In this article, we’re examining the taste profile of one of the most popular vegan and vegetarian options in the world – tofu! We’re giving a full rundown on how tofu tastes in all its forms. Our hope is that this will give you the tools needed to intuitively add tofu to many of your favorite recipes!
To get an understanding of tofu’s unique taste and texture, it really helps to know how it’s made and what’s in it.
Tofu is made through the process of coagulation. Specifically, soy milk is coagulated into resulting tofu “curds”. These curds are then “pressed” into solid white blocks that look like traditional tofu. Depending on the pressing process, tofu is sold in different degrees of thickness. The thickness is generally how tofu is categorized.
Tofu is generally made from 3 basic ingredients – soybeans, water, and a coagulant (generally a salt, acid, or enzyme-based coagulant). There may be extra ingredients for flavoring of the tofu, but the tofu itself often will not contain more ingredients than that.
Tofu has many properties which are quite healthy. It is known to be low in calories and high in protein, which is perhaps why it gained so much popularity in the first place, especially as a gluten-free option.
How Does Tofu Taste?
Now that we have a proper understanding of the process required to make tofu, let’s get to the main issue of this article – how does tofu taste?
This is actually quite the loaded question. There are many types, brands, and variants of tofu. Each of these brands might have a different flavor, and each may add flavor as well. There are also so many ways to prepare tofu.
So to truly answer this question, we really have to look at it from all angles.
Let’s start with flavor of basic tofu.
Basic Tofu Taste
Tofu’s taste is perhaps most known because it barely tastes like anything at all! Most people wouldn’t enjoy the taste of plain tofu, and we wouldn’t blame them!
Plain tofu is extremely bland. It really doesn’t taste like much of anything else, much in the same way that plain soy beans have a very mild flavor. Perhaps the most noticeable taste of plain tofu might be from its coagulation agent. This can give the tofu a semi-sour taste.
Needless to say, plain, uncooked tofu is not the most popular dish, and certainly not the most popular way to consume tofu. But since tofu is so popular, you still will find many people around the world who eat tofu raw.
Texture influences taste in so many ways. It influences how you chew it, how its flavor profiles are picked up by your tongue, and just your overall perceptions of the dish. And tofu is definitely known for its unique texture.
Tofu is famously sold based on its texture – with options ranging from silken (the softest), to extra-firm, and everything in between! Tofu ranges from smooth and “creamy” to harder and crumbly (similar to feta cheese).
Your ideal firmness will largely be determined by personal preference, but it also influences the dishes you can make. Next, we will examine the different tastes of the most popular tofu varieties and methods of preparation.
Many Things That Influence the Taste
As mentioned above, tofu is generally not eaten on its own. As a result, when we talk about the taste of tofu, it makes more sense to talk about how it tastes when prepared. In this section, we’ll outline the most popular methods of preparing tofu, and mention how this impacts their flavor.
One of the most important parts of preparing tofu (to make it taste great!) is to properly prepare it for cooking. One of the most popular ways to do so is with the tofu press.
Pressing tofu is one of the most efficient ways to prepare it for consumption. Because tofu is generally packaged in water, it also absorbs the moisture of that water. A tofu press is a mechanism which is designed to press the moisture out of the tofu. Not only does this firm up the tofu, but it dries it out, and makes it more able to absorb other materials and flavors during the cooking process.
Think of it as “freeing up” your tofu to take on new flavors.
The Marinade & Spice
Of course, a major indicator of how your tofu will taste will depend on how you flavor it! Marinating tofu is one of the most popular ways to give it flavor. Marinating tofu is particularly effective because tofu is an extremely absorbent substance.
You’ll find plenty of recipes online for tofu marinades. They tend to lean towards Asian flavors (garlic, ginger, soy sauce, etc.) but tofu is popular all over the world.
Some even take it one step further and spice their tofu after they marinate it. Even putting on basic spices like salt and garlic powder can take it to a whole other level.
The Cooking Method
Finally, tofu’s flavor and texture will be heavily influenced by how you cook it. The most popular methods of cooking tofu are some combination of pan-frying and baking.
Pan-frying or sauteing tofu is one of the most popular methods of preparation. Depending on the heat levels, it will give your tofu various levels of exterior “crisp”. High heat will give the tofu a crispy exterior with a softer interior. The more you lower the heat, the more you will cook the tofu all the way through.
Baking is often used as a method of preparation in conjunction with pan-frying. Often, chefs will pan-fry to start and bake to cook through (or sometimes in reverse). Combining methods is ideal if you want to use the pan to crisp your tofu, and the oven to cook through your tofu.
As you can imagine, there are many combinations, heat levels, and cooking methods to play with, all of which can influence the flavor of this versatile ingredient!
Types of Tofu
And this brings us to our last category which will influence the way your tofu tastes – which tofu you buy!
There are so many brands and varieties of tofu out there that we could write a whole different article just surveying what is available. There are so many pre-flavored options available, which are pre-marinated or pre-spiced for quick and easy prep. Tofu will also be found as an ingredient in many different pre-made dishes and restaurant dishes.
Additionally, as mentioned above, it comes in all different textures, with the most popular being silken, soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm.
You can even buy tofu that is pre-baked or pre-fried.
We could go on, but you probably get the point. The flavor of tofu can go in many different directions, and is just another reason that it is such a popular dish.
And there you have it, a simple question with many possible answers! But what else can you expect from one of the most popular foods on the planet? So many varieties, recipes, and methods of preparation to choose from! Such a versatile food, and an essential component in a vegan lifestyle.
Does tofu taste like cheese?
Sometimes. Tofu is essentially created using a process similar to cheese-making. So it is no surprise that the end result is similar to many cheeses (especially feta). While it is quite a bit milder than most cheese, the texture is so similar that a flavored tofu could stand in as a suitable replacement.
Does tofu taste like chicken?
Tofu is often used (primarily in Western dishes) as a meat substitute. Some people will tell you that extra-firm tofu tastes somewhat like chicken, but that is mostly due to its thick, meaty texture. Most tofu “meat” dishes utilize specific marinades and spices to season the tofu in the same way they would the meat. Therefore, if a tofu is covered in a chicken spice rub, it will taste a lot more like the popular poultry.