How to Cook Tofu: Recipes, Inspiration, Nutrition Profile
January 20, 2023
For some, tofu is a staple in their everyday diet. For others, they may feel a little more hesitant to delve into the world of tofu. This could be due to common misconceptions about soy and tofu or around the uncertainty of how to use it.
Some see tofu as bland and boring instead of as a blank canvas ready to be transformed. Tofu is incredibly versatile and can be flavoured in a number of ways.
Let’s deep dive and discover the benefits of tofu, address concerns, and learn how you can incorporate it more in your diet.
What is tofu?
Tofu, which is notably the most popular soy food, is made from soybeans. In a similar process to making cheese, soy milk is condensed into a firm block.
Tofu is a common staple in plant-based eating as it is cost-effective, can be prepared in a variety of ways, and contains many nutrients that are important for plant-based nutrition.
Different types of tofu
Tofu can be found in many varieties based on consistency and texture. Some of these include:
- Silken – Silken tofu is considered to be the softest variation. It has a silky and creamy texture as it retains a lot more water than other types. It is popular in a lot of Japanese dishes but can also be used in desserts, dressings and sauces (1).
- Classic/slightly firm – Slightly firm tofu is easier to handle than silken but is still easy to break apart with little force. Classic tofu is most commonly crumbled or blended and used in dips, spreads, or a topping for salads.
- Firm – Firm tofu has the consistency of feta cheese. It is very versatile and can be used in many types of cooking including stir fries, curries and scrambled tofu (1).
- Extra firm – Extra firm tofu is the hardest variation with the least amount of water and a consistency most similar to meat. Extra firm tofu is one of the most common varieties and is used in a lot of different recipes (1).
- Puffed – Puffed tofu is used commonly in a lot of Asian based dishes. Puffed tofu is made by freezing tofu and then deep frying it. It has a spongier consistency and is good at soaking up sauces and marinades.
Nutrition benefits of tofu
As mentioned previously, there are many different nutritional benefits of tofu. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits and see why they are important in plant-based nutrition.
High in protein
Tofu is a complete protein source which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the protein building blocks that our body can not make, and therefore needs to be obtained from the diet.
This is particularly impressive as tofu is one of the only plant-based sources of protein that is considered a complete protein source (2, 3).
Additionally, tofu is considered the best plant-based source of an amino acid called leucine. Leucine is important for optimising muscle synthesis.
Good source of calcium*
While all tofu contains some calcium (approximately 200mg per 100g (4)), some brands will set their tofu with calcium. This increases the calcium content of the tofu considerably (2).
To determine if tofu is calcium set, look out for any of the following in the ingredient list:
- E516- calcium sulphate
- E170 – calcium carbonate
- E509 – calcium chloride.
Check out our blog post on calcium for a full list of calcium-set tofu.
Good source of iron
For those following a plant-based diet, iron is an important mineral to consider as requirements are much higher (1.8 times the RDI) than those that choose to consume animal products.
On average, 150g of tofu accounts for 3.5-5.5mg (depending on the brand), making it a perfect ingredient to help up your iron intake (2, 4).
Good source of healthy fats
Tofu contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats including omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Fats help absorb vitamin A, D, E and K into the body. They also help create hormones and control cholesterol (2).
May reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease
Recent studies have found tofu and other soy products to have protective effects on developing cancer and promoting heart health (5, 7). As this area is still an emerging area of research, partner with one of our expert plant-based dietitians to help navigate the world of soy-based studies.
Common concerns of having too much tofu
Soy-based foods such as tofu have gotten a bad rap over the years, which can cause a lot of confusion and doubt for those interested in tofu.
Below we address some common myths you may have encountered before and what the actual science says behind them.
Myth: Soy causes cancer
Science: Tofu is high in isoflavones which can be described as a plant compound that functions as a powerful antioxidant. These antioxidants help lower oxidative stress which can result in aging and the onset of chronic diseases.
The isoflavones found in soy have also been shown to block certain receptors in cancer cells within the body (2). Due to this, recent studies show that soy isoflavones have actually been attributed to lowering the risk of certain cancers, or at the very least, having no impact on increased risks (5).
Myth: Soy messes with hormones
Science: Isoflavones found in tofu and other soy products are also referred to as phytoestrogens. These are plant oestrogens that people once thought would behave in the same way as human oestrogen.
They have a very weak influence on oestrogen receptors in the body and while some mimic some oestrogen effects, others block the effects. This means that while structurally, phytoestrogens look similar to human oestrogen they ultimately are different and not interchangeable.
This means that there is no increase in oestrogen-based concerns such as changes in hormones. (2, 3).
Understandably, this is still a complicated area for some people so consulting with one of our plant-based dietitians is a great way to find out more information on this.
Myth: You shouldn’t eat tofu every day
Science: Studies have shown that it is okay to enjoy tofu and other soy products daily.
Health professionals recommend around 2-4 serves/day are safe for a normal healthy adult (2). Those recommended to not eat tofu every day include those allergic to soy or under the strict recommendation from a health professional.
Tofu is a nutrient-dense food that contains both macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Here is a complete look at the nutrition profile of tofu. This information is based on an average of 8 different brands of firm tofu from the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand) food composition database (4).
Nutrient Amount per 100g
- Energy 543kj or 130kcal
- Carbohydrate 0g
- Protein 12.8g
- Fat 8.3g
- Fibre 1g
- Calcium 206mg
- Copper 0.26mg
- Iodine 2.3ug
- Iron 2.35mg
- Magnesium 99mg
- Manganese 1.03mg
- Phosphorus 205mg
- Potassium 150mg
- Selenium 4.6ug
- Zinc 1.45mg
- Thiamine (B1) 0.1mg
- Riboflavin (B2) 0.035mg
- Niacin (B3) 0.25mg
- Folate (B9) 41ug
- Vitamin E 0.42mg
How to cook tofu
There are many different ways to prepare tofu for your meal. The most common ways of how to cook tofu include:
- Frying – Frying tofu creates a crispy outside with soft and warm inside. Heat a pan with a little oil. Once oil is hot, place tofu in the pan and cook on all sides, turning when brown and crispy.
- Baking – You can bake tofu by cubing or shredding the tofu. Line a baking tray and evenly distribute the tofu (you can marinate or season prior to this). Bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees or until golden brown. Ensure to turn the tofu once or twice for even cooking.
- Scrambled – Scrambling tofu can be a great substitute for scrambled eggs. Crumble tofu with hands or a fork. Fry in a pan for about 5 minutes. Below we have listed a recipe on how to make the perfect scrambled tofu!
- Air fried – Each air fryer may be a little different but 10 minutes on 200 degrees is a good place to start. Ensure tofu is spaced evenly in the tray to cook evenly.
- On a barbeque – Best suited to extra firm or firm tofu. Slice and brush with oil or a marinade. Grill on each side for 4-6 minutes.
Cooking perfect tofu can be somewhat of an art, but here are some tips to get you on your way on preparing tofu that you will love.
Pressing tofu before you cook it can help dry the tofu and eliminate excess water. This helps the tofu better absorb the sauces and seasonings added to it.
Wrap tofu in paper towel and rest something with a bit of weight on top. This may be a heavy book or pan for about 30 minutes.
Use corn starch/flour
Corn flour helps increase the crispiness of tofu when cooking. Toss or sprinkle cornflour on your tofu prior to cooking.
Ensure you are using the right type of tofu
Different types of tofu will be better suited to different meals. We covered this at the beginning of the article. This is a simple mistake but can be easy to overlook for beginners.
If you’re wanting to get started with adding more tofu to your diet but need some inspiration, we have put together a small selection of recipes to show you how to cook tofu.
225g extra firm tofu
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ garlic powder (can sub for fresh garlic)
¼ tsp black salt (kala namak) – to give an extra ‘eggy’ flavour
¼ tsp onion powder
80mL soy milk
- Break the tofu into small chunks.
- In a bowl, whisk together: onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, paprika, nutritional yeast, black salt, mustard and soy milk.
- Heat frying pan and add butter.
- Add tofu and fry. Add the spice mixture and fold in.
- Cook until desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve with spinach, tomatoes and toast.
Tofu scramble is an incredibly diverse breakfast option. Enjoy with a side of baked beans, mushrooms or avocado. It can also make a great addition to breakfast burritos or tacos.
Recipe credit from ‘Loving it Vegan’
1 cup extra firm tofu
1 tbsp coconut aminos
(can sub for soy sauce
1 tsp chilli garlic sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp peanut butter
(can sub for any nut
2-3 tbsp of soy/tamari
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp lime juice
1-2 tsp chilli garlic
2 tsp sesame oil
1 cup shiitake
1 cup sliced cabbage
1 cup sliced capsicum
1 cup sliced green onion
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 cups pre-cooked rice
- Add tofu on a plate and add soy/coconut aminos with chili garlic sauce and gently coat. Set aside to marinate.
- Prepare sauce by adding all ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Heat a large pan over med-high heat. Once hot, add oil, and marinated tofu and cook until brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Using the same pan, keep at med-high heat. Once hot, add oil, mushrooms, cabbage, and capsicum. Stir to sauté the vegetables. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add garlic, ginger and green onion. Stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add tofu back to the pan, add the sauce and rice, stir frying for a few minutes.
- Serve immediately. Optional toppings include fresh coriander, lime wedges, fresh chilli or crushed peanuts.
Recipe credit from ‘Minimalist Baker’
Baked tofu tacos
350g extra firm tofu
1 tbsp oil (olive oil/ canola oil)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ cayenne pepper (optional)
¾ cup tomato salsa
soft flour tortillas
1.5 cups shredded lettuce
Optional toppings – lime, fresh coriander, corn, avocado, pico de gallo, sriracha
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
- In a bowl, mix the oil, soy sauce, and all spices.
- Crumble the tofu into the bowl with the seasoning. Mix to ensure even coating. 4. Spread the tofu evenly over the baking tray and bake for 30-35 minutes, stopping to stir the tofu around every now and again.
- Remove tofu from oven and put in a pan. Add the salsa. You may choose to add a little more salsa if you prefer a moister mixture. Keep cooking until salsa is heated.
- Serve on tortillas with desired toppings.
This recipe can also be enjoyed in a burrito or burrito bowl!
Recipe credit from ‘It doesn’t taste like chicken’
Popcorn air-fried tofu
Tofu Serves 4
450g extra firm tofu, pressed for 30 mins and cubed
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp corn starch/flour
½ tbsp light soy sauce (can sub for coconut aminos)
½ tsp sesame oil (can sub for any other oil)
¼ tsp pepper
TO SERVE (for 1)
½ med avocado
¼ cup cooked edamame
½ med carrot, shredded
½ med cucumber shredded
1 cup cooked rice/quinoa
Sesame seeds optional
- Place tofu in a medium sized bowl. Add soy sauce and toss to coat. Add all other tofu seasoning ingredients and toss to combine.
- Place in air fryer ensuring that all the tofu has a bit of space around each piece. Set air fryer at 200°C and cook for 10 mins, shaking the basket at the 5-minute mark.
- Remove after tofu is cooked. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Assemble your bowl with rice, avocado, edamame, carrot and cucumber. Top with desired amount of popcorn tofu and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Enjoy!
Air fried tofu recipe credit to ‘Jessica in the kitchen’
If you would like to make this recipe but don’t own an air fryer, you can also bake tofu in the oven.
Dark chocolate mousse
250g dark chocolate, cut into chunks
300g silken tofu
2 tbsp almond butter (can sub for peanut butter or cashew butter)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
- Melt the chocolate (this can be done in the microwave or a double boiler). Set aside to cool slightly.
- In a food processor or blender, combine the tofu, almond butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt.
- With the blender on the lowest setting, slowly add the melted chocolate. Continue until fully combined.
- Pour into serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy with or without additional toppings! Toppings may include fresh berries, shaved chocolate, crushed nuts or sliced banana.
Recipe credit from ‘Pick up Limes’
Tofu is an incredibly diverse food that can be enjoyed in a number of ways.
Whether it is for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even dessert! It packs a punch when it comes to plant-based nutrition as it is high in protein, essential fatty acids, and contains many essential minerals for overall health.
If you’re wanting more guidance on plant-based nutrition and how to incorporate more tofu into your diet, book in to see one of our expert online dietitians at the PNW Clinic today.
Article written by student dietitian Leanna Fyffe
Article reviewed by PNW dietitian Jade Wrigley