Menu
Search
Menu
Close

March/April 2017

Firm Tofu

Check the nutrition label for a clue about your tofu’s texture.

How We Tested

Tofu dates back 2000 years to China’s Han dynasty and has long been a staple in Asian cooking and a favorite among vegetarians. And its popularity in the United States is on the rise: Americans spent $274 million on this mild-tasting soybean product in 2013, and sales are trending up. To find the best product for the home cook, we set our sights on firm tofu because it’s the type we call for most often, as it’s more versatile than silken or extra-firm tofu. We found five nationally available, American-made products, priced from $0.08 to $0.40 per ounce, and tasted each plain, coated with cornstarch and fried, and chopped and stir-fried in a filling for Thai basil lettuce wraps. A panel of tasters rated each sample on texture, flavor, and overall appeal.

Happily, our tasters liked the flavor of every tofu. Plain and in our recipes, the samples tasted “neutral” and “clean,” with subtle “sweet,” “nutty” notes. Regarding texture, most were exactly what we’ve come to expect in tofu: firm enough to hold their shape for cooking and frying yet still pleasantly soft and tender. But there was one outlier. Cut into cubes and tasted plain, this tofu was so dry, firm, and compact that our tasters compared it to rubber erasers. The lower moisture level meant that the cornstarch couldn’t completely gelatinize, so the coating turned pasty and sludgy when fried. And when we chopped this tofu in a food processor, it broke into irregular shards instead of forming small, tender crumbles.

Why was one tofu so different from the others? The answer lies in how tofu is made. All firm and extra-firm tofu begins essentially the same way: Dried soybeans are soaked and ground to create soy milk, and that liquid is separated from the soybean pulp—at this point, it’s actually a lot like making cheese. A salt- or acid-based coagulant is added to make the milk separate into solid curds and liquid whey. The curds are then placed in molds, drained, and pressed to squeeze out moisture and make them more compact. It’s the pressing that plays the biggest role in determining texture; firmer tofu is pressed more.

When we asked manufacturers for more detailed information on how their tofu is made, we found more similarities than differences. Most of the tofus in our lineup are made with soybeans grown in North America. They use a variety of coagulants—including nigari (a byproduct of extracting salt from seawater), calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride (two forms of salt), and an acid-forming substance called glucono delta lactone—and our tasting panel didn’t detect any meaningful differences in flavor. Manufacturers cited a range of processing temperatures (from 100 to 200 degrees), pressing times (from 20 to 30 minutes), and pasteurization temperatures (from 150 to 167 degrees). But again, that information couldn’t explain our preferences.

The difference turned out to be simple: protein content. Our four recommended tofus contain 7 or 8 grams of protein per 85-gram serving (about 1/3 cup). The lowest-ranked product contains twice that amount—14 grams. Soy is the only source of protein in tofu, so this dramatic difference in overall protein content indicates that this product contains much more soybean curd per serving—no wonder it was so much denser than the rest. A handful of tasters enjoyed its firmness, but the majority thought that it seemed like an entirely different product.

Ultimately, any of the top four products in our lineup will yield successful results in the kitchen. But Nasoya Organic Firm Tofu ($2.99 for 14 ounces) was our favorite. Its light, clean flavor earned praise in every tasting, and it struck just the right balance between firmness and tenderness. We think both tofu skeptics and aficionados will approve.

Methodology

Panels of 21 tasters sampled five nationally available firm tofus in three blind taste tests. After cutting and draining the tofu and patting it dry, we served each plain, coated with cornstarch and fried, and chopped and stir-fried in a filling for Thai basil lettuce wraps. Tasters evaluated each on its flavor, texture, and overall appeal. Scores were averaged, and the products appear below in order of preference. Details on production were obtained from manufacturers. Nutritional information and ingredients were taken from product packaging and, where necessary, converted to a standard serving of 85 grams (roughly 1/3 cup). Prices were paid in Boston-area supermarkets and online.

Try CooksCountry.com FREE for 14 Days

START YOUR 14-DAY FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP

Every Recipe, Every Rating, Every Video from Every Magazine & Every Episode!

  • 10+ years of Cook's Country Foolproof Recipes
  • Complete Cook's Country TV Video Library
  • 3,800+ Equipment Reviews and Ingredient Taste Tests
  • Step-by-Step Technique Photos
  • Save Favorites, Create Menus, Print Shopping Lists

Dear Home Cook,

If we were new to CooksCountry.com, we might think, “It’s easy to get free recipes on the Internet. What makes your recipes different?” Well, unlike recipes from blogs, message boards, and other recipe sites, our recipes are exhaustively tested by our team of full-time test cooks until they offer consistently great results. That means fried chicken with a crunchy coating and moist meat, a low-fat recipe makeover for macaroni and cheese that’s as creamy and cheesy as the full-fat version, and fork-tender slow cooker pot roast.

We’re obsessive in our quest to find and foolproof the best of American home cooking, from fuss-free weeknight dinners, to updated, simplified versions of regional specialties, to slow cooker and make ahead meals. CooksCountry.com is the only place you can find every foolproof recipe published in Cook’s Country magazine since 2005, plus objective ratings and test results from both Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for cookware and supermarket ingredients.

Let us make a simple, no-nonsense offer. Try out our website FREE for a 14-Day, No-Hassle Trial Offer. We’re pretty confident that CooksCountry.com will quickly become an invaluable resource for everything from a quick Tuesday supper to your next get-together with family and friends.

Thanks for your consideration,

The Editors of Cook’s Country

The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.