Many people think tofu is just a bland torture device your hippie aunt forced you to try once, but it’s actually quite versatile if you know how to use it. It can be cooked and eaten in a huge variety of ways, and there’s multiple types to choose from, each with their own set of possibilities. We’re here to help make tofu a tasty part of your regular meal routine.
Tofu is a soy product that was first made in China over 2,000 years ago. It involves solidifying soy milk, similar to how fresh cheese is made with milk. Tofu has 10 grams of protein per half cup, meaning ounce for ounce it has just over half the protein of meat, but with more fiber and calcium, and far less saturated fat and calories.
Firm or extra firm (not silken) tofu holds its shape, so it lends itself well to dishes where you might typically use meat or eggs, or in hearty dishes like stir frys, scrambles, or grilling.
Silken or soft tofu has a smooth texture which can add creaminess and protein to blended soups, sauces, dressings, or smoothies.
The different textures of tofu are not typically used interchangeably in recipes, so if it calls for firm tofu, make sure that’s what you use.
If you’re using firm tofu, you’ll want to press some of the liquid out of it to make sure it absorbs flavor and crisps up a bit on the outside. On a clean cutting board, lay a few layers of paper towel or a folded clean dishcloth. Remove your block of tofu from it’s packaging liquid and place on top of the dishcloth. Place another layer of paper towels or clean dishcloth on top of the tofu, along with another cutting board or plate. Place a weight such as a heavy frying pan or cans on top and allow the tofu to drain for 30 minutes. You may want to replace the paper towels or cloth if they become saturated with liquid. Once the tofu has had liquid pressed out, you can use it in recipes. If that seems like a little too much prep work, you can also find super firm or pre-pressed tofu that’s ready to cook.
Ready to try it out? Here are some tasty recipes to get you started:
If you want to start with some basics, try a dish like a simple stir fry or crumble tofu to use as a substitute for scrambled eggs. Pro-tip: put the tofu scramble in a whole-grain corn tortilla, top with avocado and salsa, and you’ve got breakfast tacos!
Do you meal prep? You can plan ahead and make baked tofu to easily throw in salads, grain bowls, or other fast meals that rely on pre-cooked proteins. This One-pot Coconut & Tofu Thai Red Curry also lends itself well to prepping meals ahead of time.
If it’s a little too warm to cook, use silken tofu to make salad dressing like Caesar Dressing or Basil Tofu Green Goddess Dressing and keep them on hand for summer salads, sandwiches, and flavoring grain bowls.
If you’re craving something sweet, you can even use silken tofu to make this creamy chocolate pudding.
Concerns over soy
There is some controversy around eating soy, primarily because it contains a class of compounds called isoflavones, which are similar to estrogen. These plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) are just close enough to estrogen that they can fit in the same “lock” on cells. This has raised concern that eating soy can have effects in the body similar to taking estrogen, which is not the case.The amount of soy that one would have to eat to see any effects at all is an incredible amount that none of us would find very appetizing.
Since those phytoestrogens aren’t a perfect fit for that lock on cells, the phytoestrogen might cause a reaction that is smaller than what estrogen would actually do in the cell, or it could prevent estrogen from attaching by blocking the lock.
Soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, and soy milk have been eaten for hundreds of years in countries like China and Japan. If you avoid or limit heavily processed soy protein foods like protein powders or bars, are not taking a isoflavone supplement (often marketed for women going through menopause), and eating up to 1-2 servings a day of traditional soy foods, it’s a perfectly healthful part of the Brook Healthy Plate.
Reviewed by Emily Matson, MS, RDN
on May 20, 2020. Emily is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Brook Experts.