu

The photo above shows a tofu press in action.


Bring the soy milk to boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Dissolve your coagulant into the milk, ensure that you do not over mix the mixture. Once dissolved, allow the mixture to stand and rest for 25 minutes. Do not touch the mixture during this period. 

White curds will begin to separate from the golden amber liquid—place cheesecloth in a sieve. Use a ladle to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth. Once you have transferred all of the curds, lift the cheesecloth’s sides and twist to squeeze out any excess liquid. 

If using a weight: Place the cheesecloth in your container and place the chopping board on top with a few canned food items or a heavy weigh on, allow the tofu to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Place the container near a draining rack or place a small towel underneath to catch the excess liquid. 

The picture above is my leaning tower of the tofu press. Yes, it worked, but sometimes it would fall over. Now I use a tofu press and do not worry about falling cans.

If using a press: Place your cheesecloth into the press, neatly folding excess material ontop. Close the press and press for up to 1 hour. Remember to drain the liquid off if your press has a catchment chamber. 

When your tofu is ready, remove the cloth with care and place in iced water to make the tofu firmer. Use immediately, or store in water in the fridge.

Tofu is totally worth the culinary adventure!

Whether you make tofu at home from scratch or head on an epic adventure looking for tofu locally, it is worth the effort. This nutritious and delicious plant-based superfood will quickly become a household favorite! From Polish Bigos with tofu to Asian katsu tofu curry, there is very little that you cannot do with tofu!

Block of tofu on a cutting board, this is a pin for pinterest

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