Tofu isn't only for vegans and vegetarians, although it is a great source of protein for those who don't eat meat. The mild flavor and versatile nature make it a great non-meat option for everyone. Discover how to store tofu to keep it fresh for longer.
The good news for those who prefer not to consume animal products is that you can use tofu as a replacement for egg in recipes, such as in this eggless brownies recipe, or French coconut pie. Tofu is especially popular in Asia, where it originated, but is increasingly enjoyed in the West too.
I like to include silken tofu in smoothies sometimes, to thicken them up and to boost the nutritional value. Silken tofu has a naturally bland taste so it's a great smoothie addition.
What is Tofu?
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made by pressing coagulated soy milk into blocks. It's a good source of calcium, iron, and protein, and is low in both calories and fat.
There are different kinds to choose from, ranging from silken tofu, the soft type that can be used to make desserts and smoothies, to the firm and extra-firm varieties which are better suited to grilling, baking, stir-frying, and use in savory recipes.
Because it can be used in both sweet and savory recipes, tofu is definitely a versatile ingredient. Its natural bland taste makes it a great candidate for marinating and it really soaks up marinade flavors. Fresh tofu is available from Asian markets and most grocery stores.
This product has been eaten in China for many years and is a traditional ingredient in a variety of East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines. The word "tofu" comes from "doufu" - Mandarin for bean ferment or bean curd.
The first recorded making of tofu was around 2,000 years ago during the time of the Chinese Han dynasty. Later, it was introduced into Japan and then made its way to Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia including Korea and Thailand.
How to Buy Tofu
Since unopened tofu should be fine until, and possibly a little after, the expiration date on the package, if you're new to buying and using tofu, you might be wondering how to make sure you get the best quality.
First of all, the type of tofu you choose should match the recipe you're going to use it in. While silken tofu can be used to make desserts, it would fall to pieces if you tried to stir-fry it. Extra firm tofu, on the other hand, can be sliced and roasted in the oven, but wouldn't work in a dessert recipe.
If you're buying fresh tofu rather than the kind that comes vacuum-packed, look for fresh-smelling tofu which is white in color. Any sour smell or discoloration means it's been on the shelf for too long or has undergone temperature fluctuations.
Shelf-stable tofu does last for longer, but they are usually made with genetically modified soybeans and don't taste that great in my opinion. For this reason, I recommend you buy refrigerated fresh tofu instead.
How to Store Tofu
The best way to make tofu last a long time is to familiarize yourself with how to store it. The shelf life of tofu isn't going to be that long because it's a fresh product but you should be able to keep it fresh for quite a while.
- Use unopened tofu before the expiration date printed on the original packaging. If there is no expiration date, use it within a week of purchase.
- Shelf-stable tofu is fine at room temperature but fresh raw tofu should be refrigerated.
- If you bought tofu in plastic wrap or a bag rather than a sealed container, either use it within a few days or wrap it in paper towels and put it in a paper bag so you will get a few more days out of it.
- Leftover tofu should be submerged in fresh water in an airtight container. Keep it refrigerated and it should stay fresh for 3-5 days.
Freezing tofu changes its texture and makes it more spongy and therefore able to soak up more marinade or sauce. Cut it into blocks and freeze it in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie tray. Transfer it into a freezer bag or freezer-safe container and use it within 2-3 months. When you thaw it, gently squeeze out any excess water before using it in a recipe.
How to Identify Spoiled Tofu
The signs of spoilage are quite clear and, as always, if in doubt just throw it out. Bad tofu has a strong, unpleasant odor. It can spoil fast when exposed to the air because it absorbs moisture, so if it hasn't been kept in a sealed container it can go bad fast.
It can also go sticky, soft, or hard when it's spoiled, so a texture change is a good indicator of spoilage. If your soft tofu has gone rubbery or your extra-firm tofu is soft or sticky, that means it's bad and, to prevent the risk of food poisoning should be discarded.
There might be bacterial growth on the tofu itself or inside the tofu packages. Another indicator of spoiled tofu is poor packaging. If there are any signs the tofu has been exposed to air, such as a tear or leak in the original package, it's likely to be bad.
The easiest way I found is to put the tofu between paper towels or in a clean dish towel. Set it on a plate and cover it with another plate, and then put something heavy on top, maybe a can of something from the pantry. After an hour, the excess moisture should have been pressed out. If you eat a lot of tofu you might want to invest in a tofu press.
Another method is to microwave the whole block of tofu for a minute, after wrapping it in a clean dish towel. Repeat several times, using a clean towel, and continue until the tofu is dry. Now this might sound counterintuitive but another method is rinsing your tofu blocks. After rinsing it, squeeze it with your hands and repeat until it feels firmer.
Finally, there is freezing, which makes it easier to squeeze out the liquid. To do this, chop and freeze the tofu then thaw in a bowl of hot water or in the microwave, before squeezing out the excess water.
You don't have to marinate tofu but if you do want to infuse it with flavor, I recommend at least half an hour. You can marinate firm and extra-firm tofu for up to 3 days, although that only applies if you aren't using much salt or acid in the marinade mixture. Soft or silken tofu shouldn't be marinated for more than 24 hours else the proteins will begin to disintegrate and it will fall apart.
- Chinese tofu is firmer and more flavorful than Japanese tofu.
- The United States produces more soybeans for tofu-making than anywhere else, although a lot of it is from genetically modified seeds so you might like to check the packaging if that's a concern to you.
- The original recipe for tofu blended soy milk with nigari, a residue left when the salt is extracted from seawater.
Once you know how to store tofu, you will be able to keep it fresh for longer. There are different varieties of tofu to choose from, so you can choose the perfect one for the dish you want to create, whether that is silken tofu in a smoothie or dessert, firm tofu for kabobs or extra-firm for your next stir fry recipe.