The Food & Wine Guide to Tofu

Tofu is a nutritious, versatile ingredient with a long, rich culinary history. Whether or not you're familiar with cooking with tofu, we've got plenty of ways to explore its possibilities.

Tofu is soybean curd that's comes in an array of textures (from silken to extra-firm) and colors (from snow white to deep brown). While it might look unassuming in its packaging, tofu has the remarkable ability to carry a veritable rainbow of flavors. 

The culinary history of tofu stretches back thousands of years. It originated in China, but many other countries have long traditions of cooking with it, including Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In the United States, tofu is often a shorthand for a vegetarian protein substitute—the original plant-based meat. But tofu is so much more than that. 

Background of different klinds of tofu blocks from above
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You can freeze tofu, bake it, deep fry it, or whip it into a luscious, creamy dessert. There are all kinds of varieties to explore, from the funky, tangy delights of fermented tofu to the deep umami flavor of smoked tofu to the perfect crispiness of fried yuba, or tofu skin. There's no limit to the dishes you can create with bean curd and a little imagination.

If you're new to cooking with tofu, don't fret. The Food & Wine Guide to Tofu has plenty of excellent guidance gleaned from cooks and scholars. Consider this collection an entry point for the curious, a celebration of tofu in all its delicious forms, and an exploration of how it has evolved in American cuisine. Rich in flavor, history, and possibility, tofu is anything but bland. 

Why Tofu Got a Bad Rap In America

Tofu cubes
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For a good half-century, Americans have taken aim at tofu with the same glee they mock airplane food and vegans. In the United States, tofu is often unjustly categorized as bland hippie food. How did that happen? Read more.

How to Deep-Fry Tofu (and Pan-Fry It Too)

Deep Fried Tofu
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We chatted with tofu aficionado and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen (whose many books include Asian Tofu and Vietnamese Food Any Day) to get her recommendations for deep-frying tofu, from the kind of tofu you should be cooking with to the dishes you can use fried tofu in. Read more.

How to Press Tofu

Fresh cut pieces of tofu
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Why press tofu in the first place? Because if you like your tofu crispy and seared on the edges, you need to get as much moisture out of it as possible. Basically, in any recipe where tofu is cut into slices or cubes, pressing your tofu first will make it more delicious. Read more.

How to Bake Tofu, Step by Step

Crispy Baked Marinated Tofu
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While there are countless ways to make baked tofu, Nguyen's method, which she says is "more like a Chinese style," starts with super-firm tofu that's cut into pieces and then weighted down for a few hours (making it even more firm), and ends with browned slices that can be used in sandwiches, salads, and more. Read more.

These Umami-Packed Tofu Cubes Are Vegetables' Best Friends

Taiwanese Preserved Fermented Bean Cur
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Of all the Chinese pantry staples, one that stands alone to me for its pungency has always been the Chinese fermented tofu known as fu ru. Packed in jars with their brine, these dice-sized cubes are excitingly potent and capable of disappearing into your dish, like a stealthy magic weapon that goes a long way. Read more.

How to Freeze Tofu, and Why You Should

Slices of raw tofu
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Not only does freezing firm or extra firm tofu preserve it, it also helps reduce the moisture content of the bean curd, for crispier results when frying. Read more.

The Case for Buying a Tofu Press

EZ Tofu Press
Credit: Courtesy of EZ Tofu

I have long known about tofu presses, but I am allergic to single-use kitchen tools, so I never really bothered to get one. So I decided to try a few out, to see which one pressed tofu most efficiently. It's amazing how well—and safely—they do their job, regardless of what style you purchase.  Read more.