Crispy, chewy, stretchy, squeaky, crumbly, spongy, and silky, tofu is the ultimate shape-shifter.

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Invented in China roughly 2,000 years ago, tofu has been embraced by cultures across Asia and beyond, taking on new forms and flavors along the way. To make tofu, dried soybeans are soaked and then ground and filtered into soy milk. Coagulants cause the soy milk to form curds of plant-powered protein that are turned into different kinds of tofu. The protein-and-water matrix can be endlessly manipulated for a range of textures, amenable to soaking up the flavor of anything you throw at it. "Even though many people think that tofu is super bland, it's a mighty little ingredient," says tofu expert and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, who shared her favorite types of tofu, shown here. If you're lucky enough to find fresh tofu, try simpler preparations that let its custardy sweetness shine. And don't dismiss your basic supermarket soft, medium-firm, and firm tofus—they can play a starring role in every meal of the day, from a crispy sandwich to a delectably chewy doughnut.

different types of tofu
Credit: Photog by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

1. Dried Tofu Skin

When it's dried, tender tofu skin (doufu pi in Mandarin, yuba in Japanese) becomes earthy and chewy. It's sold in many shapes and is hardy enough to withstand braises, bold sauces, and stir-fries.

Tofu Skin Stir Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Nutty-tasting tofu skin forms on top of freshly made soy milk, similar to the skin that forms over heated whole milk. This layer is carefully skimmed off the top of heated soy milk and eaten fresh, or it's hung on lines to dry into sheets, which can then be scrunched and twisted into sticks. The fresher the tofu skin, the silkier and milder it is. Dried tofu skin sheets can be simmered or soaked to soften or rehydrate. They make great wraps and are a versatile addition to soups and stir-fries, mimicking the texture of shredded meat.

Get the Recipe: Tofu Skin Stir-Fry

Quick Bites

Roll it: Use rehydrated tofu skin sheets as wraps for crisp vegetables and herbs, and serve with a peanut dipping sauce.

Toss it: Slice fresh tofu skin into ribbons, and toss with scallions, chile oil, sautéed vegetables, and soy sauce for a cold "noodle" salad.

2. Medium-Firm Tofu

Tofu Bhurji
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Medium-firm tofu can vary greatly in texture, depending on the manufacturer. It's usually sliceable but can be tricky to crisp up due to its relatively high water content. Tender yet stable, medium-firm tofu is ideal for gently cooked stews and saucy preparations where it can be simmered without breaking down completely or where it can be mashed and crumbled for a vegan egg alternative, as with this tender Tofu Bhurji, a riff on anda bhurji, an Indian scrambled egg dish.

Get the Recipe: Tofu Bhurji

Quick Bites

Top it: To make hiyayakko, a Japanese tofu dish, top a block of cold medium-firm tofu with fried garlic, scallions, dried wakame, sesame seeds, and soy sauce.

Mash it: Mash medium-firm tofu; season with salt, pepper, herbs, and lemon for a dairy-free ricotta substitute to layer into lasagna.

Extra-Firm Tofu

Crispy Fried Tofu Sandwich
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

To make extra-firm tofu, soy-milk curds are pressed to expel as much moisture as possible. While there is variability among brands, this will be among the densest tofu in the refrigerated section, along with superfirm tofu. Uncooked, it has a squeakiness reminiscent of fresh cheese. Crisped in the oven or pan-fried, it's a great addition to soups, stir-fries, and this sandwich that gives fried fish sandwiches a run for their money.

Get the Recipe: Crispy Fried Tofu Sandwich

Quick Bites

Wrap it: Grate extra-firm tofu and mix with shredded cabbage, gochujang, ginger, and soy sauce. Wrap in premade dumpling wrappers, and steam or pan-fry.

Press it: Press extra-firm tofu in a tofu press; cube, pan-fry, and use in place of paneer in recipes such as saag paneer or matar paneer.

4. Tofu Pudding

Gently coagulated and never pressed, jiggly tofu pudding can be found in quart-size yogurt-tub packaging in the refrigerated section of Asian grocery stores. Tofu pudding has a mild, nutty sweetness; enjoy it warm with sweet or savory toppings.

5. Tofu Puffs

Craveable, fatty, and spongy, tofu puffs often come as chunky squares and slices. They absorb flavors well and are good for stuffing. Japanese inari sushi is encased by square slices of seasoned tofu puffs called aburaage.

6. Fresh Tofu Skin

Fresh tofu skin is precious, so treat it simply. Slice sheets into "noodles" and simmer in broth to enjoy its silkiness. In Japan, where it's known as yuba, it may be eaten like sashimi.

7. Silken Tofu

Pon de Ring (Mochi Tofu Doughnuts)
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Silken tofu has the highest moisture content of this bunch. It is unpressed and made from coagulated extra-rich soy milk left to set so it becomes scoopable, custard-like, and jiggly. It shines in savory preparations, like yudofu, a Japanese dish of tofu simmered in dashi, but it's a knockout in sweet recipes, like these springy, strawberry- or lemon flavored Pon de Ring.

Get the Recipe: Pon De Ring (Mochi-Tofu Doughnuts)

Quick Bites

Slice it: Slice or scoop cold silken tofu onto sliced tomatoes, and top with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar for a vegan take on caprese salad.

Drizzle it: To make taho, a sweet Filipino snack, drizzle brown sugar syrup over gently warmed silken tofu, and top it with pearls of sago or tapioca.

8. Okara

If you have a local tofu producer, your Asian grocery may carry this soybean pulp, the leftovers of tofu production. A stellar binder and partial egg replacement, it can be baked into cookies and quick breads.

9. Fu Ru

Packed in jars with brine, Chinese fermented tofu (known as fu ru or jiang doufu) is excitingly potent; the dice- size cubes are capable of disappearing into your dish like a stealthy magic weapon.

Growing up, a jar was always in the back of the refrigerator. Fu ru comes in a few varieties, one of which (hong fu ru) has deep-red brining liquid from the addition of fermented red rice yeast. This is the kind of fermented tofu that my dad would pull out a couple times a year to add to the braising liquid in a Cantonese-style ngau nam, a stew made from outside beef flank, the tough cut turning deliciously, meltingly tender. The jar of off-white fu ru, swimming in a brine seasoned with sesame oil and sometimes chile flakes, was my mother's. It was some- times included in a battalion of condiments to serve with a bowl of morning rice porridge, a typical breakfast in her native Taiwan.

The cubes are creamy and spreadable, with a salty, funky taste that may draw comparisons to feta or blue cheese. Use them to season a simple sautéed green vegetable; the fu ru dissolves in water that's added to the greens as they wilt and turns the liquid a cloudy jade-green. While fu ru can be eaten straight up from the jar, this flavor powerhouse also makes a great addition to sauces and dips.—Cathy Erway

10. Doufu Gan

Doufu gan literally means "dry tofu" in Mandarin. Dense and hearty, it is available as unadorned white slabs or brown ones seasoned with Chinese five-spice powder and soy sauce. Enjoy it in speedy stir-fries or sliced for sandwiches.

11. Tofu Noodles

Firmly pressed tofu that's cut into strands, tofu noodles are springy, stretchy, and chewy; look for them in vacuum-sealed packages at Chinese or Taiwanese grocery stores. Prepare them by draining, blanching, and seasoning. Let them chill, and enjoy them tossed with crisp vegetables for a cold summertime salad.

12. Hong Fu Ru

This pungent fermented tofu is deep red from the addition of fermented red rice yeast to the brining liquid. It also comes in a white version, called fu ru (see number 9).