How To Make Tofu
by Susan Grey on October 04, 2019
Tofu is an Asian food that's prepared by coagulation of soy milk and then pressing the curd into solid blocks with varying softness and texture.
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Why Make Tofu Instead Of Buying It?
Taste: Homemade tofu is much tastier than store-bought tofu.
Flavor: Packaged tofu usually develops a bland taste even in its stable shelf form. Homemade tofu is not only fresh, but it also has a characteristic nutty flavor.
Texture: There's no limit as to how you can prepare your tofu in terms of texture and firmness. This allows you to play around with every imaginable recipe. This freedom will enable you to be creative with your dishes.
Ingredients: Homemade tofu contains only soybean, water, and salt. Packaged tofu may contain foreign substances such as artificial preservatives.
Waste: The byproducts of tofu making can be used, limiting waste. The leftover ground soybeans, known okara, contains about a fifth of the protein content from soybeans. It's also rich in fiber and can be added to bread, stews, and cookies.
5 Common Tofu Questions
Do you cook tofu?
Yes, most recipes include cooking tofu. Although it doesn't require much time to cook it. Cooking tofu allows it to take on the flavors from the other ingredients in the recipe.
Can I eat tofu raw?
Yes, some tofu varieties are best eaten raw such as silken tofu. Tofu is technically not raw as its prepared from soy milk which has already been cooked. For more information, check out our article Can I Eat Tofu Raw here.
How many ingredients are used in the tofu making process?
Tofu has three primary ingredients soybeans, coagulant, and water. The most common coagulant used is nigari, which is magnesium chloride. Calcium sulfate (gypsum) can also be used to coagulate the soy milk into soy curd and whey.
Is tofu fermented?
No, tofu is not fermented although the Chinese fermented variety referred to as stinky tofu is prepared by fermentation of tofu.
Where is tofu from?
Tofu is believed to have been discovered in China about 2000 years ago when a Chinese cook accidentally added nigari to soy milk, thus curdling it.
Equipment And Ingredients Required To Prepare Tofu
One of the main reasons why making tofu can go awry is by using the wrong tools for the job. To avoid this, you should always get all the required equipment before starting. Ensure that they are all clean and dry to avoid contaminating the tofu.
Blender or food processor
2 large pots
Mesh bag, nut bag or cheesecloth
3 cups dry soybeans
4 tbsp nigari or 75ml lemon juice
2 liters water
High quality soybeans
The quality of the tofu is determined by the quality and type of soybeans that you use to produce soy milk. While the US is the largest soybean manufacturer, the majority is produced for livestock feed. The best quality soybean should be naturally grown and non-GMO.
Which country has the best quality soybeans?
Soybeans grown across the world are the same. However, the quality does change depending on the growth conditions and harvesting conditions. The best soybeans are grown within tropical conditions experienced in regions such as Argentina and Brazil.
GMO vs. non-GMO:
While the majority of soybeans grown on the planet is genetically modified, most of the soybeans grown for tofu production are non-GMO. This variety is considered healthier as it avoids the uncertainty associated with GM soy in terms of the long term effects of consuming GM food.
Best Soybean Variety For Firm Tofu
Japanese soybean varieties such as Kitamusume and Tokachi-Nagaha have a high protein recovery in tofu compared to other varieties. This makes them perfect for making firm tofu due to the high protein concentration.
5 Quick Tips For Making Tofu
1. Avoid storing fresh tofu in water if it's going to be consumed within 24 hours
If you are planning on eating the tofu within a day, there's no need to store it in water. That way the tofu will retain its nutty flavor and the specific firmness you require.
2. Adjust the texture of your tofu by adjusting the coagulant
The texture of your tofu is altered by the amount of coagulant used. The more coagulant you use, the firmer the tofu will be.
3. You can increase the firmness by freezing the tofu.
This is achieved by covering the tofu with water in a container. The container is then sealed and placed in the freezer and later thawed when needed.
4. The coagulant of choice will also influence the flavor of your tofu
Nigari produces a slightly sweet flavor.
Gypsum yields a mild taste.
Epsom salts produce a bland taste that's a little bitter.
5. For neat blocks of tofu, you should use a dedicated mold such as a tofu press
This is not only useful for pressing tofu into neat blocks but also increasing the firmness by reducing the water content.
How To Make Tofu
The process of making tofu can be divided into three primary operations:
Extracting soy milk from soybeans
Shaping tofu (this step brings about the differentiation of the varieties of tofu ranging from silken to extra firm tofu).
Extracting Soy Milk From Soybeans:
Soy milk can be made using a soy milk maker. However, our method uses readily available kitchen utensils.
1. Soak the soybeans overnight
Add 9 cups of water to a large bowl with the 2 cups of soybeans (this can be altered to suit you, the ratio is 1 cup of soybeans to 3 cups of water).
Ensure that the water covers the soybeans and leave them to soak overnight.
2. Drain the water
After absorbing as much water as they can, the beans will become soft and will have tripled in size.
Drain the water from the soybeans using a colander or a large strainer.
Shake the soybeans well to drain the water and remove any that may have turned grey indicating rot.
3. Transfer the soybeans to bowl
Boil 16 cups of water in a large pot.
Place a large stockpot on the burner and bring water to boil. It's recommended using a large stockpot or even a Dutch oven to avoid the risk of over-boiling and spilling.
4. Pulverize the soybeans
Start with a cup of soybeans, place in a blender, and add fresh water until they are fully submerged.
Pulverize the soybeans for around 4 minutes on high speed until the beans are pureed. Repeat the process for the entire batch of soybeans.
5. Cook the pulverized soybeans
Measure out a cup of the frothy soybeans and add to the boiling water.
Pour slowly to avoid splashing boiling water while continually stirring with a wooden spatula.
Turn the heat to medium and continue to cook for up to 15 minutes.
Once boiling, add 3 drops of vegetable oil this prevents it from boiling over.
Continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
6. Strain the soy mixture
Use a large bowl lined with cheesecloth or nut bag to catch the okara (or soy mixture). This separates the mash of pulverized soybeans from the soybean milk.
Once all the water has freely drained it's time to press the mash; pick up the cheesecloth by the corners and twist it tightly. Use the wooden spatula to press repeatedly on the bundle, thus forcing all the remaining liquid from the mash.
Coagulating soy milk will separate it into whey and soy curd. This process usually takes around 15 minutes and requires you to have your coagulant of choice ready.
1. Cook the soy milk
Transfer the soy milk into a large cooking pot with heat set to low preferably 140 degrees F (60 degrees C).
2. Prepare the coagulant
Measure a cup of water and pour it into a clean bowl. Add a half teaspoon of nigari. Mix well until the nigari is fully dissolved.
3. Add the coagulant to the soy milk
Slowly pour in half of the nigari mixture into the boiling soymilk and continuously stir with a wooden spatula. Add in the rest of the coagulant after 5 minutes and continue to stir.
4. Simmer the mixture
After 10 minutes of mixing in the coagulant, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.
Simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes during which the mixture will begin to coagulate. Wait until all the yellowish whey separates from the white curds before transferring the tofu.
5. Making firm tofu
This step leads to the preparation of the various firm tofu varieties all depending on the texture and water content/firmness of the tofu.
1. Prepare the tofu box
Get a plastic box with holes through the bottom. Line the cheesecloth over the box. Alternatively, you can use any other loosely woven cotton cloth. It's important to note that the cheesecloth should be at least 4 times larger than the box so that the edges are hanging over the sides.
2. Transfer the tofu
Use the wooden spoon to scoop up the white soy curds from the pot into the lined tofu box.
Pat the curd evenly and smoothly before wrapping the excess cloth around and forming a rectangular shape.
3. Press the tofu
Place a lid on the tofu, and then place a weight on the tofu, for example, cans or books.
Allow the tofu box to drain out the tofu for up to 20 minutes.
4. Chilling the tofu
Unwrap the tofu.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and immerse the tofu in a bowl of water to firm up further.
Making Silken Tofu
Silken tofu does not require all of the steps involved in the making of firm tofu. It relies on a completely different process after you have obtained the soy milk.
How To Make Silken Tofu:
1. Prepare the coagulant solution
Mix in 1 tsp of gypsum (it produces much softer silken tofu compared to nigari) in a bowl with 1 cup of fresh water.
Mix until the coagulant completely dissolves.
2. Mix the soy milk and the coagulant
In a large bowl, slowly mix in the coagulant mixture and soy milk.
Use a wooden spatula to fold the ingredients. This avoids agitating the mixture too much, which would otherwise make it lumpy.
3. Transfer the mix into heatproof bowls
Transfer the mixture of soymilk and coagulant into heatproof bowls, or small baking dishes, heatproof cups, or ramekins.
4. Place the mixture in a deep pan
Place the bowls into a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven.
Gently pour some water into the iron skillet, taking care not to spill any into the mixture. Ensure that the water has gone up a few inches in the skillet so that it rises a few inches up on the sides of the bowls containing the mixture but doesn't spill in.
5. Cover the skillet with a lid
Transfer the iron skillet on to the burner, taking care not to shake things up. Line the lid with a dishcloth and cover the cast iron skillet tightly.
6. Simmer the tofu
Heat the water and let it come to a steady simmer over medium heat.
Let the tofu simmer for another 10 minutes before turning down the heat. You can also turn it down when the tofu has set with the texture of custard or a quiche.
7. Remove the tofu
Once the tofu has set, remove the pan and the heatproof bowls.
Allow the tofu to set at room temperature for another 30 minutes.
Common Problems And Solutions When Making Tofu
No time to extract soy milk? Use store-bought instead
Extracting soy milk from soybeans can be quite a time-consuming and complicated task. You can alternatively use natural, unsweetened soymilk. Ensure that it is freshly pressed and contains only soy and water as the ingredients.
Use lemon juice if you can't get nigari
While you can get the nigari in any Asian food market and it does offer superior results, there's always freshly pressed lemon juice as an alternative.
What can you do with the leftover mash?
The leftovers from the pulverized beans can be used to make burgers. Simply combine with garlic and onion.
What should you do if you ended up with mashed-up tofu?
At times the tofu may become too mashed up, and there's nothing you can do to improve this texture. Mashed up tofu can be added to a meatball mixture, thus making them lighter such as okara meatballs.
To save time, we recommend preparing sizeable batches of tofu and storing the extra for future use.
Storing Tofu In The Fridge
Homemade tofu should be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. This will preserve its texture and flavor.
To keep tofu in the fridge, you will require an airtight container (preferably 2 liters).
1. Place the tofu inside and cover with filtered water and seal tightly.
2. Change the water daily.
3. Keep the container in the part of your refrigerator with the least temperature fluctuations.
Storing Tofu In The Freezer
You can store homemade tofu in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Freezing fresh tofu enhances the flavor and gives it a chewier texture.
1. First drain the tofu of all excess moisture by pressing.
2. Store in a freezer bag.
3. Keep the bags in the upper compartments of the freezer, with no extra weight on top.
4. Thaw the required amount as needed.
Always defrost the required amount and keep the leftovers in the fridge for use within a few days.
It's recommended to cube the blocks of tofu before freezing them. This way, it will be much easier to take out the required amount from the freezer bag.
Always store tofu in airtight containers. Tofu should not be exposed to the elements during storage.
If you're interested in learning more about tofu, check out our article How To Store Tofu.
How To Eat Tofu
There's no limit on the number of ways to enjoy tofu. Each tofu variety have unique recipes which bring out the best of its texture and flavor.
Tofu absorbs flavors from seasoning, thus improving the taste. Soaking tofu cubes in a marinade for around 30 minutes before cooking will give it a much richer flavor.
Stir-frying tofu gives it a great texture and abundant flavor. This simple technique is especially handy when dealing with firm tofu and fermented tofu. Stir-fried tofu goes down well with cauliflower.
Grilling tofu gives it a sweet, smoky flavor and a brownish crust. Grilled tofu also has a longer lifespan unlike raw tofu and can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.
Crispy baked tofu makes for a hearty snack, whether hot from the oven or cold from storage. Baked tofu can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Blended Into Sauces Recipe
Silken tofu can be blended into soups and sauces, giving them a nutty flavor. Blended silken tofu makes for a delightful pasta sauce.