Tofu Confusion? Here’s a Tofu Buying Guide

Do you experience Tofu Confusion? It’s a condition defined by a lack of knowledge about what kinds of tofu to buy in various situations, not knowing where to buy tofu, and even how to pronounce it. If you’ve seen recipes like Vegan Breakfast Biscuit Casserole and Vegan Lemon Bars that call for tofu, you definitely want to know the right kinds of tofu to buy to make those recipes ASAP. This Tofu Buying Guide should help.

Tofu Buying Guide

Before becoming vegetarian, I did most of my cooking from neatly prepared boxes. I might have had to chop an onion, but that didn’t seem too difficult. There’s a yellow one, a white one, and a red one to choose from. Sure they each have their subtle variations in taste, but they’re still onions.

But when I first tried a recipe that called for tofu, it didn’t come with instructions on what kind to buy. So when I headed to the store I went to one of the grocery store attendants and mumbled through what to call it. I think I asked if he had any dooku (we had just recently watched Star Wars so the error was understandable). He eventually figured it out and sent me to the correct aisle. And that’s when I learned that there are different varieties of tofu. Tofu comes in all shapes and sizes…and textures from marinated, silken, firm, and extra firm. What was I to do?

I did what I always did in those days. I bought the least expensive one and decided to make do. That recipe didn’t turn out too well, but I learned over the years. And some other things changed since then. For example, I used to have to drive miles away to a health food store to find tofu. But now I can buy it at my local grocery store.

Tofu Buying Guide: Where to Buy Tofu

I recently took a trip to talk with Michelle Arasim Diekmann, a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee. Michelle educates customers to create healthy lifestyles so I figured she would be the best person to talk to about tofu buying tips. I could have picked a health food chain like Whole Foods, but I wanted to make sure you know that tofu is accessible even at your neighborhood grocery store. I picked Hy-Vee because I’ve been impressed with the addition of their HealthMarket departments that carry a wide variety of our favorite vegan options!

I wrote this post several years ago and in the meantime, tofu has become a lot more accessible. You can now find tofu at: Target, Wal-Mart, at most grocery stores (either in the produce section or the health food section), Trader Joes, and health food stores like Natural Grocers and others.

The Tofu Buying Guide: Types of Tofu

There are basically three types of tofu: Silken, Regular, and Marinated. Each one works with different recipes. For example, silken tofu is great is puddings, baked goods, and sauces. Regular tofu is great for making a breakfast scramble or stir fry. Marinated tofu can be sliced, cubed, or served whole over salads, pasta, or with accompanying side dishes.

Silken Tofu

This is silken tofu. See? It says it right above the word tofu. This kind of tofu is more gelatinous. I use this most frequently as an egg replacer in cakes, pies, and even some breads. I also use it as a substitute for soft cheeses. For example, add this tofu to your food processor with some  garlic, fresh basil, a little bit of olive oil (possibly even a few pine nuts if you have some handy) and some salt to make a great “ricotta cheese” layer for lasagna.

Or melt a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and combine that in a blender with a package of silken tofu. Add a teaspoon of vanilla or even a liqueur, throw it in a graham cracker crust and cool, and you’ve got a very refreshing (and easy to make) chocolate pie! (Now I’m starting to get hungry….).

Silken tofu comes in 3 different varieties: Soft, Firm, and Extra Firm. Honestly, I don’t see much of a difference in these, so I typically buy the extra firm.

Some silken tofu will come tightly packed in a box which may mean it doesn’t require refrigeration. If so, it probably has a limited amount of water. You can drain that if you choose before adding it to your recipes.

Regular Tofu

The second kind of tofu is what I’ve heard referred to as Asian tofu, but I just call it regular tofu. It is more firm in texture. This is the kind of tofu you’ll want to buy for things like stir-fries (like my Orange Crispy Tofu), eggless egg salad, or other recipes that will require a more chunky tofu presence. (Yes, tofu can have a presence). Tofu takes on the flavor of things around it so you’ll either want to marinade the tofu, or be sure to cook it with some flavorful spices. We will chop a block of tofu like this into 1″ cubes or rectangles and saute them in olive oil, add some curry and stir fry with other veggies. Serve that over rice noodles and you’ve got a very tasty meal!

Most tofu comes packed in water which means you’ll want to drain it and press some of the moisture out before cooking it.

You should also press tofu before cooking, to remove any excess liquid that it absorbed in the package. There’s nothing wrong with the liquid it was wrapped it, but tofu is relatively flavorless and by pressing it and removing excess liquid, you can replace that liquid with something more flavorful, like  marinade. I press tofu by wrapping it in a dish towel and placing something heavy on it for a few minutes.

Regular tofu comes in variations of firmness. This is something that either a recipe will request or you will have to determine based on your personal preference (or what’s on sale).

Marinaded Tofu

Now you can find marinaded tofu. It’s sometimes a little more expensive, but it’s nice to have the marinade so infused into the tofu. I also find the texture of marinaded tofu to be much better. Sometimes I’ll slice marinaded tofu and serve it on a salad or on tacos, etc.

The Tofu Buying Guide: How Much Does Tofu Cost?

All in all, a tub of tofu will cost anywhere between 2 – 3 dollars. Marinaded tofu can cost around 3 – 5 dollars. I love looking for sales and when that happens, I stock up! Tofu can last for a long time – just look on the box to see the expiration date. You can even freeze tofu, but be warned it will change the consistency of the tofu.

Whatever way you slice it, paying between $2 – 5 is not too bad compared to the cost of meat.

The Tofu Buying Guide: Health Benefits of Tofu

Tofu has lots of health benefits. Dr. Greger of Nutrition Facts points out that soy has been connected with improved responses to breast cancer. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, Tofu is loaded with calcium, protein, and other minerals such as copper, selenium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. In addition, this study from Dr. Rosenthal shows that replacing animal-based milk and meat for soy-based products (including tofu) can reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 10% for those with modest cholesterol elevation.

I hope you’ve found this tofu buying guide helpful. Now, I’m off to the kitchen to make something to eat! Tofu stir-fry sounds good.

Updated by Marly · Permalink

16 Responses to Tofu Confusion? Here’s a Tofu Buying Guide

  1. I love all tofu and this is a great post! the silken tofu makes wonderful dips! and desserts! yum

    • Yes – dips! I knew I was forgetting something. I’ve also added whipped tofu to some soups as a “milky” thickener. It’s very versatile. Glad you liked the post.

  2. Yes! Even though Ryan and I are vegetarians…we don’t eat tofu very much…mostly because I’m kind of intimidated about the variety of options. This was an excellent and informative post. Thank you!

    • It can be very intimidating. And usually the attendants in a typical grocery store don’t know how to answer questions about tofu. Half of the time I have to tell them what veggie I’m buying so they can ring it up. Tofu really is delicious to cook with. Glad you found the post helpful!

  3. I read about a shop in Montreal that makes fresh tofu once, and have had a desire to try that. Apparently it’s a totally different taste experience, and I can imagine it goes from a rather tasteless cube to something that has hints of nuts and milk in it (according to the article). So that’s my new tofu to try.

    • I have an idea. Let’s head up to Montreal and give it a try!

  4. Pingback: Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream « Namely Food « Namely Marly

  5. I am very new to the world of vegetarianism. I have recently found out I have really high cholesterol and doc recommends a vegetarian diet along with my pill. I have no clue as to what to look for as far as tofu goes. Or how much to buy, or how to cook it. I am at a complete loss. Can you possibly help me? I might also add that i am on a budget of about $140 a month for groceries.

  6. Wonderful article! Very quickly and to-the-point, clarified for me exactly what I was confused about. Thank you!

  7. hi,
    do you know from where I can buy fresh tofu in Montreal?
    Thanks

  8. When buying Silken tofu, keep in mind it has a creamier texture than soft tofu. This can be used to thicken up a smoothie or soup, or as a substitute for mayonnaise. In Japanese culture, silken tofu is typically eaten plain or with a splash of soy sauce.

  9. I have a friend with a child with many food allergies. Is soy the same as tofu. I know little about vegan cooking, but I want to try to make vegan potatoe salad.

    • Tofu is made from soybeans so you could make vegan potato salad and just leave out the soy. The tricky part would be finding soy-free, dairy-free mayo. Earth Balance makes this Olive Oil Mayo that might work. You should check into it to see if meets your dietary restrictions. I hope this helps!

  10. How can i get some of your recipes i love this post it was very helpful…now tofo is made from soy i though soy was not good for women…i may b very wrong

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