Featured image courtesy of the United Soybean Board.
I love Chinese tofu dishes, and I did not know the extent of Japanese tofu dishes till I had a multi-course set in Fukuoka, Japan (my first time having fresh tofu skin). Having had those experiences, I am team tofu, but Asian-style, not feeling team Murica this time.
When I first started to learn to cook, I got hooked on trying to perfect a Japanese dish called age (ah-geh) dashi tofu, and I produced this dish a million times over.
In Asia, tofu is not a meat substitute or part of a vegan or vegetarian diet, even though Japan was a vegan country for upwards of 1,200 years. Like many Asian cultures, it is part of a balanced diet of a variety of ingredients, including both meat and tofu (I sure was not eating it as a kid for a dietary reason).I have to hype this site, the Vegan Review and Chloë Morgan because they/she is gaaaaaaaaaaaangsta, and one of the best things I have read in a long time “A meatless misconception: why tofu is more than just the West’s meat substitute.” Maaaaaybe it is confirmation bias?
I learned a lot about tofu during my cooking noob years, and I hope this resource helps you to familiarize yourself with tofu, which Asia has used for the last several thousand years.
How This Content Differs From Other Tofu Articles
This content differs by giving you a non-American-centric perspective focused on Asia’s, specifically China’s 3,500 plus, year-old food culture. Versus the US’s 247-year-old history and the health food industries narrative of “how do we get Americans to eat tofu? How about pitching it under the guise of health via vegan and vegetarian diets or the magic bullet diet aka ‘superfood’: a single ingredient changing your life.”
I am a 4th generation, Japanese American, yet I still identify with my ethnic culture. Also, having lived a quarter of a century in Nor/SoCal, I tend to eat ethnic foods from around the world, from Pakistani, Russian, Taiwanese, Chinese (Sichuan, Cantonese, Fujian), Peruvian, and the list goes on.Having been back in Colorado to spend time with my dad before he passed away, I have never eaten so many sandwiches (although Moscow Deli in Costa Mesa is amazing), burgers, and commercial chains, in my entire life. The reasoning, almost all the Asian food in Colorado is Americanized.
The vast majority of content created about tofu is to appeal to a demographic, and English information geared toward the United States focuses on “vegan, vegetarian, and ‘health’ (non-GMO, gluten-free, etc.) focused diets.” Even water and other blatantly obvious products (tofu) with no gluten will have a “gluten-free” label because that select American criteria somehow makes it and you healthier, except Harvard University says otherwise – here is an article by Harvard University on a gluten-free diet.
On the flip side of Asia, you won’t find me eating quasi-Asian American-style stir-fries or tofu burgers to imitate meat as a substitute, and I would do a carnivore diet before I go in that direction. I also find it silly to choose strictly only proteins or veggies, and this contrived diet is an American thing. A country where we Americans have the luxury to pursue these diets while parts of the US and the world struggle to feed themselves.
What is Tofu, Edamame, and Curdling
If you see the definition for tofu, I felt like a kid after reading it because I had a million and one follow-up questions such as “what is a bean curd?” “Where does soy milk come from?” “Milk comes from a cow, so how is it a ‘milk’?”, also “what is curdling? (I do know what curling is).” So, as the semi-mature adult I am, I sought out those answers, and I will break it all down.
Tofu is often likened to cheese because it is coagulated just like cheese. Fresh tofu and cheese is also highly-perishable whereas when fermented (aged), it increases the flavor, along with being longer-lasting.Like cheese, there are a several types of tofu from deep-fried, sheets, fermented, to the varying firmness of tofu (no tofu whiz… yet).
The major differentiator between cheese and tofu is that tofu is the perfect substitute for people who are lactose intolerant (a lot of my Asian peoples are opening the door to diarrhea and gas when they say ‘cheese’).
|A Pulse||Is the edible seed from a legume plant which include beans, lentils, and peas.|
|Soybean||Is a legume, and when the pod is mature is light brown.|
|Edamame||Are immature soybeans still in the pod and green in color.|
|Tofu||The name for Japanese bean curd.|
|Doufu||The name for Chinese bean curd.|
|Curdled||“Curdling is the breaking of an emulsion or colloid into large parts of different composition through the physio-chemical processes of flocculation, creaming, and coalescence.” – via Wikipedia|
|Curdled 2nd explanation||For the best explanation, DowntoEarth.org is your goto source (here is a partial snippet): “when the solution turns acidic, protein molecules react and form lumps.”|
|Curling||A sport where they slide a stone on ice with what looks like a broom and is fittingly called a curling broom.|
|Soy Milk||Like so many things in this world, it originated out of China and it is a plant-based “milk” and often used as a dairy milk substitute (it is only called a milk because it has a similar taste, color, and consistency to milk).|
|How Soy Milk is produced||Produced by soaking and grinding soybeans, boiling the mixture, and filtering out the remaining particulates via a centrifuge. To see this all happen, the Science channel has an episode on the SunOpta facility producing soy milk (YouTube).|
Iowa and Illinois in the United States are the major producers and exporter of soy beans.
“Just over 70 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States are used for animal feed, with poultry being the number one livestock sector consuming soybeans, followed by hogs, dairy, beef and aquaculture.”– USDA Coexistence Fact Sheets Soybeans
Let’s Talk About Who Has Been Eating the Beans
If you are Murican, you might be thinking pork and beans or Tex-Mex, but the entire world eats legumes, and in many countries, it is a crucial part of their daily diet, along with meat. Unlike the US, where it’s just a side to BBQ, in the Middle East, many dishes consist of fava to garbanzo, and in Europe, kidney beans, and in Latin America, black, red, and pinto beans. All eaten regularly alongside meat, a balance of both like the rest of the world of these top bean-consuming countries:
Beans, peas and lentils are all legumes.Word to your mother (if you don’t know, now you know).
- United States of America
Bean consumption per capita by Helgi Library.
- El Salvador
|COUNTRY||ANNUAL CONSUMPTION||TYPES OF BEANS MOST CONSUMED|
|Chick peas, lentils, butter beans, lab lab beans, soybeans, garden peas, red kidney beans, velvet beans, and lima beans, with minor consumption of black matpe, green mung bean, and toor whole. Source: APEDA.gov|
|1. Yardlong Bean · 2. French Beans · 3. Broad or Fava Beans · 4. Moth Beans· 5. Chickpea Beans · 6. Soya Beans · 7. Guar / Cluster Beans · 8. Ground / Bambara Beans · 9. Mung Beans · 10. Runner Beans. Source: IndianGardening.com|
|Brazil||33.0 lbs||Carioca (brown common or pinto bean, 61%), Caupi (22%) and Black (17%). Source: USDABrazil.org. Brazil is the 2nd largest producer and exporter of soybeans (soyoil and soymeal). Source: USDA.gov.|
|Mexico||20.0 lbs||Black beans and pinto beans (soybean oil has a 34% market share and is a popular frying oil). Source: Iasoybeans.com|
|United States of America||7.0-7.5 lbs||Pinto, navy, great northern, red kidney, and black beans. In the US, organic food-grade soybeans are used in food products like tofu, tempeh or soymilk. Soybean oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the United States. Source: USDA.gov and USDA.gov/soybean prices.|
There are two types of organic soybeans: food-grade and feed-grade.Certified organic meat requires organic feed.
Here are a few articles on several regional bean dishes, many of which are eaten daily:
- Ful mudammas (fava beans with spices): check out the Best Ever Food Review Show on YouTube, Egypt Food Tour!! Africa’s Worst Country for Shooting!! (Police!).
- One of the best meals I have ever had was Southern Indian and primarily vegetarian, so if you are vegan or vegetarian, you need to read this article by Indiaphile: “A Guide to Indian Dal, Lentils, Beans, and Pulses.”
- Brazilian feijoada (one of my favorite dishes): there is no dedicated site for Brazilian cuisine but the highest ranked recipe seems to be legit and not douchey by Curiouscuisiniere.com
- Rice and beans are a staple throughout Latin America: check out the article by the Daily Meal, Why Rice And Beans Are So Popular In South America (And Why You Should Be Eating Them).
Japanese Tofu Brands in the United States
Typically most markets will sell brands from their respective ethnic background such as Korean markets selling Korean tofu brands. Although, from my experience, there is one prominent Japanese brand that is sold in American markets, Korean markets, and of course Japanese market. That brand is dominantly House Foods with Morinaga a distant 2nd.
There is one dominant brand of tofu in the United States sold in Whole Foods, your neighborhood market, to Korean, Chinese, and Japanese markets. That brand is House Foods, a Japanese company with operations out of Garden Grove, CA, Orange County.The second most popular Japanese brand in the United States is Morinaga.
- House Foods (house-foods.com): founded in 1913 in Osaka and began selling curry in 1926. Presently, House Foods is the world’s largest manufacturer of Japanese curry.
- Morinaga (morinaganutrition.com): is a confectionery company in Tokyo, Japan, in operation since 1899. The company founder first experienced candy while living in the United States.
Small Japanese American Producers
- Meiji (meijitofu.com): out of Gardena, it looks like a Japanese dude doing his thing, but beyond that, I have no additional information because their site does not having any (I even reached out to them).
- San Jose Tofu Company (closed) – you can read about them via the Mercury News: I used to live around the corner from them because I was helping my cousin do shoji screens (Aspen Ten) in San Jose Japantown.
Small American Tofu Producers
- Hodo (hodofoods.com): Minh Tsai and John Notz, the founder and founding partner of Hodo foods, kicked things off in 2004. Presently, they are operating out of Oakland, California, the Yay. Area, home of Too $hort, En Vogue, and Souls of Mischief.
The other major competing tofu brand in the United States
- Lucerne Foods (lucernefoods.com, a subsidiary of Safeway, Inc): A food and beverage manufacturer for 75 years, Lucerne Foods is the private label and co-pack partner of choice for countless household-name retailers, food service companies, distributors, and national brands (the brands I suspect are O Organics, Simple Truth Organic based on the ingredients list, but I could be totally wrong because there are 3-4 other major producers like Pulmuone Foods USA/Nasoya or Vitasoy/China).
If you were a long time resident of Los Angeles, you may remember when Curry House closed their locations throughout LA and Orange County (Bobby Hundreds said “it was an OG spot” and Reina was once a waitress at the Little Tokyo/Weller Court location), what a sad day.The chain was owned by House Foods, but Food Management Partners, Inc. supposedly took it over and squandered it away (I suggest you read the LA Times write-up).
Japanese Tofu Firmness (Water Content)
The firmness of tofu is all based on the amount of weight to press water out and to shape into blocks. Out of them all, I love silken although it is a lot like soft. Anything beyond that, are medium, firm/hard, to extra firm:
My Summary of Tofu Firmness
- Silken (kinugoshi): the smoothest with the highest water content.
- Soft (yose): Soft, “silky tofu ideal for smoothies, dips, and replacing dairy in baked goods” via House Foods.
- Firm (momen): the opposite end of silken and is the typical range of tofu in Asia.
House Foods Tofu Firmness
The varying tofu styles described/defined by House Foods:
“Silky tofu ideal for smoothies, dips, and replacing dairy in baked goods” via House Foods.”
Medium Firm Tofu
“A smooth block great for dressings, dips, casseroles and desserts.”
“A good choice for tofu beginners. Firm tofu is great in savory dishes and can be used for scrambles, sandwiches and stir fry’s.”
Extra Firm Tofu
“A great meat alternative that’s packed with 8g of plant protein per serving. Try it in burgers, tacos or skewers.”
Tofu Products Sample Ingredients List
|House Foods||Firm||Water, Soybeans, Calcium Sulfate.|
|House Foods||Organic Med-firm||Water, Organic Soybeans, Calcium Sulfate.|
|Soymilk (Filtered Water and Organic Soybeans), Glucono-Delta-Lactone*, Calcium Chloride.|
|Mori-Nu||Mori-Nu Plus||Soymilk (filtered water and soybeans), Soybean Oil, Inulin, Soy Protein Isolate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Maltodextrin, Non-viable Lactobacillus Paracasei MCC1849, Vitamin D3.|
|O Organics||Extra-firm||Water, Organic Soybeans, Calcium Sulfate, Magnesium Chloride.|
|Tofurky||Smoked Ham||Water, vital wheat gluten, tofu (water, soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride), expeller pressed canola oil, contains less than 2% of granulated garlic, sea salt, spices, cane sugar, natural flavors, natural smoke flavor, color (lycopene, purple carrot juice), oat fiber, carrageenan, dextrose, konjac, potassium chloride, xanthan gum. CONTAINS: SOY, WHEAT.|
|Tofurky||Roast and Wild Rice Stuffing||ROAST: Vital wheat gluten, water, tofu (water, soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride), expeller pressed canola oil, natural flavors, sea salt, contains less than 2% of onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leek, rosemary extract, lemon juice concentrate, oat fiber, corn starch, calcium lactate, potassium chloride. CONTAINS: WHEAT, SOY.|
STUFFING: Vital wheat gluten, water, tofu (water, soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride), expeller pressed canola oil, natural flavors, sea salt, contains less than 2% of onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leek, rosemary extract, lemon juice concentrate, oat fiber, corn starch, calcium lactate, potassium chloride. CONTAINS: WHEAT, SOY.
Suggested uses of tofu based on firmness:
Tofu does not have to be cooked and can be eaten raw right out of the container because it is pasteurized during the manufacturing process. Although listed below are the suggested ways to prepare tofu based on the density.
Tofu is a high-quality plant-based protein and depending on where you look, the numbers will vary for a 0.5 cup (124g). The USDA states 10g whereas Heart.org touts 21.8g and the USDA as their source.If you are curious how plant-protein stacks up to animal protein, WebMD has your answer.
|Silken, “extra soft,” soft, and regular||The most commonly used in Asian cuisine.||Miso soup, agedashi tofu, hiyayakko/cold tofu (Japanese), crispy tofu, mapo tofu (Chinese), soondubu jjigae (Korean)|
|Firm, extra firm, and hard||If you are looking for something to mimic the texture and density of egg to meat, this is it.||Salt and pepper tofu/YouTube link (Chinese), and hot pot/nabe, like chankonabe, or in sukiyaki as yaki-tofu (Japanese), Indo-Chinese style chili tofu (Indian Chinese).|
Only 1% of the world is vegan because most of the world and in the future (even in the US, 34 million are food insecure) will continue to struggle to feed themselves. Fortunately, soybean is a major factor in feeding people and livestock.
Since I cook, I like doing spin offs of hiyayakko (cold tofu), like a “burrata treatment” of olive oil, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, basil, and olives and capers. Although, if you want to keep it Japanese, grated daikon and ginger, diced green onions, and soy sauce is a simple way of enjoying tofu.I consider Italian cuisine to be a lot like Japanese food, simple, and reliant on quality ingredients (you can get a glimpse of the merger of Japanese and Italian via Ayana-gohan.com).
Other Types of Tofu Products (Skin, Fried, Fermented) and Recipes
I have to hype these products and recipes because you might not have had the chance to come across these styles of tofu dishes which are some of my favorite ways to enjoy it, and they are not strictly Japanese.
The Chinese have been using tofu for upwards of 2,000 years, so I lean towards the Chinese when it comes to recipe ideas/tutorials. If you feel the same, you can watch Chinese Cooking Demystified on YouTube for their mapo tofu recipe.Yet, some American influencers or blogger will try and front, even the Culinary Institute of America tried to.
- Dried tofu “skin” (yuba): this is as much of a skin as pudding has a “skin” because it is not an animal product. It has a firm texture, like skin, with a nice chew formed on the surface when soy milk is heated. It might not sound like much, but a person who understands how delicious this is Chichi Wang and her favorite childhood recipe, which has is tweaked to omit pork (her mom used shoulder, but I like it with a pork belly, and she prefers just the tofu which I do not fault her for). The other which will make you drool, WoonHeng and her tofu skin roll (I do not think I had it, but I want to eat it).
- Deep-fried tofu (aburaage/atsuage): deep-fried tofu with thin and thick sliced versions. Out of the two, I typically use aburaage the most in my udon or in miso soup, and throughout my childhood I grew up eating inari sushi which as a kid I nicknamed “nutsack” sushi because the sweetened fried tofu had a shriveled up tofu sack filled with sushi rice along with vegetarian ingredients like hijiki, this recipe is via Justbento.com.
- Fermented tofu (fu ru): this was a favorite of my dads, who passed away last Feb, so I am going to find ways to utilize this ingredient in an upcoming meal, like ong choy or with rice. I also highly suggest you read this article by Cathy Erway on Food & Wine, which has a nicely done write-up because I had no clue to use it in ong choy, a dish I have prepared several times. Her article is “These Umami-Packed Tofu Cubes Are Vegetables’ Best Friends,” and her book on “the Food of Taiwan.” EDIT: I need to add Zolima, a blog about Hong Kong because they have a good read.
My Favorite Japanese Tofu Dishes
I will provide links to other media outlets with a comprehensive listing of tofu recipes and dishes, but I wanted to list my favorites here.
On a “37 vegan tofu dishes list,” the first one listed is a “teriyaki sauce garlic tofu” which is something you would not find in Japan (the creator may think it’s Chinese, Japanese, or Asianese, but it’s none). The first reason, teriyaki sauce is an Americanized sauce with a lot more sugar and garlic is not an ingredient traditionally used in Japanese cuisine.Some of the dishes below reflect Japan’s shojin riyori (Buddhist cuisine) influence on Japan’s food culture.
- Agedashi tofu (cookingwithdog.com): the stock is pescatarian like miso soup is although you can create a totally vegan dish by using shiitake/konbu as a broth substitute. Regardless which way you go, the crispy outer block of tofu with the soft center go great in a hot soy broth, topped off with a freshly grated daikon and ginger, diced green onion, and optional bonito flakes.
SIDENOTE: If you wonder, “what does agedashi tofu taste like?” Well, there is a site specializing in Mediterranean food, and they decided to write about Asian and, specifically, Japanese food. Unfortunately, they have no clue about agedashi because they pieced together their content like some hack. So they oddly say that agedashi tastes like fish (it’s tofu), WTF!? Many of you have had miso soup with tofu, and I do not think the soup or the tofu has a dominant taste of fish, but if you do, you will also think agedashi tastes like fish although what I am thinking, they need stay in their lane brah.
- Shiraae (recipe via JustOneCookbook.com): the recipe uses green beans, but my favorite version uses boiled spinach. Also, when nobody was looking, I would pour extra shoyu on it, and I had to do it on the DL because if I didn’t, I would be called a saltaholic by my mom (that mashed tofu/miso mixture absorbs all the soy sauce). This dish, served at room temperature or chilled, is a perfect summer dish, and this is one of my favorite ways to eat tofu: miso, goma, and veggie (I do not add sugar).
- Kitsune udon (vegan recipe via OkonomiKitchen.com): so many Japanese dishes contain soy sauce, mirin, sake, and dashi (fish or vegan based stock/broth). The same goes for kitsune udon which is a thick wheat based noodle dish with a slurpable noodle. The spongey deep-fried tofu triangles, squares, or slices, love to soak up the savory broth.
Other Popular Asian Tofu Dishes
When I think of Americanized uses of tofu, it is always in the form of some hideous interpretation of an “Asian stir-fry” or in a manner that is supposed to mimic meat which makes me not like tofu and “tofurkey” exemplifies that.
When it comes to American tofu dishes, Americanized “stir-fry’s” are usually a hodgepodge of “Asiany” ingredients (things that sound or are associated as generically being Asian: a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian ethnic cuisines), or is used to mimic a meat. So I highly suggest you try these millennia old dishes from throughout Asia.The countries that standout are China, Taiwan (sorry Chinese censors), Japan, and Korea. They all have unique dishes, but American bloggers mash Asians all together generically (imagine mixing French, Russian, and Italian together as “European-inspiried”).
- Soondubu jjigae, a Korean spicy seafood stew with soft tofu, and you can find the recipe on mykoreankitchen.com, by Sue who is all about Korean food.
- Simmered spinach and atsuage tofu, are unlike many of the Americanized dishes like teriyaki and sweet’n’sour versions of Japanese and Chinese food, and the authentic versions are never as sweet or doused in a salty sauce. So dishes like this one rely on being savory, and I hope you enjoy it, it’s by Rika’s Tokyo Cuisine via NHK.jp. If you want sweet and salty, this is the closest you will get to it, “Atsu-age Simmered in Sweet Soy Broth” by Hiroko’san.
You may have noticed that many of these dishes are on the spicy side, and the Japanese do not do spice. So if you really want to learn about many of the spices that originated from China, Chinese Cooking Demystified has a great video on “Every Lao Gan Ma (LGM is a brand of Chinese chili sauce), explained” on YouTube.The dog in the background, her trying to open each bottle, and tasting each product is worth the watch.
Morinaga (Mori-nu) a Shelf Stable Tofu
Asceptic packaging requires no preservatives and was developed by Tetra Pak of Sweden in 1979, this proprietary packaging is unique. In fact, it was voted “…the number one food science innovation of the past fifty years” by the prestigious Institute of Food Technologies headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.You can read all about this packaging on the Mori-nu website.
For millennia, the preservation of food determined if you would live or die, but now a shelf stable product is great for somebody who likes to keep a well stocked pantry, or for your zombie apocalypse bunker (a bunker full of Tofurky will kill your will to live).
Up your international bean game.