With the endless tofu varieties available, the difference between silken vs soft tofu can be confusing. Learn whether silken and soft tofu are the same things and how to make the most out of each tofu type.
Growing up, I enjoyed a large selection of tofu, including many of the 9 Types Of Tofu You’ve Never Heard Of. But I never learned the details behind how tofu is made and the resulting tofu varieties.
Digging into research, tofu is simply coagulated soy milk, similar to how cheese comes from milk curds. However, there are 2 main methods of making tofu:
- Chinese style: A coagulant (such as calcium sulfate) turns soy milk into soy curds (why tofu is often called “bean curd“). This traditional style of tofu has holes like a slice of bread and is usually pressed to extract water.
- Japanese style: A coagulant (such as glucono delta-lactone) turns soy milk into tofu with a texture like jelly. It usually has no holes and breaks apart with pressure, meaning you can’t press it.
What is the difference between silken vs. soft tofu?
First, let’s establish the difference between “regular” and “silken” tofu:
- “Regular” tofu is made using technique #1, a.k.a. “Chinese style”
- “Silken” tofu is made using technique #2, a.k.a. “Japanese style”
What’s “regular” (or traditional) tofu?
“Regular” tofu is the traditional tofu that you typically find in a plastic container sitting in your grocery store’s refrigerated section.
Because this tofu has a hardier texture, you can further strain it with a cheesecloth or press it between paper towels.
How does “soft” tofu relate to regular tofu?
Regular tofu comes in the following firmness:
- soft regular tofu
- medium regular tofu
- medium-firm regular tofu
- firm regular tofu
- extra-firm/super-firm regular tofu
Therefore, you can buy “regular soft” tofu which is a block of tofu has a higher water content than its medium or firm tofu cousins. But the regular soft tofu still has a craggy texture and was pressed, made using the Chinese-style technique #1.
What does “silken” tofu mean?
Silken tofu often comes in a plastic container in the refrigerated aisle but it can also come in an aseptic package like UHT milk.
Because its texture is too delicate to strain, silken tofu is usually poured into its container where it coagulates and forms a gel-like, non-porous texture. That’s why the silken tofu can take on its container’s shape.
Silken tofu is very common in Japanese and Korean dishes. Chinese people love silken tofu as well
How does “soft” tofu relate to silken tofu?
Silken tofu comes in the following firmness:
- extra-soft silken tofu
- soft silken tofu
- firm silken tofu
- extra-firm silken tofu
Similar to regular tofu, you can buy “soft silken” tofu, which is the most delicate and tender and has the highest water content out of the 3 levels of firmness.
Where can you buy silken tofu?
I have seen silken tofu at traditional supermarkets like Safeway.
However, Costco and other stores with limited grocery selection like Target may not have silken tofu.
Your best bet is to visit your local Asian supermarket for silken tofu, and you get to enjoy the extensive variety of tofu as a side benefit.
What I discovered from the supermarket experiment
I “ran” an experiment where I went to my local Asian supermarket (99 Ranch) and bought all the tofus I could find labeled “silken” or “soft” (and one “extra soft”).
I purchased 5 different tofus. 4 of them were silken tofus and 1 was a soft regular tofu.
You can tell from the picture that 1 tofu is much firmer than the rest (upper left). This was the soft regular tofu.
The tofu on the upper right was the extra-soft silken tofu. It was so soft that I had trouble removing it from its container without smushing it. It would never stand up to a stir fry and is best used in soup or blended in a smoothie.
How to distinguish soft regular and soft silken tofu at your grocery store
I discovered in my supermarket test that some brands use the label soft and silken tofu interchangeably.
TIP: “Regular” is not a label you will see on a tofu container. In case the tofu manufacturer didn’t clearly label whether the tofu is silken or traditional style, shake the container and feel whether the tofu wiggles.
If it doesn’t move, it’s likely silken because silken tofu usually takes up all the room in the container. You can also poke it and see if it has a jelly-like texture.
How to enjoy silken tofu
Truthfully, I hadn’t experienced extra-soft tofu much until I moved to Los Angeles. Thanks to the abundance of Korean restaurants, especially in K-Town, I came to enjoy extra-soft silken tofu in the Tofu Bowls they serve in hot stone bowls.
I would enjoy silken tofu like tofu jelly, a.k.a. Dou Hua, a soft tofu pudding eaten with a drizzle of palm sugar (or maple syrup if you Americanize it like me).
You can also cube the silken tofu and serve in miso soup
Silken tofu is commonly served in Egg Drop soup.
How to make Egg Drop soup with silken tofu
- Heat chicken broth in a pan and add chopped green onions.
- Add a few cubes of soft tofu and soy sauce.
- Dissolve a tablespoon of tapioca starch in 1/3 cup of water. Add this mixture into the soup once it is boiling. Stir until the soup thickens.
- Then crack an egg and swirl it until you get long, pretty strands of egg white.
Voilà Egg Drop Soup with silken tofu.
There is also a classic Shanghainese dish with Thousand-Year Egg (or pidan for the Chinese), spring onions (green onions for the Americans), soy sauce, and sesame oil. You can use soft silken tofu for this dish.
TIP: I can’t pick up soft and extra-soft silken tofu with chopsticks easily. It’s OK to use a spoon to enjoy silken tofu.
My favorite way of using silken tofu is in smoothies and dark chocolate pudding.
In addition to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese recipes using extra-soft tofu, you can add it to cakes and other desserts as an egg substitute. Even though I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I enjoy the texture and flavor it adds.
Silken tofu is an excellent great way for you to make creamy desserts and puddings without using dairy!
FAQs on silken vs. soft tofu
Is silken or “regular” soft tofu more nutritious?
Silken tofu has the highest water content and therefore less fat and protein compared to its firmer traditional tofu cousins.
What is a good substitute for silken tofu?
Usually, tofu is used as a substitute for dairy and other animal products.
Let’s assume, you’re asking if you can substitute regular tofu for silken tofu.
The answer is it depends.
Regular/traditional and silken tofus have very different textures. If you are using regular tofu in a stir fry or baking, the silken tofu will be too soft. It would fall apart before you could get it into the wok.
However, if you needed to substitute silken tofu in a soup, you could replace it with regular tofu.
Likewise, you wouldn’t want to substitute silken tofu with regular tofu in. a smoothie. You’d end up better off substituting yogurt or ice cream instead.
Can you eat silken tofu without cooking it? / Can you eat tofu raw?
Yes, you can add silken tofu directly into your dishes and smoothies without cooking it.