The Three Types of Tofu

May 17, 2010

Today I want to give some helpful information about tofu, but I think it’s important to explain why first.

Picture this: you’re a new vegan, and you don’t know a lot about it yet, but you know two things: vegans eat tofu, and vegans eat “vegan food.” So you go to the mall and buy some tofu and a vegan cookbook. (I know, I know, veganism is about more than tofu and there are great recipes in a lot of non-vegan books, but this is Week One of veganism for someone, give them a couple more days, OK?)

There are a ton of amazing vegan cookbooks out there, and the variety seems to be increasing almost every day, but I keep seeing the same oversight in just about all of them: they screw up the tofu recipes almost every time.

The Three Types of Tofu

There are more, but for the purposes of cooking, there are three main types of tofu you can buy, and they’re interchangeable to some extent, but your meal is going to come out differently depending on which one you use.

Sadly, most recipes I look at only say “tofu” without explaining which one to get, so I want to do two things today: explain the three types, and put out an open call to cookbook authors, vegan and non, to please explain this in their books!

Seriously, I think it’s a danger to outreach when people go to the grocery store to get tofu for this recipe that’s going to kick-start their vegan life, and then they see a whole bunch of different types and have no idea which one to get. Some people will, quite honestly, give up right there, and others will buy the wrong one, try a meal, think it sucks, and give up as well. Others will stick to their newfound moral resolve and suffer through less-than-optimal meals day after day, and they should be commended for that, but they also need to know that veganism doesn’t need to be that hard.

Basically, there are three main types of tofu you’ll be dealing with: tub, brick, and silken.

silken tofuSilken tofu is almost always called for specifically in a recipe, so I won’t talk about it much here, but basically it’s smoother, often used in desserts or spreads, and usually comes in a tetra pack, which makes it a handy type to bring camping or to use for stocking your bomb shelter.
tub tofuTub tofu is probably the most common kind you’ll find in the supermarket. It comes in a tub that usually has a bunch of water in it too. Adding to the complexity, it often comes in different densities or firmness levels; typically soft, medium, and extra firm. Even when it’s marked as firm, it’s still pretty soft.
brick tofuBrick tofu looks like a brick, and instead of being packed in water, it’ll usually be wrapped in plastic and look almost vaccuum packed. This tofu is super-mega-firm, and it’s still easy to break up, but it’s also the easiest to slice or cube without everything falling apart.

So which one do you use in a recipe? Good question! If the recipe says “medium tofu” I’ll usually use tub tofu, but the rest is an educated guess – if it’s something where I think I’ll want chunks, I’ll tend towards the brick, but if it’s going to be blended up or I suspect soft is better, I’ll try the tub. The key is to write down what you tried and how it worked next to the recipe so you don’t have to guess every time you make it!

If you want to know more about tofu, we shot a video last year that explains this with examples and some tips for how to work with the stuff. This was (and still is) part of a 7 day course we made to promote some cooking DVDs, but as I said in this week’s newsletter (it’s not too late to sign up!), we haven’t been promoting it recently because I want to rework the format of the course. You can take the full course if you want, but I just want to be clear that my intent today is just to teach you about tofu and not to sell you stuff, so enjoy the tofu video and let us know in the comments if you have any questions or more tips to share.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Colleen May 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Maybe some tips on how to store tofu if someone doesn’t use the whole package? I tend to put mine in tupperware in water, but unless I change the water pretty much every day, it tends to go bad pretty quickly. Do you have some better ideas?

Jason May 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Sure! For brick tofu I’ll just put it by itself in a container (we use glass bowls with plastic lids, but tupperware’s good too,) and it’ll keep for a few days or more – I usually rinse it off when I use it again, but that’s just a weird habit I picked up somehow. If it’s gone bad, it’ll be really slimy and smell funny, and I’ll notice it during the rinse phase…

For tub and silken tofu, somehow I tend to use a whole pack at a time generally, but I store it the same way, without the water. I honestly don’t know if it makes a difference, obviously it’s sold in water, but to me the act of changing the water will disturb it more, possibly add contaminants or something. Yeah, I’m super scientific :)

What might be helpful are ways to finish off a half pack of tofu so it doesn’t stay in the fridge as long. Just about any type can be rough chopped and added to stir fries, and I find the texture good for sandwich filling – there’s not a lot of flavour (unless you get the herbed or smoked tofu,) but it adds a good layer that way. Any other quick ways to, uh, play hide the tofu?

Molly May 18, 2010 at 12:38 am

I’ve never seen this “brick” tofu before. Can you tell me some brand names to look for? I know you’re in Canada, but it might give me something to go by, at least. I’ve seen tons of tub and silken varieties, but the brick is a new one for me.

Jason May 18, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Molly, this might explain why cookbooks overlook it – any non-Canadians out there who’ve seen brick tofu? Around here there are a few brands, including Sunrise and Soyarie, but I don’t know if we have any brands that aren’t made in Canada, so now I kinda want to do a recon road trip… (which would be fun to explain at the border!)

Dalyn May 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

Yeah, it’s not very common here. The only place I can think of that carries brick tofu is Trader Joe’s, who has a high protein, super-dense store brand. I use it sometime, but I would argue that the firmness is more important than whether it’s block or tub–and most of my cookbooks dictate how firm the tofu should be.

Shannon June 4, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I`m blown away that “brick tofu” is rare or unusual! That`s what is most available in regular grocery stores here in Alberta and what I almost always buy. I thought it was kind of the old standby for everyone…who knew?

Blueberries January 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I know this is an old discussion, but I just listened to the podcast where Jason was asking if ‘brick tofu’ is available outside of Canada and I wanted to contribute my €0,02! What you think of as ‘brick tofu’ I just think of as regular firm tofu. In Ireland it would be what you would get in the supermarket. Also, that exact brand of silken tofu is available. To me there is just firm and silken, cookbooks confuse me with all this talk of ‘firm silken’ etc. What you consider ‘tub tofu’ is available more in Asian supermarkets, in my experience it tends to be less firm than the regular firm tofu. Perhaps that’s what they mean by firm silken? This is all very complicated!

gloria February 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm

its a shame that sunrise tofu doesn’t stress the fact that the product is carb free. thats a real bonus for those of us on a limited carb diet. its the perfect diet food in that respect.. no sugar, and no salt… wow!!

Jo October 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I’ve never seen the brick tofu. I would probably buy that almost exclusively if I could find it! I tend to use the tub tofu all the time. If I want to make it more firm, I just press the bejeezus out of it.

nancy sterken September 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm

i’m sorry, i didn’t see the answer directly….is all tofu vegan???? thanks so much, i am so lost but really want to do this even if i have to live on fruit!

Stephanie March 30, 2013 at 11:52 am

hello,
This year I have decided to make homemade tofurkey roast ( store bought is so expensive and just not enough to go around ) but I live in an area where tofu is pretty scarce :( the recipe calls for 5 bricks of extra firm tofu, but I can only find 3. All thats left is medium. Can I use medium tofu to substitute the other 2 bricks? Or will that wreck the firmness needed for the tofurkey to stay together? :S blah!

Megan-Elise June 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

Ok so I recently relocated to China, and my market has no packaging, just a counter of white stuff….help??? Oh, also, I don’t speak Chinese.
>_<

Raewyn August 3, 2014 at 12:49 am

it would be just soooooo helpful to have the WEIGHT of the tofu -
instead of saying a brick or a block – considering that the www is available all over the world, I find it soooo frustrating not knowing how much a brick of tofu or a block of tofu weighs ….

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