Are you a tofu virgin and wondering if you’ll like it or not?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that tofu is an incredibly versatile ingredient that can be cooked in a multitude of ways. Depending on what kind of tofu you use, it can be served in a stir-fry, salad, soup, pudding or even on its own.
What does tofu actually taste like?
Straight out of the packet, tofu tastes like absolutely nothing – it’s a blank canvas that can absorb any flavour you choose to add to it. Tofu can have many different textures depending on the type of tofu you choose and how it’s cooked. It can be crispy or soft, sweet or savoury.
What does tofu smell like?
Just as tofu tastes like nothing, it also has no smell. Or at least it shouldn’t if it’s fresh!
If tofu goes bad it may develop a stinky smell, sour taste and slimy texture. Tofu should be kept in the fridge and once it’s open you should eat it within three to five days and always before the expiry date.
Some background on tofu
Tofu originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and is now one of the most popular meat alternatives in the world. Tofu is made of condensed soy milk that is pressed into a solid block in a similar way to how cheese is made. The longer it’s pressed, the firmer the tofu becomes.
The different kinds of tofu
There are many different types of tofu that are used in different dishes. The main difference between the different types of tofu is how firm they are.
These are the tofu types in order from most to least firm:
- Super firm tofu
- Extra firm tofu
- Firm tofu
- Medium tofu
- Soft tofu
- Silken tofu
The difference in firmness is a result of how much water is pressed out of the tofu when it’s made. The more water you press out of it, the more firm it gets. Fat and protein content also increases with firmness.
Many people choose to press their own tofu by placing it in a tofu press or under something heavy like recipe books or a wooden chopping board for 15 minutes or so before cooking. This is recommended if you’d like your tofu to have a crispy or chewy texture to it.
Silken tofu isn’t pressed at all and has the highest water content and a texture similar to custard. It can be used to make things like desserts, sauces and dips.
The most common tofu variety you’ll find in the UK is the extra-firm kind. This is what’s most often on supermarket shelves and it’s also what’s used to make Chinese takeaway dishes like salt and pepper tofu.
How to add flavour to tofu
When you buy tofu in a supermarket, it can be naked or ready-flavoured. Flavoured tofu has been pre-marinated before you buy it and will have some taste according to the flavour on the packet which could be smoked, oriental or something else.
Plain tofu will need to be flavoured either before or during cooking.
As tofu has no flavour of its own, adding flavour is vital to make it taste good. Tofu can be flavoured with either a marinade or dry spices.
If you use a sauce to add flavour, the best way to flavour tofu is to marinate it in the sauce before cooking. This will ensure that the flavour is soaked well into the centre of the tofu, rather than just coating the outside. You should marinate your tofu for at least 20 minutes, preferably longer.
You can also use herbs and spices to flavour your tofu. As tofu is naturally wet, you can coat it in the spices before cooking and they will stick to the tofu.
Tofu marinade ideas
There are so many things you could use to marinate tofu. Here are some ideas:
- Spicy barbecue – barbecue sauce and sriracha sauce
- Lemon and mustard – lemon juice, dijon mustard, maple syrup, black pepper
- Mexican style – cumin, chilli powder, paprika, garlic and lime juice
- Sesame and ginger – sesame oil, sesame seeds, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili powder
- Sweet chilli – sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce
- Italian style – olive oil, garlic, rosemary, basil, garlic, salt and pepper
- Balsamic – balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic
- Thai style – peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, garlic
- Teriyake – brown sugar, soy sauce, orange juice, garlic, ginger
How to cook tofu
There are many ways to cook tofu. The best method will depend on how much time you have and what you want your tofu to taste like.
- Shallow frying – Heat cubed tofu in a non-stick pan with a small amount of oil over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Once lightly browned on all sides, add sauce and sautee for a further five minutes.
- Deep frying – Cut tofu into triangles and coat in cornflour mixed with spices. Heat in a pan or fryer filled with oil over a high heat for 10 minutes
- Air frying – Cube the tofu and coat in spices or marinade. Add to the air fryer and cook for around 15 minutes or longer for crispier tofu.
- Baking – Cut the tofu into cubes and marinade in a sauce for 30 minutes. Place on a baking sheet and cook at 200°C (400°F) for 40 minutes
- Scrambling – Similar to shallow frying, but instead of using cubes of tofu, add it in one piece and break it up with a spatula
Tofu is a very healthy ingredient. It’s high in protein and contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs as well as vitamins like calcium, manganese, selenium, iron and zinc. Tofu is also low in calories, making it a great addition to a healthy diet.
Reasons to try tofu
Tofu is incredibly versatile and can be used as a base ingredient to bulk out many dishes, adding taste, texture and nutrients without a lot of calories. For those following a vegan or vegetarian diet, tofu is a great meat substitute to replace the meat in stir-fries, curries and noodle dishes.
If you don’t like tofu, don’t give up. Tofu takes practice to cook, so keep experimenting. If it’s too soft, press it longer and cook it for longer. If it lacks taste, you can marinate it for up to three days before cooking to ensure that it’s bursting with flavour. Cooked properly, tofu is incredibly tasty.
Tips to make your tofu taste great
- Choose the right kind of tofu. Extra-firm is a safe bet for most dishes
- Drain and press it properly. Wrap in kitchen paper and press under something heavy for 15 minutes or invest in a tofu press
- Cut it evenly. Cubes or triangles work best. Make sure they’re all the same size so that they cook evenly and not too big so the middle isn’t bland
- Season and marinade well. Experiment with different flavour combinations and make sure you allow enough time to let the flavours soak in.