Different Types of Tofu and How to Cook Them

Tofu is a favoured ingredient in most South-East Asian households and is becoming popular in the West too. It’s vegan! It’s healthy! It’s a good protein!

What is tofu

Tofu is one of the most sought-after vegan proteins. Also called bean curd, tofu is prepared from soymilk. The process is quite similar to making cheese wherein the soymilk is coagulated and then squeezed into a mould to set into a semi firm or firm blocks depending upon the type of tofu. The scale in terms of firmness ranges from silken to regular to firm tofu.

different kinds of tofu

Silken tofu

As the name suggests, silken tofu is extremely delicate and soft as silk in texture. The process it undergoes uses lesser amounts of coagulant, which just about gives it a firm shape, but it is very fragile. Silken tofu recipes use minimal ‘tossing around’ as the tofu crumbles very quickly due to its high-water content. This tofu is already cooked during its production process, and hence, a popular recipe for silken tofu is to slice it into pieces and then drizzle a tempering of sesame oil, soy sauce, chillies, and scallions.  Silken tofu is great for any recipe that requires the tofu to be pureed such as smoothies, dips, or even a healthy salad dressing.

silken tofu

Regular tofu

The regular version is also called Chinese tofu and is not too firm nor too soft. The production process involves the coagulation, moulding and the pressing to squeeze out excess water. While it may hold its shape when cut, it does not withstand much stirring and frying before breaking up. This tofu is ideally used in soups or for Sichuan mapu tofu (small soft pieces of tofu in a tasty, spicy meat sauce). However, to use regular tofu in other vegetarian dishes, it is best to add it as the last ingredient with just a light toss. You could attempt a pan fry as well, but the water content will splatter and the tofu pieces do disintegrate a bit. A tofu press can help to extract or press the excess water out.

Firm tofu

This variety of tofu is one where most of the water is pressed out during the production process thereby giving the tofu a very firm texture, like Western feta cheese. This tofu can be used for stir-fry preparations.

Extra-firm tofu

This tofu is on the extreme side of the tofu firmness scale and has almost a ‘meat-like’ chew to it. In appearance, extra firm tofu is a firmer, dense block, as the curds are packed tightly. With less water in the tofu, the protein and fat content are higher. Often used as a meat substitute, as it imparts the chewiness of meat, it is the best variety for frying as it holds its shape well. Extra firm tofu when produced in different shapes and sizes is also known as ‘mock meat.’ Furthermore, it can be chopped finely to replicate ground meat and used in cutlets, burger patties and Bolognese sauce. This tofu is often smoked with tea leaves, giving it a darker hue and an enhanced smoky flavour. 


Essentially a Japanese product, inari are flat pieces (made from tofu called aburaage) that can be opened on one side to form a pocket that can be stuffed with any filling – meat, vegetables or rice. As its processing includes deep frying and soaking in sugar and soy sauce, a slightly salty and sweet flavour allows for it to be eaten on its own as well. Inari sushi is a popular dish with sushi rice stuffed into these tofu pockets.

Tofu skins

Production of tofu skins is a little different as these are the ‘skin’ that forms at the top layer of heated soymilk and involves no coagulant. This skin is similar to the layer that forms on milk when it’s boiled. Tofu skins are not essentially tofu in the real sense but a variation. Whilst these can be purchased fresh, they are mostly dried and then stored in the pantry. Easy to prepare, they can be rehydrated in water and cooked with other meats and vegetables to add a good chew.

Fermented tofu

This is regular tofu that is soaked in a brine solution of salt, water, chilly and rice wine and fermented for some time before consumption. Known in China as ‘fu ru’ it works well as a condiment with other dishes such as congee (rice porridge) or as a quick add-on to salads, vegetables and soups. Variations of ‘fu ru’ depend upon the ingredients of the brine solution. Hong ‘fu ru’ is the variant that has been fermented in red rice yeast. Stinky tofu, a popular roadside snack, is also fermented tofu that has been injected with soy sauce before fermentation. While the final product served has a strong, pungent aroma, it has a mix of sweet, sour and salty flavours.

Doufu gan

Popular in China, this dried version of firm tofu called ‘doufu gan’ is a pantry staple as it is easy to use in stir-fries or noodles. Available as plain white tofu or brown with a flavour of five-spice, it requires a little rehydration and is ready to use.

Tofu noodles

Sheets of thin firmly pressed tofu are cut into long strips to form noodles. These need to be blanched in hot water before being mixed with other ingredients. Due to their highly chewy and stringy texture, they are best served as a cold dish with vegetables and seasoning of soy sauce and chilli oil.

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