Cold TofuFew foods have gotten a bad wrap in the west the way tofu has. We’re not sure if it’s bad PR or just a big misunderstanding but to our foreign friends, tofu is often synonymous with the bland and the boring — a sad filler for the overly chaste.
But here in China, it’s the star of some of our most famous and delicious dishes (Mapodoufu, anyone?). And far from being bland or boring, it can deliver a KO punch in the form of stinky tofu or be fried up with bacon to please even the most ravenous carnivore.
Today we wanted to try to help our friend tofu out with some much needed advocacy and education so that you will hopefully be inspired to boldly go out and try a few new dishes featuring this glorious little bean curd!
MapodoufuTo start, tofu is soy milk that’s been coagulated and pressed into blocks. Actually, it’s the exact same process that’s used to make cheese. Anything that is made this way is considered tofu, though a lot of foods that are similar in appearance or texture also take the name “tofu”, despite being 100% NOT tofu! (We’re looking at you, almond tofu.)
Soy milk is made by grinding, soaking, boiling usually dried soy beans and then straining the liquid to get the a soy milk that’s similar to what you can buy at the store.
Bean CurdsNext comes coagulation. While not sounding very appealing, coagulation is a process where you cause the soy milk to form clumps that you can gather together and separate from the majority of the liquid. A coagulant, normally acid or various salts, is added to the soy milk and causes the proteins to get tangled up and clump together. These clumps are called curds. Depending on the coagulant used, the resulting tofu’s texture, flavor and nutrition can vary.
The curds are then gathered together and depending on how much water you strain out and what you do afterwards, you can create a huge variety of types of tofu.
Today it is used widely all over China and comes in a myriad of types. They are usually broken into three main categories: fresh, processed and (what we’ll call) tofu-esque.
Fresh Tofu
Fresh tofu is the tofu that’s produced directly from soy milk. There are three main varieties of fresh tofu, depending on how much water is contained: soft or silken tofu, firm tofu and dry or extra firm tofu.
Dried TofuFresh tofu is actually not curdled or drained. It’s just coagulated. This is usually done in the packaging. As a result, it has the highest moisture content. Two excellent dishes that use fresh tofu are mapodoufu and douhua.
Firm tofu has a lot of the moisture pressed out (though it is still high). It is often made with seawater!
Extra firm or dry tofu is pressed of most of its moisture and can have the texture of paneer or even noodles!
Processed Tofu
Processed tofus are made from fresh tofu as a base. The most famous types in China are fermented, fried and frozen.
Fermented tofu’s most famous variety is the infamous stinky tofu. Well deserving of its name, stinky tofu can range from mild to strong-enough-to-clear-a-city-block stinky. It is made by soaking soft tofu in a vegetable and fish brine.
pickled tofuAnother kind of fermented tofu is called pickled tofu. It is air dried and allowed to ferment with aerial bacteria. It’s then soaked in a liquid and usually sold in jars.
The next type, fried tofu, is exactly as described. Soft tofu is deep fried in oil and served with a light sauce, eaten by itself or in a soup.
Frozen tofu, or thousand layer tofu, is first frozen so that the ice crystals make big holes in the body of the tofu. It’s then thawed and often pressed of its excess water to make a spongy texture.
In addition to all the varieties of tofu, there are also lots of similar products that take on the name tofu, either because they look like tofu or are also made from soybeans.
Tofu-BambooA famous, and incredibly delicious, tofu-esque impostor is called tofu bamboo or tofu skin. Tofu bamboo is made by pouring a thin layer of soy milk on a large hot griddle surface and allowing the soy milk to dry into a skin. The skin is then gathered up and dried to make bamboo-like sticks. To use it, just reconstitute it and cook like normal. It has a really nice, toothsome texture and is often used in fake meats.
Almond TofuAnd then there is almond tofu. Although it has nothing to do with tofu (there aren’t even any soybeans!), it’s referred to as almond tofu because its appearance is similar to soft tofus. Almond tofu is actually made from almond or apricot extract that is made gelatinous using agar (gelatinous substance, obtained from algae).
What’s your favorite tofu? Are you still not convinced of it as a food item? Let us know on our Facebook page!