10 Types Of Tofu You’ve Never Heard Of

If you’re curious about tofu, this article introduces you to different types of tofu you’ve likely never heard of. Say goodbye to bland, watery white cubes. Instead, you’ll learn about flavor-packed tofu and what dishes they are good in.

Alex and I began to eat more tofu as a way to reduce meat in our diet. Tofu helps us balance out the cost of higher-quality meat. However, preparing tofu dishes quickly became mundane because we only cooked with boring brick tofu sold in a tub of water.

RELATED: How to Eat Less Meat Without Becoming Vegetarian

Luckily I remembered the myriad of exotic and delicious tofu from my childhood. We began to explore our great love of tofu thanks to the different tofu varieties available. Tofu is like pasta — the same underlying foundation (soybeans) make up so many shapes, textures, and other variations to enjoy.

This article introduces you to the new types of tofu we have come to love. We also continue to develop our recipes to best showcase each tofu’s flavor characteristics.

Here are the 10 different types of tofu you’ve probably never heard of and tips on how to enjoy them.

Noodling

1. Marinated Tofu Noodles

What Does It Taste Like?

Marinated tofu noodles are usually marinated in a Chinese 5 spice and dark soy sauce mix, hence the color. If you’ve ever eaten Chinese tea eggs, then you’ll know what this marinated tofu tastes like.

Its texture is quite dense because it comes from a sheet of firmly pressed, marinated tofu that is cut into fettuccine-style noodle strips. The noodle shape gives this tofu’s texture a springier feel in your mouth because you feel like you’re eating noodles rather than a solid block of tofu.

What’s It Good In?

Although the marinated tofu noodles have Chinese 5 spice flavor, they are unsalted. I like to slather them with a peanut butter and sesame oil dressing with a lot of dark soy sauce. It makes the dish very rich and umami.

Sometimes, I use these tofu noodles as a wheat noodle substitute because I LOVE noodles but try to avoid diabetes. In those dishes, I like to cook ground pork with mushroom and throw in the marinated tofu noodles instead of adding udon noodles, which is typically the dish calls for.

2. Tofu Noodles (Soy Bean Curd Noodles)

What Does It Taste Like?

These unflavored tofu noodles are much smoother and softer than the marinated tofu noodles.

They are also thinner than the marinated tofu noodles. I believe it’s because they are pressed less so they have higher water content.

I like to compare these tofu noodles to spaghetti noodles whereas the marinated tofu noodles are like fettuccine.

What’s It Good In?

There is a terrific Chinese tofu salad dish that uses this kind of tofu noodle. The dish is served with julienned carrots and cucumbers, which provide a wonderful refreshing quality to the tofu. It is a delicious treat that Alex and I look forward to during hot summers. The dressing for the tofu salad contains sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. My friend, Kari, has a secret ingredient she puts in her tofu salad: Sichuan peppercorn oil. It’s the good ol’ mouth-numbing stuff.

I regularly replace regular wheat noodles with these tofu noodles too. I love eating Korean NongShim Shin Ramyun Noodles but sometimes I want a higher protein, lower carb option. So, I save half of the spicy flavor packet. At a later time, I pour the spicy seasonings over my tofu noodles. It’s like the real thing. Yum!

Recipes With Tofu Noodles

Tofu Noodle Salad with Carrot and Cucumber
This tofu noodle salad hits the spot by providing a low-carb alternative to pasta. You'll love the garlic and apple cider vinegar dressing. Coupled with Lao Gan ma chili sauce, this refreshing salad is addictive!
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Deep Fried

3. “Fake Meat” Bean Curd

What Does It Taste Like?

This precooked bean curd is fried and designed to look and taste like meat. You could imagine it like a seasoned chicken breast after you slice it. As a result, it tastes amazing. It is ready to eat as it is already flavored.

The taste reminds me of Buddhist temple food, probably because the monks eat a lot of this kind of tofu since they are vegetarian (though I’m not sure that their tofu is fried).

It is oily, but not greasy. It has a mildly salty, soy sauce flavor, waiting for you to add your embellishments to it.

It has a relatively dense texture. Though, it is much less dense than the marinated tofu noodles because this deep-fried tofu is layered and you can unravel the layers.

What’s It Good In?

I like to cut it into thick strips and throw it into any stir-fries I cook.
A stir-fry with broccoli, zucchini, and/or carrots would pair very well with this deep-fried tofu.

Because it is already so oily, I significantly cut back on the oil I add to the wok. You might even get away with adding the fried tofu in first to grease the wok and then push it to the side to avoid pulling the layers apart while you cook the vegetables.

This fried tofu is originally made from tofu sheets that are formed into a dense block. A lot of the imitation meats popular in Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, like fake chicken and fake duck, taste like this deep-fried tofu. I’ve never tried tofurkey so I can’t compare it. But if I ever do, I’ll let you know if it is the same thing.

4. Tofu Sponge

What Does It Taste Like?

Again, thanks to deep-frying, this tofu sponge is delicious. It is almost completely “empty” on the inside so most of the flavor comes from the deep-fried skin outside. It’s unsalted and unflavored. The only flavor you taste is deep-fried deliciousness.

The tofu is the least dense out of all the tofu featured in this article. It’s mostly air inside the tofu.

What’s It Good In?

Because this tofu is empty inside, it is fabulous at soaking up liquid and flavors, hence the reference to “sponge”. I LOVE putting this tofu in curries and soups. You might have already enjoyed these tofu sponges in Thai coconut curry or Malaysian noodle soups. It is amazing for cold winter evenings.

I mix green Thai curry paste, coconut cream, chicken broth, tofu sponges, mushrooms, and sometimes a vegetable like lettuce into a soup pot. Add a kaffir lime leaf and heat for 15 minutes. Dinner is ready!

RELATED: Learn more about tofu sponge, including how to find it and cook it.

5. Deep-Fried Firm Tofu

What Does It Taste Like?

This deep-fried firm tofu is a cousin to the tofu sponge. The difference between deep-fried firm tofu and tofu sponge is that tofu sponge is hollow inside. That’s what makes tofu sponge absorb sauces so well.

Deep-fried firm tofu is deep-fried with a flavorful exterior that has a nice rough texture to pick up sauce. On the inside, there is delicate white tofu that is soft and tender. It tastes like deep-fried deliciousness on the outside and the inside is pretty bland which makes it perfect for picking up your stir fry sauce.

What’s It Good In?

I point to this deep-fried firm tofu every time someone tells me tofu is too bland or too healthy. Because the exterior has a sturdy fried shell, deep-fried tofu holds up well to stir frying. It picks up sauces well in its nooks and crannies. It’s also terrific in curry and braises, though I’d still recommend the tofu sponge for soaking up sauces.

Recipes With Deep-Fried Firm Tofu

Stir Fry Tofu and Broccoli With Hoisin Sauce
This tofu stir fry uses fried tofu which provides a chewy texture on the outside contrasted with a tender and soft inside. The contrast in textures is what gives this dish a pop on your first bite.
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Silken

6. Silken Tofu vs. Extra Soft

What Does It Taste Like?

Silken tofu, often labeled as extra soft tofu, is like a cross between jello and pudding. It’s jiggly like jello but doesn’t hold its shape and will break apart easily.

Like its name describes, silken tofu is smooth and light. It comes unflavored with a very mild tofu taste.

Silken and extra soft tofu are technically 2 different varieties. Silken tofu usually comes in a plastic container whereas extra soft comes in a tube. Extra soft tofu has the highest water content of all fresh tofu and is the softest and lightest.

I use both silken and extra soft tofu interchangeably in my cooking but I do recognize that they are different and have different uses. Perhaps I’ll zoom in to cover the differences in-depth in a later article.

Because of how fragile it is, it is challenging to cut silken and extra soft tofu into cubes. For silken tofu, I use a knife to cut it into squares inside the container and then pour it all into the pot in one go to avoid breaking it further. For extra soft tofu that comes in a tube, I use a knife to cut the tube in half, then I squeeze the tofu out. As it is about to drop into the pot, I cut it into big chunks with the knife knowing it will eventually break apart on its own as I stir the soup.

RELATED: Check out the story Do you need to press silken tofu? to learn more about preparing silken tofu.

What’s It Good In?

Extra soft tofu is fantastic in any soup. I’m talking about soups that are less vicious, like Chinese soups or chicken noodle soup. Extra soft tofu wouldn’t work in thick soups or stews like potato leek soup or clam chowder. Silken tofu is delicious in soups as well.

Because it is so fragile, you can’t stir fry it; it would disintegrate with a couple of turns in the wok.

Ever tried egg drop soup or hot and sour soup at a Chinese takeout restaurant? They probably put some silken tofu in the soup.

It’s wonderful in the Thai coconut curry soup instead of tofu sponge.

Mapo tofu uses silken tofu and it is a fantastic dish. So tasty with a lot of umami flavor.

Douhua (tofu pudding), a Chinese tofu dessert, also uses silken tofu. It’s plain tofu, heated to lukewarm, topped with syrup.

Finally, I also love silken tofu chopped up with century egg (also called thousand-year-old egg or pidan), green onions, and a touch of sesame oil. Check out the silken tofu with green onion recipe.

Silken and extra soft tofu are made using a different method than the firmer fresh tofu. Namely, tofu makers use acid-based coagulants, often similar to what’s used to make cheese, rather than salt-based coagulants. Silken and extra soft tofu are also never pressed which allows them to be softer and retain more water compared to the denser tofu like the tofu noodles and marinated tofu cakes.

Recipes With Silken Tofu

5-Minute Silken Tofu with Green Onion
This easy vegan recipe using silken tofu is a quick-to-make appetizer. You'll love the silky texture. Bump up the recipe to serve a family by doubling all the ingredients.
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5-Minute Homemade Vegan Miso Soup With Silken Tofu and Seaweed
You'll love this belly-warming miso soup during cold wintery nights. It only takes 5 minutes and you can add any garnishes to tailor it to your tastebuds. Add a dash of sesame oil for extra indulgent miso soup.
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7. Egg Tofu

RELATED: Read this egg tofu guide for the fundamentals on how to prep, cook, and buy egg tofu.

What Does It Taste Like?

Egg tofu is very similar to silken and extra soft tofu in texture except that it has a sturdier structure. Yes, it comes in a tube, and it looks fragile. Yet, I found it held its shape very well, closer in texture to jello than silken or extra soft tofu.

The egg tofu I bought came unflavored. But I discovered that you can find some varieties of egg tofu with a savory, umami flavoring thanks to the addition of dashi.

What’s It Good In?

Egg tofu contains egg which gives it a pale-yellow color. The addition of egg gives egg tofu a firmer texture than silken and extra soft tofu. This makes pan frying egg tofu the ideal way to cook and serve it. Pan frying gives egg tofu a bright golden shell and adds a fragrant crispy texture. Unfortunately, the egg makes egg tofu off-limits for vegans. Not a problem for my diet, but a bummer for vegans who are turning to tofu for the extra protein.

Because egg tofu’s texture is so similar to silken tofu, I use it in soups in the same way I use silken tofu. You can learn more ways to cook and enjoy egg tofu, including the pan-fried egg tofu with chopped cilantro recipe on the What Is Egg Tofu? article.

Recipes With Egg Tofu

Pan-Fried Egg Tofu With Chopped Cilantro
Rich and fragrant egg tofu slices are pan fried until golden brown. Double the recipe to serve 4 to 6 people. You'll want to finish it within 10 minutes of pan frying because it won't be crispy as leftovers the day after.
Get the Recipe

Dense

8. Tofu Knots

What Does It Taste Like?

Also called bean curd knots, tofu knots are a variation on the tofu noodles. They are made from a sheet of dry, extra firm tofu. The only difference is the tofu knot is cut into thicker strips and tied into a knot.

Because of the shape, bean curd knots are denser than tofu noodles. When you bite into the knot, there’s a lot more tofu to chew on. They also pick up sauces very well, much like the difference between penne versus spaghetti pasta.

What’s It Good In?

I like to dress bean curd knots with thick and chunky sauces, including my peanut butter, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil dressing with roughly chopped fresh cilantro on top.

A thick chunky doubanjiang, thinned out with some oil and water (or chicken broth), is a delicious accompaniment to bean curd knots as well.

Recipes With Tofu Knots

Tofu and broccoli salad with spicy garlic-green onion oil dressing
This tofu and broccoli salad shines thanks to the garlic-green onion oil dressing. Unlike traditional Western dressing, this oil dressing is refreshing and aromatic. Enjoy the dish with lean proteins or fish for a light, summery meal.
Get the Recipe

9. Five-Spice Dry Tofu

What Does It Taste Like?

Five-spice dry tofu (I also like to call them marinated tofu cakes) are blocks of extra firm tofu that has been pressed such that as much water as possible is squeezed out, hence the “dry” in its name.

There are various marinades but the most common is the dark soy sauce and Chinese five-spice flavors, which is why this type of tofu is commonly called five-space dry tofu.

I love marinated tofu because it is hardy and versatile. Since it is already flavored, I can simply add soy sauce and sesame oil and it’s ready to eat. It also stands up well to stir-fries and is the least likely to fall apart because it is the densest of all the types of tofu I cover in this article.

What’s It Good In?

I like to thinly slice the marinated tofu cakes and add them to any soups I make. I also like to throw them into a stir-fry. After the oil gets hot, I throw in finely diced garlic. Then I put in the tofu and soy sauce. Finally, I add whatever vegetables I am stir-frying.

Recipes With Five-Spice Dry Tofu

Stir Fry Tofu, Cabbage, and Shiitake Mushrooms
The five-spice tofu fries beautifully in this recipe to provide a crispy, golden crust that contrasts with the soft mushrooms and sweet cabbage. Make extra for leftovers because this dish reheats easily.
Get the Recipe
5-Minute Five-Spice Tofu with Peanut Butter Sauce
The star of this recipe is the creamy and savory peanut butter sauce. You can serve it with the five-spice tofu. Or you could use it as a dip for carrot sticks. Or a salad dressing over blanched broccoli.
Get the Recipe
Tofu, Red Cabbage, Carrot, and Mushrooms Stir Fry
This recipe uses block tofu and red cabbage. You can substitute other types of tofu and vegetables, including green cabbage, zucchini, or broccoli. Enjoy the stir fry with cilantro as a garnish.
Get the Recipe

Defrosted

10. Defrosted Tofu

Comparison of extra firm tofu, fresh (top), defrosted (bottom).

Defrosted tofu is a bit of a cheat considering it is just taking regular tofu, but frozen, and then defrosted. But I consider it a type of tofu because it transforms regular fresh tofu into an entirely different form. Freezing tofu changes the texture.

Comparison of firm tofu, fresh (top), defrosted (bottom).

What Does It Taste Like?

The texture becomes rougher and spongier. The tofu adopts a yellowish tint, though the flavor doesn’t change. Most importantly, it becomes more absorbent and better at soaking up sauces and liquids.

How Do You Make It?

I take regular block tofu that comes in a plastic tub submerged in water. I drain the tofu, chop it into cubes, and then I freeze the cubes. Once frozen, I defrost them, and they are ready to use. Learn more about how to freeze and defrost tofu.

What’s It Good In?

My friend Libby demonstrated this technique of freezing and defrosting tofu when we prepared ingredients for hot pot more than 10 years ago. She mentioned that the freezing made the tofu better at picking up flavors and soaking up the delicious hot pot soup.

She was right. Defrosted tofu is exceptional at holding hot pot soup. Therefore, it makes the tofu extra flavorful once it’s cooked in hot pot and dipped in special hot pot sauces. Just be careful of spicy hot pot soups. You might be surprised by how spicy the tofu becomes once it picks up spicy hot pot soup.

Whenever I see instructions on a package of tofu that warn me to never freeze, I think to myself, “pffff what terrible advice.” Freeze tofu and use it correctly. You’ll love it.

Comparison of extra firm tofu, fresh (top), defrosted (bottom).

What’s The Science Behind It?

It seems that tofu forms large ice crystals when it is frozen. There are probably pockets of water in the tofu structure that expand when frozen to create the cavities that result in a sponge-like texture when defrosted. As a result, when you defrost, you’ll find soggier tofu. Never fear. Just squeeze out the excess water and your defrosted tofu is ready to use.

RELATED: Check out the story Does Tofu Melt?

Summary

There are so many different varieties of tofu. This article has touched on a tiny number compared to the vast number of soy-based foods out there. For example, I didn’t cover bean curd sheets used to create vegetarian “fake” meats or fermented tofu for slathering on ong choy (also known as water spinach). And we didn’t even touch on the love-it-or-hate-it stinky tofu.

Here’s a little cheat sheet to help remind you of the different types of tofu this article covers.

Next time you are at the Asian grocery store, take a chance on a new type of tofu. You will be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Even if you don’t have access to a Chinese supermarket near you, you can buy regular tofu and experiment with freezing and defrosting it. I guarantee that you’ll be surprised by how different it tastes.

READ NEXT: How to use silken tofu in fruit smoothies for tasty, high-protein breakfasts & snacks

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on GarlicDelight.com with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

3 thoughts on “10 Types Of Tofu You’ve Never Heard Of”

  1. While your descriptions and photos were spot on, the entire article is lacking any actual naming of tofu types. That, in turn, makes asking for a particular type in an Asian market almost impossible.

    For example, what you call “firm tofu” is called “老豆腐” (lǎo dòufu) in Chinese. It would have been very helpful if you had included the Chinese names (both in Chinese characters and in “pinyin”), so that people could show the Chinese store workers exactly what they want.

    Reply
  2. Do you know what type of tofu they use in 干锅千页豆腐? I thought it was an egg type of tofu but I can’t find it anywhere!

    Reply
    • Hey Zoe, it looks like it’s a specific type of tofu they call 千页豆腐. I’m seeing in all the Chinese recipes, they specify 1 package of 千页豆腐, e.g. “千页豆腐1盒”. If you can’t find it in supermarkets outside China, you might get away with extra firm tofu, pressed against paper towels to soak up the water. Otherwise, you could try a block of un-marinated tofu cakes. I’ve seen them sold plain without the 5 spice marinade.

      Let me know if you give it a go and how the dish turns out.

      Reply

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