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:
- Soft silken tofu: Soft silken tofu is so delicate that you can’t pick it up with your hands without breaking it. Soft silken tofu is best for blending in smoothies, using as an egg and butter substitute in vegan baking (pies, cheesecake, mousse, custard, etc.), and in soups (like 5-Minute Miso Soup). You will need to eat soft silken tofu with a spoon because chopsticks and forks will not be able to pick up this tender silken tofu.
- Firm silken tofu: Firm silken tofu is more rigid than soft silken tofu, but it is still tender. Firm silken tofu is best for braising (mapo tofu), using as a topping on salads and pizza (like a substitute for feta or mozzarella), and in Chinese cold dishes (like Silken Tofu with Green Onion).
- Extra-firm silken tofu: Extra-firm silken tofu has the strength of Jell-O. You can pick it up with your hands, and it will not break easily. Extra-firm silken tofu is ideal for stewing and braising, especially if you need to turn tofu a lot while it braises. It is also possible to bake and stir fry extra-firm silken tofu, though I would avoid it and use regular brick tofu instead. You can blend extra-firm silken tofu for smoothies and desserts or use it as a topping like firm silken tofu.
Does the Firmness of Silken Tofu Matter?
If a recipe doesn’t specify which firmness of silken tofu to use, then you can use any kind of silken tofu. If there is only 1 type of silken tofu in your local grocery stores, then that’s the only one you can use.
Most of my cooking (and the resulting recipes on Garlic Delight) uses soft or firm silken tofu. Buy whatever silken tofu your grocery store is selling, you can use it for blending, baking, or braising without any problems.
If you have the option to choose different levels of firmness, you can pick the silken tofu that best works for your recipe by thinking about how you plan to prepare the silken tofu.
If you plan to blend it or don’t mind it being the consistency of firm custard, then use the soft silken tofu. If you need sturdier silken tofu, opt for a choice closer to the extra-firm silken tofu.
Why Eat Silken Tofu
A Delightful reader Gregory wrote to 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 half 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 near impossible to grill.
Yet, its creamy and silky texture is why silken tofu is prized for delicate dishes that feature silken tofu alone. It is also ideal for soups and braising (very gently, of course). And it’s fantastic in vegetarian and vegan dishes where you can use silken tofu as a substitute for dairy and animal-based products.
Silken tofu is a miraculous ingredient for vegans and lactose-intolerant dessert-lovers because silken tofu is a fantastic egg, cream, and butter substitute. It stands in for many animal-based products. A lot of vegan recipes use silken tofu purée 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”. This soft tofu is the Chinese-style, regular block tofu’s version of silken tofu. Just like silken tofu, it is delicate and not pressed.
Although soft tofu has a similar consistency and texture to silken tofu, the texture of soft tofu is coarser than silken tofu.
In this side-by-side comparison of silken tofu and soft tofu, notice the pores in the soft tofu are larger than silken tofu.
Soft tofu vs. Silken Tofu Taste Test
I gave Alex and my friend Cris a bite of soft tofu and silken tofu. They both said they could tell a difference in the mouthfeel. It’s not that one kind of tofu tastes better. They are simply different.
You can use soft tofu and silken tofu interchangeably. Both soft tofu and silken tofu work well in desserts like dou hua, in soups like egg drop soup, or blended in vegan desserts and smoothies. Silken tofu will have a smoother, silkier texture.
How to Prep Silken Tofu
Silken tofu is usually made by pouring soy milk into a container and adding the coagulant. It is never pressed. Because silken tofu forms directly in its container, it has a delicate, gel-like texture. That is how silken tofu can take on its container’s shape. As it is delicate and breaks apart easily, you need to take extra care when you prep silken tofu.
The main ways to prepare silken tofu are:
- Chop silken tofu into cubes
- Purée silken tofu in a blender
How to Eat Silken Tofu Raw
As I explain in my Tofu Guide for Beginners, tofu is made from cooked soy milk. So you can eat silken tofu straight from the packaging without cooking.
RELATED: Read the answer to Can You Eat Tofu Raw?
Here are a few ways you can enjoy silken tofu “raw”.
I like tofu jelly, a.k.a. dou hua, a soft tofu pudding eaten with a drizzle of palm sugar or honey (or maple syrup if you Americanize it). You can use soft silken tofu for this dessert. Eat it cold straight from the fridge, at room temperature, or even zap it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes to warm it up. Serve the block of silken tofu straight and use a spoon to scoop bites of silken tofu lightly sweetened.
TIP: Because I struggle to pick up soft or firm silken tofu with chopsticks, I use a spoon to enjoy silken tofu.
One of my favorite way of eating silken tofu “raw” is in smoothies and dark chocolate pudding.
You can blend silken tofu, and add the tofu purée to cakes, pies, custards, 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!
How to Cook Silken Tofu
Silken tofu is very common in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean savory dishes. It has caught on in the vegan world as well.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I learned to love soft silken tofu in the steamy tofu soups that all the restaurants in K-town serve. The spicy tofu soup was served in stone bowls and had tender silken tofu that you could barely scoop up with a spoon.
The tofu soup from these Korean restaurants is similar to egg drop tofu soup that you may have enjoyed at your local Chinese restaurant. Here’s a template for how to make your own at home.
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.
A similar soup dish that uses cubed silken tofu is the 5-Minute Miso Soup With Silken Tofu.
Silken Tofu Works Well With…
- Ground meat (mapo tofu)
- Eggs (egg drop soup, custards such as pumpkin pie)
- Chocolate (chocolate pudding, chocolate pie, chocolate custard)
- Fruits in smoothies (berry smoothies, mango smoothies, green smoothies)
- Green onion
- Broth (chicken broth, pork broth, vegetable broth for tofu soups)
- Soy sauce
Recipe With Silken Tofu
How to Substitute Silken Tofu?
Substituting silken tofu depends on what recipe you’re using it in. Let’s assume the recipe is a savory dish like miso soup calling for silken tofu. You can substitute with regular block tofu. If you can find soft tofu, that would be better but firm tofu works too.
Silken Tofu vs. Firm Tofu
WARNING: Regular block tofu and silken tofu have different textures. Avoid substituting silken tofu for regular tofu in a stir fry or baking it as silken tofu is too soft. Soft and firm silken tofu would fall apart before you could get it into the wok.
If you’re making a smoothie or baking with silken tofu, you can substitute with yogurt, cream, milk, butter, egg, or ice cream if you don’t have silken tofu on hand. If you need a vegan option, you can substitute with apple sauce, mashed banana, or coconut cream.
How to Buy Silken tofu
You can buy silken tofu in the 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 tofu selections and may not sell silken tofu.
I 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 in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Silken tofu is also sold in aseptic packages, like what UHT milk is packaged in (no need to refrigerate until you open the package). 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 Block Tofu and Soft Silken Tofu at Your Grocery Store
I went to my local Asian supermarket for an observational study. I bought all the tofu I could find labeled “silken” or “soft” (and one “extra soft”).
In the end, I had 5 different packages of tofu. 4 of them were silken tofu and 1 was soft block tofu.
You can tell from the picture that 1 tofu is much firmer than the rest (upper left corner of the photo). 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 stir frying and is best used in soup or blended in a smoothie.
RELATED: Check out the article Does Tofu Melt?
I discovered in my supermarket test that some brands use the label soft and silken tofu interchangeably.
Talk about confusing. So here is a clue I use to figure out which to buy. If the tofu manufacturer doesn’t clearly label whether the tofu is silken or regular soft, I 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. It’s not a perfect test but it has worked multiple times.
Silken tofu is also often sold in an aseptic carton so you can look for that packaging as a clue.
How to Store Silken Tofu
Unopened packages of tofu last a long time. You can check the expiration date to ensure your tofu hasn’t gone bad.
If you open silken tofu, I like to store in the refrigerator. The main thing you want to avoid is drying out silken tofu. I store the leftover silken tofu in a container with the lid on or a bowl with a plate over it. That way the fridge doesn’t dry out the tofu. I find silken tofu weeps a lot of excess water so I don’t store it covered with water like I would with regular brick tofu.
I consume silken tofu that has been opened within 5 days. If the silken tofu has sat in the fridge for more than 3 days, I try to cook it by boiling it in soup.
Can You Freeze Silken Tofu?
Yes, you can freeze silken tofu. It will become denser, firmer, chewier, and spongier. However, I don’t feel this is a great use of silken tofu because it’s meant to be eaten for its tender and silky texture. You should freeze block tofu instead if you want firmer, spongier tofu that soaks up sauces.
If you want to prolong the shelf-life of your silken tofu because it is about to expire, freezing it may be an option instead of wasting it.
FAQs About Silken Tofu
Is Silken or Regular Soft Tofu More Nutritious?
Silken tofu has a higher water content and less fat and protein compared to firmer regular tofu that has been pressed.
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.
Is Silken Tofu Gluten Free?
Yes, silken tofu is gluten free. Check out the beginner’s guide to tofu for answers on whether tofu is vegan and gluten free.