I want to preface this post by first saying I know there's no way to fully cover this topic in any single blog post. I simply mean this as an introduction and nothing more.
I think it would be fair to guess most people know you can find tofu in both firm and soft varieties, but what's the meaning behind these differences? What's the difference between these products and why do they exist? Let's first look to two important countries when it comes to bean curd production: Japan and China.
The textures of tofu
Chinese tofu is generally what is being referenced when someone is talking about extra-firm tofu, while regular tofu is more in line with Japanese tofu. The main difference is that the Chinese variety has more water pressed out of it, so it is dryer and more meaty in texture. It's also very easy to cook with in Western cuisine because of its consistency. Japanese style tofu, on the other hand, is generally a little softer and can be enjoyed simply on its own (this would normally be a medium-firm tofu). Both of these types of tofu are fairly common in the West and both have their benefits.
The ways in which Japanese tofu (regular) and Chinese tofu (firm) are made differ slightly. Chinese tofu is generally coagulated with calcium sulfate while Japanese tofu is usually made using nigari as a coagulant. This isn't necessarily a hard and solid rule because it's mainly based on geography. China's in-land mountains provide the calcium sulfate (also known as gypsum in the West) while Japan's coasts allow them the sea water needed to extract nigari (also known as bittern). Coastal Chinese also make tofu with nigari.
Recipes and ideas for firm and extra firm tofu
- Firm and Extra Firm Tofu Recipes:
- Caramelised Tofu Recipe
- Sesame Baked Tofu
- Thai Coconut Tofu Recipe
What about silken tofu?
Silken tofu is produced by coagulating a thick soy milk and it is a different process altogether. Regular and firm tofu are pressed in order to remove excess water, but silken tofu never goes through this process. Instead it is simply poured into a container and allowed to become firm on its own. This means, unlike in tofu traditionally used in the west, the curds and whey don't get separated. Essentially silken tofu is so silky because it has a lot of water left inside.
Recipes and ideas for silken tofu
- Vegan Butterscotch Mousse Pie
- Mini Tofu Quiches
- Silken Tofuand Carrot with Soy-Ginger Sauce
- Grilled Tofu Salad
Did you know...?
An interesting fact: the more water a block of tofu retains, the less flavour it will soak up in cooking. That's why a lot of recipes tell you to press bean curd first! So if you're buying the crappy supermarket stuff and want to cover the stale taste more, buy the extra-firm and press it even more!