With the endless tofu varieties available, the difference between silken vs soft tofu can be confusing. Learn what silken tofu is, why you should eat silken tofu, how to cook it, and how it differs from soft tofu.
What Is Silken Tofu?
Silken tofu is one of the main types of tofu (the other main style of tofu is the Chinese-style, block tofu). It is also called Japanese-style tofu and is known for its silky, creamy, jelly-like texture.
Silken tofu is made with a coagulant that allows the soy milk to solidify in its container. That is why silken tofu is typically sold in aseptic containers.
Silken tofu is never pressed, which allows it to have the smoothest and finest texture, giving it a jelly-like consistency. It also has the highest water content and the lowest protein content compared to regular brick tofu.
Firmness Scale of Silken Tofu
Silken tofu comes in the following levels of firmness:
- Extra-soft silken tofu:
- Soft silken tofu: This
- Firm silken tofu:
- Extra-firm silken tofu:
Why Eat Silken Tofu
A Garlic Delight reader Gregory wrote me, “I’ve tried some silken tofu at a Chinese buffet, which may not be the best place to rely on the quality of the product. I could not see the reason for eating it.”
Gregory’s right. As a substitute for meat, silken tofu isn’t going to cut it. It’s soft and breaks apart. The jelly-like consistency makes it impossible to stir fry or grill.
Silken tofu is also a godsend to vegans and lactose-intolerant dessert-lovers because silken tofu is a fantastic substitute for dairy and other animal products. A lot of vegan recipes use silken tofu purée is an excellent substitute for egg, cream, and butter in custards, cakes, pie fillings, and other baked desserts.
You can use silken tofu in smoothies in place of milk, cream, ice cream, and yogurt as it offers a high-protein, dairy-free base for your blended drinks (and still has more body than almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, or coconut milk).
What Is the Difference Between Silken vs. Soft Tofu?
The biggest question I get asked is what’s the difference between “soft tofu” and “silken tofu”. Let’s tackle this question and learn how to best enjoy silken tofu vs. soft tofu.
What Is Soft Tofu?
“Regular” tofu is the traditional block tofu that you typically find in a plastic container sitting in your grocery store’s refrigerated section.
Block tofu comes in various levels of firmness. The softest form of Chinese-style tofu is called “soft tofu”. In other words, soft tofu is the Chinese-style, regular block tofu’s version of silken tofu.
Because it is the softest kind of block tofu, soft tofu has a similar consistency and texture to silken tofu.
How to Prep Silken Tofu
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.
How to Cook Silken Tofu
Silken tofu is very common in Japanese and Korean dishes. Chinese people love silken tofu as well
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
How to Make Egg Drop Soup with Silken Tofu
Silken tofu is commonly served in Egg Drop soup.
- 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!
Silken Tofu Works Well With…
- Smoothies (berry smoothies, mango smoothies, green smoothies)
- Ground meat
Recipe With Silken Tofu
How to Substitute Silken Tofu?
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, for a smoothie or baking, you should stick with silken tofu instead of substituting regular tofu. You’d end up better off using yogurt or ice cream if you don’t have silken tofu on hand.
How to Buy Silken tofu
You can buy silken tofu in refrigerated section of large grocery stores that sell a large variety of products, like Safeway and Whole Foods, as well as in Asian grocery stores. However, Costco, Target, and Trader Joe’s have more limited grocery selections and may not sell silken tofu. I typically find an extensive variety of tofu, including silken tofu with multiple levels of firmness at my local Asian grocery store.
Silken tofu can be sold in a plastic container like block tofu next to the pre-washed bagged salad greens. Silken tofu is also sold in aseptic packages, like what UHT milk is packaged in. In the Asian grocery store, silken tofu is usually sold next to the block tofu and refrigerated fresh noodles.
TIP: You can buy tofu that might not be labeled silken tofu but the product is similar, such as dou hua.
How to distinguish soft regular and soft silken tofu at your grocery store
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 tofu I could find labeled “silken” or “soft” (and one “extra soft”).
I purchased 5 different tofu. 4 of them were silken tofu 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.
RELATED: Check out the story Does Tofu Melt?
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.
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.
Can you eat silken tofu without cooking it?
Yes, you can add silken tofu directly into your dishes and smoothies without cooking it.
Learn more about eating silken tofu raw from the post Do you need to press silken tofu?.
Is Silken Tofu Vegan?
Yes, silken tofu is vegan friendly. Check out the beginner’s guide to tofu for answers on whether tofu is vegan and gluten free.