Tofu: also known as soybean curd, is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. Traditionally, the curdling agent used to make tofu is nigari, a compound found in natural ocean water, or calcium sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral. Curds also can be produced by acidic foods like lemon juice or vinegar. The curds then are generally pressed into a solid block.

Tofu was first used in China around 200 B.C. Although the discovery of the process for making tofu is lost to the ages, Chinese legend has it that the first batch of tofu was created by accident. A Chinese cook added nigari to flavor a batch of pure├ęd, cooked soybeans; the nigari produced the curd that we know today as tofu.

Today, tofu is a dietary staple throughout Asia. This delicate food is made fresh daily in thousands of tofu shops and sold on the street.

In recipes, tofu acts like a sponge and has the miraculous ability to soak up any flavor that is added to it. Crumble it into a pot of spicy chili sauce and it tastes like chili. Blend it with cocoa and sweetener and it becomes a double for chocolate cream pie filling. Cubes of firm tofu can be added to any casserole or soup.

Types of Tofu

Three main types of tofu are available in American grocery stores.

Firm tofu is dense and solid and holds up well in stir fry dishes, soups, or on the grill... anywhere that you want the tofu to maintain its shape. Firm tofu also is higher in protein, fat and calcium than other forms of tofu.

Soft tofu is a good choice for recipes that call for blended tofu, or in Oriental soups.

Silken tofu is made by a slightly different process that results in a creamy, custard-like product. Silken tofu works well in pureed or blended dishes. In Japan, silken tofu is enjoyed "as is," with a touch of soy sauce and topped with chopped scallions.

Tofu Nutrition Facts

Tofu is rich in high-quality protein. It is also a good source of B-vitamins and iron. When the curdling agent used to make tofu is calcium salt, the tofu is an excellent source of calcium. While 50 percent of the calories in tofu come from fat, a 4-ounce serving of tofu contains just 6 grams of fat. It is low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. Generally, the softer the tofu, the lower the fat content. Tofu is also very low in sodium, making it a perfect food for people on sodium-restricted diets.

Nutrients in
4 ounces of:






Protein (gm)



Carbohydrate (gm)



Fat (gm)



Saturated Fat (gm)






Sodium (mg)



Fiber (gm)



Calcium (mg)



Iron (mg)




Source: Composition of Foods: Legumes and Legume Products. United States Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service, Agriculture Handbook 8-16. Revised December 1986, and from product analysis.

Buying & Storing Tofu

Tofu most commonly is sold in water-filled tubs, vacuum packs, or in aseptic brick packages. Tofu is usually found in the produce section of the grocery store, although some stores sell tofu in the dairy or deli sections. Tofu is sometimes sold in bulk in food cooperatives or Asian markets. Unless it is aseptically packaged, tofu should be kept cold. As with any perishable food, check the expiration date on the package.

Once the tofu package is open, leftover tofu should be rinsed and covered with fresh water for storage. Change the water daily to keep it fresh, and use the tofu within a week.

Tofu can be frozen up to 5 months. Defrosted tofu has a pleasant caramel color and a chewy, spongy texture that soaks up marinade sauces and is great for the grill.

Tips For Using Tofu

Tofu is for everyone. The soft consistency of tofu and its mild taste make it a perfect food for anyone. It is a good source of protein for elderly people who prefer dishes that are easy to chew and digest. Soft tofu that has been pureed with fruits or vegetables is a good first protein food for infants. Toddlers can enjoy chunks of cooked tofu for snacks or meals.

Try some of these ideas for introducing tofu to your family.

* Add chunks of firm tofu to soups and stews.
* Mix crumbled tofu into a meatloaf for a pleasant light dish.
* Mash tofu with cottage cheese and seasoning to make a sandwich spread.
* Create your own tofu burgers with mashed tofu, bread crumbs, chopped onion and your favorite seasonings.
* Marinate tofu in barbecue sauce, char it on the grill and serve on crusty Italian bread.
* Add a package of taco seasoning to pan-fried, crumbled tofu, or a mixture of tofu and ground beef to tofu tacos.
* Blend dried onion soup mix into soft or silken tofu for a cholesterol-free onion dip.
* Stir silken tofu into sour cream for a reduced-fat baked potato topper.
* Blend tofu with melted chocolate chips and a little sweetener to make a chocolate cream pie.
* Replace all or part of the cream in creamed soups with silken tofu.
* Make missing egg salad with tofu chunks, diced celery, mayonnaise and a dab of prepared mustard.
* Substitute pureed silken tofu for part of the mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese or ricotta cheese in a recipe. Use it in dips and creamy salad dressings.