A complete overview on tofu learn more about its nutrition, culinary applications and more.

What is Tofu? Tofu Nutrition and More

Lisa Humphreys

Lisa Humphreys

United Soybean Board

We all have that friend who can thrive in any setting, who is equally at home at a Super Bowl party or the opening of an art gallery. If that friend were a soy food product, they’d be tofu. Once relegated to the health food section of the supermarket, tofu is being embraced as a star ingredient in breakfast scrambles, shareable appetizers, and so much more.

With 70% of Americans now consuming plant-based foods due to their nutritional and environmental benefits, now is the perfect time to join the movement. Explore the history, nutrition profile, and applications of one of the most versatile plant-based foods out there – tofu!  

Whether fried, baked, tossed into a stir fry, or dropped into a hearty stew, tofu is a nutritious addition to a well-rounded diet. Let’s dive into what tofu is, how it’s made, the different types of tofu, and its nutritional benefits. Then, check out a few recipe ideas to help you add more tofu into your diet.

What Is Tofu?

Tofu, sometimes called bean curd because of its soybean content, is made from coagulated soy milk. Served firm or soft, tofu has a silky texture and a neutral taste that makes it a versatile ingredient.

How Is Tofu Made?

Tofu is made from soy milk that is blended with magnesium chloride brine, called nigari, or with calcium sulphate. The addition of one of these agents causes the soy milk to curdle, which gives tofu its firm texture.

Next, excess water is removed through pressing. Hard pressing creates firmer tofu, less to no pressing leads to a softer texture. Watch this video to see the current tofu creation process.

Where Did Tofu Come From?

Tofu is not a new food. People have been enjoying tofu for approximately 2,000 years.

Tofu was most likely created during China’s Han Dynasty. Rumor has it that tofu’s invention was a happy accident! The legend goes that a Chinese cook accidentally curdled a batch of soy milk by adding nigari seaweed. One cook’s mistake led to a delicious discovery, and tofu has remained a staple of Asian cuisine for generations. In recent years, home cooks and members of the food industry alike have increasingly relied on tofu for its versatility, availability, affordability, and nutritional benefits.

Part of the plant-based foods trend is an uptick in soy-based protein consumption. With over 40% of consumers increasing their consumption of soy-based protein in the past year, you may be hearing about tofu more often.

What Are the Different Types of Tofu?

Depending on the length of time and intensity of pressure, as well as its water content, tofu’s texture can range from silken to extra firm. Different tofu types lend themselves to different uses.

Extra-Firm Tofu: Extra-firm tofu is very dense and can be chewier than other forms of tofu. Cubes of extra-firm tofu can be stir-fried or battered and fried without losing their shape. Extra-firm tofu can also be crumbled and used in place of ground meats in dishes, like tacos. Wow guests at your next party with these extra-firm tofu skewers!

Firm Tofu: Firm tofu also retains its shape through many different cooking processes and can be used in many of the same ways as extra-firm tofu. The only difference is that firm tofu has a higher water content than extra-firm tofu and offers more give.

Medium-Firm Tofu: Too wet for use in a stir-fry, medium-firm tofu has a meat-like texture. Thus, it is often served braised or baked. Medium-firm tofu’s creamy texture means it can be used as a replacement for eggs in dishes, such as breakfast scrambles.

Soft Tofu: Soft tofu sits at the more delicate end of the tofu texture spectrum. It is the star ingredient in a Korean stew known as soondubu jjigae. Soft tofu can also be pureed and added to a soup or a smoothie for additional protein and body.

Silken Tofu: Unlike the other tofu varieties on this list, silken tofu is not pressed. It retains a high-water content, and its consistency is closer to a custard than a meat or cheese product. Silken tofu gives this dark chocolate pudding its decadent texture. Speaking of desserts, vegan bakers often opt for silken tofu as an egg substitute in baked goods.

What Are Tofu’s Nutritional Benefits?

Tofu is not only delicious, but nutritious. Soy, including tofu, is a source of fiber and plant-based protein and essential nutrients, including folate and potassium. Consumption of soy protein has been linked with reduced risk of chronic disease.

Powered by Soy Protein: Containing all essential amino acids in appropriate amounts for children and adults, soy products, like tofu, offer high quality protein comparable to animal protein. Studies show that, when paired with resistance exercise, consumption of soy protein can support increases in strength and muscle mass — factors associated with healthy aging.

May Support Cardiovascular Health: Eating tofu, as a part of an overall healthy lifestyle, may help you achieve a strong body and a strong cardiovascular system. Soy is the only plant protein recognized by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for its cholesterol-lowering effects. It may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.

Might Lower Risk of Developing Certain Cancers: Studies show a possible connection between consumption of soy foods, like tofu and reduced risk of breast, prostate, and gastric cancer.

How Can I Add More Tofu to My Diet?

You can reap the nutritional benefits of tofu without drastically altering your eating habits. Tofu’s variety and versatility presents endless opportunities to add it to your favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or snack!

Breakfast: Start your day off with a nutritious, tofu-based breakfast. Find the recipe for our Breakfast Scramble below:

Snacks: Tofu can add nutrients to tasty snacks, such as:

Entrees: Tofu might be a staple of Asian cuisine, but its versatile texture and subtle flavor make it at home instead of (or alongside!) meat in Italian, Mexican or other types of dishes. Find two examples of recipes that leverage tofu’s cross-cultural appeal below:

Desserts: Tofu is a key component of sweet treats for every season! Pumpkin spice tofu pudding is perfect for fall and a slice of zesty lemon tofu cheesecake is a delicious way to end a hot summer’s day.

Enjoy Tofu Anytime, Any Season, and Any Way!

Whether you prefer it firm and fried or soft in a scramble, tofu is a protein and nutritional addition to a healthy diet. Knowing how tofu is made, how it supports your health, and the wide range of dishes it can enhance is an important step towards making healthy eating choices.

Tofu is just one of many sustainable and nutritious soy food products. Click here to learn about the wide array of soy-based ingredients!