What Is Tofu, and How Do You Eat This Japanese Cuisine Staple?

What Is Tofu, and How Do You Eat This Japanese Cuisine Staple?

Step into a Japanese market, and you'll see rows of tofu, aka bean curd, available for purchase. From kinugoshi (soft silken tofu) to yuba (tofu skin) and even sometimes organic tofu will be stocked in the refrigerated section. If you're new to Japanese cuisine, you may wonder, "what is tofu?"

Luckily, we’re diving into this delicious Japanese cuisine staple further. Below, you’ll learn all about tofu and how you can use it in your weekly recipes.

What Is Tofu?

Tofu is a soy protein-rich block made from curdling soy milk. Tofu comes in various textures, from silken tofu to extra firm tofu. There are also many varieties of tofu available that are processed further, like fried tofu, freeze-dried tofu, and fermented tofu.

Fresh tofu has a deliciously subtle flavor that absorbs sauces and seasonings well. Once the tofu is fried or fermented, there are changes in the taste or consistency. Fried tofu has a chewier consistency, though it remains relatively mild in flavor.

Fermented tofu, however, offers a much bolder, intense flavor when eaten.

Tofu also offers health benefits like essential amino acids and soy isoflavones, which can help with skin and bone health.

How Is Tofu Made?

The process of making tofu is very similar to how one makes cheese. It starts with soy milk mixed with nigari (magnesium chloride). Nigari helps the soy milk thicken. Then, it can be pressed into a block. Once pressed into a block, it's cooled, packed, and pasteurized.

The process of making silken tofu is slightly different. Silken tofu is not pressed into a block. Instead, nigari is mixed with soy milk right in the package that it will later be sold in. Since the water is not being pressed out of this tofu, it has a softer, silkier consistency.

Is Tofu Popular in Japan?

Yes, it is one of the most popular soy foods in Japan. You'll see chefs creating tofu dishes for appetizers, entrees, and everything in between. This staple food item is also found in every grocery store in Japan. It's rare to find a store that doesn't sell tofu.

How Do You Eat Tofu?

There are many ways to cook tofu which vary based on your preference. There's an option for everyone, from eating tofu with soy sauce to tofu soups. Below are a few of the most popular Japanese tofu dishes you can recreate at home.

Miso Soup

You've likely had miso soup at least once, especially if you've ever been to a Japanese restaurant! Miso soup uses a dashi broth (a simple Japanese broth), rehydrated seaweed, and tofu as the main ingredients. The ingredients for miso soup vary depending on the region of origin.


Nabe comes in many forms as it's a general term for Japanese hot pot. This dish typically includes tofu, different types of protein, and vegetables. Nabe is one dish that you'll want to enjoy fresh – either from a restaurant or home. It's typically eaten in winter in Japan and includes a delicious, flavorful broth.

This dish is cooked at the dinner table, not on the stovetop. You’ll need a donabe (clay pot) to make this at home. Once your broth is hot, you can add tofu, meat, and veggies.


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