If you haven't gotten much into tofu yet, silken tofu could convert you. From luxurious silken tofu dessert recipes to every day soups and smoothies, getting the hang of silken tofu cooking will really add to your dietary repertoire. It's mild flavor and silky texture suits even novice palates.
Andrea Nguyen, Vietnam-born food writer, cook and James Beard Award winner, has some tips and insider secrets you're going to need the next time you try your hand at silken tofu cooking. As someone who knows everything there is to know tofu-related (even how to make your own), it's advice well worth taking on board.
What Is Silken Tofu?
Most types of tofu are made by curdling a freshly made soy milk. But similar to cheese, there are several different types with different textures, dependent on how much water they still contain. Silken tofu is the softest type, and can be compared to a young soft white cheese such as mozzarella, burrata or an unripe French cheese. Regular tofu, the most common, has a similar texture to a Greek feta cheese, while very firm tofu is closer to a Cheddar for example.
When you cut into silken tofu you'll find it gelatinous and very smooth. And unlike a block of regular tofu, which is often sitting in a puddle of drained water, silken tofu is generally not watery. Similar to a set yogurt, silken tofu is often made direct in the container it is sold in.
"The difference with silken tofu is that it is coagulated without curdling the rich-tasting soy milk," Nguyen tells LIVESTRONG.com. "The curds and whey never form, resulting in its softer velvety texture."
Silken Tofu Buying Tips
Ngyuen advises buying silken tofu from the chilled section, rather than in aseptic shelf-stable packs. She says the boxed stuff is emergency tofu — fine for camping trips as it doesn't need to be refrigerated, but simply not as good tasting as the fresh stuff. Better still try to find a local supply by Googling "X location tofu maker" or "X location fresh tofu."
It's also worth checking the ingredients to see what coagulant has been used to make it. Nguyen says silken tofu made with nigari (containing magnesium chloride) and/or gypsum (calcium sulfate), produces a softer and more creamy product, whereas glucono-delta-lactone produces a silken tofu that is easier to handle but with a slightly more rubbery, gelatin-like texture.
Nguyen recommends organic, non-GMO tofu, especially Japanese brands like Nasoya, which tend to make creamier, softer silken tofu. Trader Joe's also sells a decent organic silken tofu. Nguyen admits to often rummaging around at the back of the shelf to find the freshest pack in the store and says you should too.
Though all forms of silken tofu are softer, smoother and more "wobbly" than standard tofu, you may still find it available in soft and firm varieties. The latter is made from a denser, richer soy milk that has less water in it. Both soft and firm types are good for silken tofu dessert recipes and the like, but whereas soft silken tofu will practically run through your fingers and is spoonable, the firmer version can be sliced into and retains its shape when boiled in a broth, for example.
Keep It Simple
Silken tofu "cooking" doesn't have to involve much time in the kitchen. In fact some of the easiest and tastiest firm silken tofu recipes don't involve cooking at all. One of Nguyen's favorite firm silken tofu recipes is hiyayakko, a classic Japanese no-cook dish in which silken tofu cubes are simply topped with punchy ingredients to make a simple appetizer or canapé.
"People often think that silken tofu is for whizzing up into other dishes but it's awesome chilled, cut into cubes," says Nguyen. "Drizzle on some good soy sauce, add grated ginger and herbs. You could even use it instead of mozzarella in a Caprese."
Cubes of silken tofu are also wonderful when warmed in miso or other soup, turning a light snack or appetizer into a more substantial meal.
What you won't generally find among a list of firm silken tofu recipes are stir-fries (for stir-fries, it's recommended that you use a regular, extra firm tofu, which stands up much better to being pushed around a pan). It is possible (and yummy) to serve silken tofu battered and deep-fried in a vegan version of a snack similar to mozzarella sticks. But this does take quite a bit of practice and is definitely not the healthiest way of consuming tofu!
A Dairy Substitute
For vegans or people with a dairy allergy, soft silken tofu can be a substitute for egg, cheese or yogurt in some recipes — for example, try making a nondairy cottage cheese substitute by whizzing up silken tofu for the liquid part and crumbling in some standard firm tofu for the curd texture.
Nguyen points out the tofu used to switch out dairy depends very much on the application: When subbing ricotta, she uses standard medium-firm or firm tofu. In applications like saag soy paneer, standard firm or extra-firm tofu is her choice. She makes a vegan mayo with silken tofu.
In fact soft silken tofu lends itself very well to being whisked into salad dressings and used to make silken tofu sauces or smooth, creamy smoothies like a berry almond smoothie.
Delicious dairy-free silken tofu dessert recipes are another great area to explore. For a simple treat dessert, try blending 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips with a pack of silken tofu and a teaspoon of vanilla extract (or Grand Marnier) and spreading this over a crushed Graham cracker base, before chilling. Or opt for this decadent pumpkin cheesecake, perfect for Thanksgiving.
Silken Tofu Health Benefits
Of course using using silken tofu in desserts that also contain lots of sugar and fat doesn't magically make them healthy. But on it's own, silken tofu is a nutritious low fat, protein-containing ingredient. According to the USDA, an 84 gram slice of firm silken tofu (Mori-Nu brand) provides just 2.7 grams of fat, along with 5.8 grams of protein, which is a similar amount of protein to the amount you'll find in a medium egg.
The levels of minerals in silken tofu vary depending on the coagulant used, but it may have up to 75 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams (3.5 ounces), according to the USDA's evaluation of several different brands. By comparison, there's 156 milligrams of calcium in 3.5 ounces of plain low-fat yogurt. Calcium is vital for healthy bones.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) lists soy, including tofu, in its list of "foods that fight cancer," highlighting isoflavones, saponins, phenolic acids and sphingolipids as the potentially cancer-protective plant chemicals. Soy isoflavones do not increase the risk of breast cancer as once thought, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- USDA FoodData Central: “Egg, Whole, Raw”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Vitasoy USA, Organic Nasoya Silken Tofu”
- USDA FoodData Central: "Yogurt, Plain, Low Fat”
- USDA FoodData Central: "Mori-Nu Tofu, Silken, Firm"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: “AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer”
- Mayo Clinic: “Will Eating Soy Increase My Risk of Breast Cancer?”
- Viet World Kitchen: "Andrea Nguyen (Personal Interview)"
- Vegan Society: "Quiche (Gluten Free)"
- Nasoya: "Berry Almond Smoothie"
- Nasoya: "Pumpkin Cheesecake"