Why Eat It
Nutrition Chart

Why Eat It

Tofu (also known as soybean curd) is an exceptional food--not only because it is highly nutritious, but because it can be prepared in such a remarkably wide variety of ways. Tofu is a good source of soy protein and isoflavones, both of which confer promising health benefits. Nutritionally, traditional, as well silken tofus, are excellent sources of soy protein--4 ounces of firm tofu provides about 13 grams of soy protein and 4 ounces of soft tofu about 9 grams of soy protein (because it has a little more water). Traditional and silken tofu meet the new FDA health claim guidelines.

Tofu is made by adding a calcium or magnesium salt to soy milk. The calcium or magnesium salt mixes with the protein in the soy milk to form a curd. (When tofu is made with calcium salt, calcium becomes an essential component. Not all tofu is made with a calcium salt, however, so you do need to read the label.) Traditional Japanese-style tofu is usually made with a seaweed extract called nigari.

Tofu, whose texture can vary from extra firm, firm, soft and silken, can be used (according to its respective texture) in almost any culinary capacity, including stews, soups, sauces, salads, stir-fries, sandwiches, or dessert. The uses for tofu are limited only by one's imagination.


There are two types of tofu: traditional (Chinese-style) tofu and Japanese-style "silken" tofu. Traditional tofu comes in the following degrees of firmness (a function of how much water is left in the tofu): soft, firm, and extra-firm. There is also "lite" tofu, which is lower in calories and fat. Check the label carefully to make sure that you are purchasing the specific variety of tofu that will suit your culinary needs. For example, extra-firm tofu is best used for marinating and cutting into cubes for a stir-fry. The softer the tofu, the easier it is used for desserts or other foods that require a wetter consistency.

Silken tofu, called kinugoshi in Japanese, is made from soymilk that is strained before a coagulant is added. The tofu is then made in a process similar to yogurt, where the protein is not hardened into curds and no whey is drained off. This process makes the texture generally smoother, creamier, and more custardlike. Like traditional tofu, silken tofu comes in a range of firmnesses: soft, firm, and extra-firm. But even the extra-firm variety of silken tofu has a smoother consistency than other tofus, similar to flan. Silken tofu is best used for making dips, sauces, desserts, puddings, smoothies and "milk" shakes; any recipe that requires blending. Silken tofu may be substituted for sour cream, cream cheese, salad dressing, mayonnaise, or yogurt.


Numerous types and brands of tofu can be purchased in supermarkets, grocery stores, and health-food stores. Look for it in the refrigerated area of the produce section. Some markets will also carry tofu packed in aseptic boxes. These don't need to be refrigerated and may be found in the heath food or Asian section of the supermarket.


Purchase tofu according to how you'd like to use it. For stir-fries buy firm or extra-firm. Use softer tofus for salad dressings, puddings etc. Check the date on packaged tofu to be sure you'll be able to use it before its expiration date. If purchasing loose tofu, make sure that the water in the bin is clean, the tofu is submerged and has no dry spots. Since there won't be an expiration date, purchase tofu in a store that does a brisk business.


Blocks of tofu can be stored in your refrigerator for one week if they are covered with water. Make sure to change the water daily to ensure freshness. If you've purchased tofu in sealed, refrigerated containers, check the "use-by" date. Shelf stable packages of tofu are also available; once opened it must be refrigerated and should be used within two days.


Before you begin to cook with tofu, there are some things you'll need to do.

Draining: This is simply draining the liquid that the tofu comes sitting in. When you're ready to use the tofu, pour off the liquid and throw it away, it has no nutritional value.

Pressing: There are various degrees of pressing, and how much you press the tofu depends upon how you are going to use it. For simple stir-fries or for use in salads, simply blot the tofu on a kitchen towel to remove excess liquid and let it sit while you prepare the other ingredients. If you're planning on deep-frying tofu, it needs to be very dry or it will sputter and spit back at you. Wrap the tofu in an absorbent kitchen towel, place it on a board or plate and top it with a heavy object, such as a can. Refrigerate one hour, replacing the kitchen towel after 30 minutes.

Marinating: If you're planning on marinating the tofu use the pressing method as well or start with an extra-firm tofu or one that has been pressed a bit to remove some of the water. The reason for this is that in order for the marinade to be absorbed by the tofu, there has to be room for it. If the tofu is already filled with liquid, the marinade will not be absorbed at all. It's also best to marinate tofu with cut surfaces (rather than a pressed, pillow-shaped cake) to make the tofu more receptive to absorption. Think of tofu as a flavor sponge. It can be marinated in a soy sauce-ginger mixture, or your favorite salad dressing. It will soak up the marinade, taking on its flavor. Once pressed, cut a block of tofu into smaller pieces and steep in your favorite marinade. If you look at the tofu, you'll see the marinade has climbed up the sides of each piece--it will be darker and a telltale sign that the marinade has been absorbed, is that there won't be any left in the pan. Marinated tofu can be used as is, tossed in a salad, broiled, sauteed or stir-fried, or baked.

Grilling or broiling: Slice extra-firm or pressed tofu horizontally into 1"-thick slices. Marinate, then place on a lightly oiled rack and either grill or broil until a light crust forms.

Sauteeing or stir-frying: Start with firm, extra-firm, or pressed tofu. Cut into small pieces; get the pan hot before cooking the tofu or it will stick. Give the tofu color, remove it from the pan and add any other ingredients. If making a pan sauce, return the tofu to the pan once the sauce is gently simmering.

Simmering: Cut drained tofu into small pieces to use in soups or stews. Simmer gently.

Salad dressing: Drain soft silken tofu then puree with herbs and blanched garlic for a creamy salad dressing. This tofu dressing works well as a substitute for ranch-style dressing. You can also puree soft silken tofu and use it a substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream dip.

Desserts: Use drained soft silken tofu as a substitute for cream cheese in cheesecake, as a base to add flavoring for a pudding, or as a sweetened topping for fruit. Puree the tofu along with sweeteners and flavorings. The soft silken tofu will be smooth and silky.

Nutrition Chart

Tofu, regular/4 ounces

Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Monounsaturated fat (g)
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Dietary fiber (g)
Carbohydrate (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Manganese (mg)
Selenium (mcg)

Date Published: 04/21/2005
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