The Tofu Aisle
While Westerners sometimes view tofu as a specialty item, it is one of the most ubiquitous foods in Japan, where there is no stigma associated with vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian diets. In fact, tofu is a staple in many dishes that also include meat or fish.
A previous article covered the history of tofu and how it is made. Now, we’re going to take a look at the different kinds of tofu available in Japan. As you’ll see, the range of tofu and tofu-related products is staggering.
This article is broken down into three sections. First, we review basic tofu and its many different firmnesses and production methods. Second, we explore tofu alternatives, dishes that resemble tofu, but are not actually made from soybeans. Lastly, we dive into the world of tofu byproducts.
Tofu for Your Everyday Needs
Japan has several common forms of tofu:momendōfu (firm tofu),kinugoshidōfu, (silken tofu), andsofutodōfu (soft tofu), a median between the two. In addition to these, there arejūtendōfu, oborodōfu,andzarudōfu, which are distinguished by their production processes and rather interesting textures.
Jūten dōfuis a quick form of tofu. Rather than being pressed,nigari is added to a thick soymilk before being poured directly into plastic containers, which are then sealed and heated before being cooled. This process creates a tofu similar in texture tokinugoshi dōfu, or silken tofu, and is more conducive to mass-production than regular tofu.
Oborodōfu, also known as Okinawanyushitofu, is the un-pressed curds formed whennigariis added to soymilk. It is thought to be an indicator of the craftsperson’s skill as the process of creating curds is the most essential part of making tofu.
Lastly,zarudōfuisoborodōfu that has been strained, forming firmer curds that are often used in salads and dressings.
A Little Variety Goes a Long Way
Tofu varieties can also be characterized by small deviations from regular production methods.
One group, katadōfu(firm tofu), is thought to hold the roots of tofu production in Japan.
In this category we haveshimadōfu, an extra-firm type of tofu originating from Okinawa, andōbakudōfu from Uji, a city in Kyoto Prefecture. In addition to these, there are other variations known asishidōfu,iwadōfu, anditsukidōfu that either use thicker soymilk, longer time under pressure, different amounts ofnigari, or even sea water as the coagulant.
Further, there are varieties of tofu that aren’t actually tofu, but simply tofu-like dishes. The most famous of these isgomadōfu, or sesame tofu, which is made from ground sesame paste,kudzupowder, and water. It has a custard-like texture and is a staple inshōjin ryōri,traditional Buddhist cuisine.
Another popular tofu-like dish istamagodōfu, or egg tofu. As the name suggests,tamagodōfu is made from eggs rather than soybeans and is a flan-like custard similar to the Japanese dishchawanmushi.
In addition to these, there are “tofu” dishes made from far more unexpected ingredients like peanuts, ground and jellied acorns or apricots, and even the Japanese blue oak tree nut.
From Tofu, By Tofu
The last group of tofu products consists of byproducts from the production process.
As mentioned earlier, making tofu generates okara,a soy pulp made from the solids strained from the soymilk after cooking. Rich in fiber and protein, okarais added to a variety of dishes, including the popular side dish unohana,a mixture ofokara, soy sauce, mirin, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and burdock root.
Next, there isyuba, or tofu skin, which is formed during the process of cooking soymilk. As the soymilk is heated and then cooled, some of the proteins from the soybeans rise to the surface and coagulate, forming a chewy, layered product known asyuba.
Finally, there is a seemingly endless list of tofu products made from tofu itself.Aburaageandatsuageare two types of deep-fried tofu products,aburaagebeing thin sheets of tofu shaped into little pockets, andatsuage being regular blocks of tofu that have been fried until their exteriors are golden brown. There is alsokoyadōfu, or tofu that has been freeze-dried and has a light, spongy texture great for absorbing sauces and broths. Another staple isyakidōfu, or blocks of grilled tofu often used in hotpots like sukiyaki. Finally, there is a dish known asganmodoki, a fried fritter made from a mixture of mashed tofu and vegetables, often carrots, lotus root, and burdock.
More Than Meets the Eye
As you can see, tofu is far more than a white, bland block. Even the simplest tofu dish,hiyayakko, a dish consisting of fresh chilled tofu garnished with grated ginger, katsuobushi (skipjack tuna) flakes, scallions, and soy sauce, can be incredible in its subtlety and depth of flavor.
Fresh tofu is difficult to come by in North America, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving tofu a try. Experimenting with tofu just might lead to discovering a new favorite dish!
Try making one of these tofu recipes:
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!
Smith, Ryan. “Ben Franklin May be Responsible for Bringing Tofu to America.”https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ben-franklin-may-be-responsible-bringing-tofu-america-180968495/