So you’ve decided to make a tofu recipe. Now you’re in the supermarket staring at over three types of tofu, not knowing which one to pick. And there’s even tofu in a tube—what even is that?!
The first thing you need to know about tofu is that it’s not a one-all ingredient. It comes in all shapes and sizes with varying textures depending on how it was processed. And each one functions differently, so there’s a right (and wrong) one to use for specific methods.
In Metro Manila, the most common types of tofu you’ll find are tokwa, firm tofu, egg tofu, soft tofu, and silken tofu. This guide breaks down each one so you know which one to use for different recipes.
Tokwa is the Filipino term for tofu. It’s typically in block form and is drier than firm tofu, making it a close equivalent of extra-firm tofu. It’s also slightly tangy and has a thicker “skin.”
You’ll find tokwa used in most Filipino tofu dishes such as tokwa’t baboy and adobong tokwa. It’s denser, so you can agitate it in a pan (i.e. for stir-fries) without the risk of it falling apart. Because it doesn’t have a lot of water content, it cooks faster; though the trade-off is that it takes on less flavor than softer types of tofu.
Firm tofu is—as the name suggests—firm. It’s pressed, so it contains less water. That means it holds its shape very well during cooking; it doesn’t break too easily. It also absorbs flavor very well, given that you season or marinate it as you would meat. When cooked, firm tofu has an almost rubbery texture that precedes a soft center.
If you’re making savory recipes and you’re not sure what type of tofu to buy, firm tofu is probably the safest choice because of its versatility. You can use it as a meat substitute, fry it, bake it, or even use it to fill dumplings. It’s great to crumble into smaller pieces for tofu scramble, and works as a substitute for ricotta or feta cheese.
Egg tofu falls in between firm and soft tofu. It’s made using eggs, which helps it become more stable, though it’s still creamy and delicate. You can pan-fry it, but it can’t take a lot of agitation. So it’s best to handle egg tofu with silicon kitchen utensils to avoid piercing through it.
Egg tofu comes in plastic tubes. To use it, you slice it through the packaging (there’s usually a line that tells you where to do it), then squeeze out the tofu. After that, you can slice it up into disks.
Egg tofu is also called “scallop tofu” because it resembles scallops once sliced.
Silken tofu is an unpressed and undrained type of tofu—it’s basically coagulated soy milk. It has a more jelly-like, custardy texture; it’s so soft that it’s scoopable. That said, it comes in three consistencies: soft, firm, or extra firm, depending on the amount of soy protein it contains. (Most supermarkets only sell one type of silken tofu and you can use whichever for recipes that call for it without specificity.) Silken tofu also has a more delicate flavor, and it can take on almost any taste you mix it with.
You can use silken tofu for hotpots and soups (it’s what’s used in Korean spicy tofu soup) or add it to sweet stuff like smoothies and desserts, as well as blended food. For general use, you can interchange it with soft tofu.