It’s natural, when first learning to cook with tofu, to be a little overwhelmed by all the different varieties available at the supermarket. If your recipe doesn’t specify what kind of tofu to buy, you may find yourself wondering whether to purchase a silken, firm, or extra firm package of tofu. While they are similar and are often interchangeable in recipes, there are also some key differences between them. There are two main types of tofu, silken and regular, and each variety can be found in soft, firm and extra-firm consistencies. While made from the same ingredients, they are processed slightly differently.
Silken tofu is very soft and crumbles easily. If you’re preparing a soup, salad dressing (tofu can be used as a thickener), sauce or cream, or a dessert, this is the best type of tofu to use. As mentioned previously, silken tofu is available in several different consistencies, but honestly I’ve found that there is little difference between the different kinds of silken tofu; for most purposes, they seem interchangeable.
Silken tofu is most often packaged in containers that require no refrigeration before opening. Because it is shelf-stable, it is sometimes located in a different part of the store from regular tofu (usually in the Asian or health food aisles). Silken tofu, when pureed, has a texture much like that of pudding and is also great for using in cream pies, smoothies, cheesecakes, and milkshakes. This is the one type of tofu that you can’t press to dry out. You generally cannot substitute silken tofu for firm or extra-firm tofu in recipes.
Regular tofu is more common than silken tofu; it’s the kind that comes in the plastic containers you’ve likely seen in the refrigerated or produce section of your grocery store. If you’re preparing a dish where you want the tofu to retain some of its shape when cooked (such as in dishes that call for crumbling or mashing the tofu), then firm is your best bet. Its texture makes a great replacement for eggs either in egg salad or in egg scrambles. It can also replace ricotta cheese in vegetarian lasagna. In a pinch, you could use firm instead of silken tofu in a recipe. Just run the firm tofu through your blender a few times (you may need to add a little liquid, such as your favorite kind of milk) before making the recipe so that it resembles the texture of silken tofu. Your recipe likely won’t turn out as creamy as usual, but it should still work.
When you want tofu to hold its shape, its best to choose extra-firm tofu. This type of tofu works well for stir-fries (or sukiyaki), and is great for when you’re grilling, baking, or frying tofu slices. In addition, while many people use silken tofu when making soups, depending on the recipe you might like to try extra-firm (such as when cooking miso soup) instead because it holds together better than the other varieties of tofu.
If you or someone in your household doesn't like the regular texture of tofu, you might try freezing it. This makes the tofu a bit chewier (I’ve heard the texture compared more to that of regular meat). You should note that the color will also change when you freeze it, but it should return to its off-white shade after thawing.