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.

An image of grilled tofu in a bowl with the text "The ultimate guide to tofu"

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

You can now find tofu at Target, Wal-Mart, most grocery stores (either in the produce section or the health food section), Trader Joes, and health food stores like Natural Grocers, Sprouts, and others.

Where to Find Tofu in the Grocery Store?

Once you’re in the store, head straight to the produce section. That’s where many grocery stores keep things like firm and extra firm tofu in plastic tubs.

You may also find tofu in the refrigerated health food section. Non-refrigerated tofu (usually silken tofu) can be found in Asian or International sections of some grocery stores.

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 in the grocery store

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.

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.

Vegan Chocolate Pie

Use silken tofu to make a creamy chocolate pie. Simply melt a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Then add the silken tofu to a food processor and use a spatula to pour in the melted chocolate chips. Add a teaspoon or two of vanilla or even a liqueur.

Whip that in the food processor until it’s all combined then spoon it into a graham cracker crust. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two. Now you’ve got a very refreshing (and easy to make) chocolate pie! (Now I’m starting to get hungry….).

Pressed tofu in the grocery store

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).

Pressing Tofu

This regular tofu usually requires pressing because it’s been stored in water. Why press tofu? Because you want to remove the excess water so you can replace it with flavors from a marinade. Besides, once press, the tofu will be firmer.

To press tofu, remove it from its packaging. I love using a tofu press. Simply place the tofu in the press and use the bands to tighten the press. Then refrigerate it for 30 minutes up to hours. Sometimes, I’ll put the tofu in the press in the morning so that it’s ready for our evening meal.

A hand holds a knife and is cutting tofu. It's sitting next to a tofu presser gadget.
A tofu press makes squeezing out all the water super easy

Alternatively, you can also wrap it with a kitchen towel and place something heavy on top. Then set it aside for 30 minutes up to an hour.

A stack of tofu has been wrapped in towels and a dish has been placed on top of it.
Placing a heavy weight on top of the tofu with towels to absorb the water

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.

Chopped tofu sits on a cutting board with a glass pan with marinade in it next to it.
Cubed tofu marinated in sauce makes a delicious stir fry

Serve that over rice noodles and you’ve got a very tasty meal!

Marinated Tofu
You’ll love this deliciously easy vegan recipe for marinated tofu. Serve tofu on salads, with stir fries, or even on sandwiches.
Check out this recipe
Looking down on cooked tofu over noodles.

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).

Marinated Tofu

Now you can find marinated 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 marinated tofu to be much better. Sometimes I’ll slice marinated 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