7 Fantastic Alternatives for Tofu
Tofu is one of those foods that you either love or hate. But we think tofu has a bad reputation and we’re ready to change it!
It is believed that tofu was invented by accident when a Chinese cook accidentally added nagari to a pot of simmering soy milk! As you may have guessed, tofu is made from soybeans, using a similar process to cheese making.
Instead of heating dairy milk and curdling it with bacteria or acid, for tofu, soy milk is heated and curdled with a special protein. The liquid is then strained and pressed into blocks. The result can be quite bland, as it often doesn’t contain any other ingredients, but the good news is, tofu is super absorbent, so anything you marinate tofu in will sink right in!
Tofu comes in a variety of types and textures. The very soft (or ‘silken,’ which is a shelf-stable variety) tofu is gelatinous and creamy and blends easily. The firm tofu is sliceable and holds its shape when cooked. Tofu also comes pre-cut and marinated in a variety of flavors… looks like we’re not the only ones trying to change your mind about tofu!
Tofu is super nutrient-dense and contains almost no fat. It is rich in calcium and plant-based protein, and is a very important ingredient in many Asian cultures for its affordability and versatility.
It is becoming much more popular in Western cultures, especially for vegans and vegetarians, and is likely available at any grocery store near you. However, if you cannot find tofu, or still feel averse to it, here are a few great tofu substitutes to try.
Tempeh is a perfect substitute for tofu as it is made in a very similar way with similar ingredients. Both are made from soy. However, tempeh often contains other grains (lentils, millet, quinoa, etc), meaning it is even higher in protein and fiber!
Tempeh is also made by pressing blocks of curdled soy milk, the only real difference being that tempeh goes through a fermentation process. This means tempeh often has a deeper, richer flavor, which some describe it as nutty and dense, and is actually even more nutritious.
Tempeh lovers swear by its versatility and say it is easier to digest than tofu, which makes sense because of its long fermentation. Tempeh is an ideal substitute for tofu, especially firm or extra firm tofu, when baked or marinated, in soups, sandwiches, and even when grilled.
However, if you’re looking for a replacement for soft tofu, you may want to look to one of the other ingredients on this list.
Seitan is another product that is loved in the plant-based world because it serves as a meat substitute. Seitan differs substantially from tofu because it is made with wheat gluten kneaded with water, spices, and sometimes soy sauce.
It is then steamed (or baked) in loaf forms, and then served any way that meat might be served – grilled, fried, stewed, shredded, etc.
It is popular on sandwiches or in soups, so it serves as an excellent tofu replacement! It is important to note that the flavor and texture of tofu and seitan are quite different, so it may not always be the best substitute, but it is a tasty one and worth trying!
2. Nuts, Especially Cashews
Soft tofu is often blended and turned into condiments or used to make creamy soups. For anyone with a soy allergy, or if you cannot find tofu, you can certainly use cashews for the same effect! It is recommended that you use raw cashews for this, and soak them overnight in cold water.
You can then blend them and achieve a very similar result to blended soft tofu! The fat content of cashews adds a richness and depth of flavor.
Another great protein-rich alternative to tofu is beans! Beans of all kinds, but especially pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans, or kidney beans.
These will all work well in soups, salads, or in main dishes. You can also mash beans to turn them into a paste, which is similar to medium tofu for using as a binding agent for patties or fritters.
Beans are a super healthy food because, like tofu, they are full of fiber and very low in fat. Beans also keep you full for a long time and can be bought pre-cooked in cans, or boiled and cooked at home, which is the most economical option.
4. Texturized Vegetable Protein
Otherwise known as TVP, Texturized Vegetable Protein is a dried, high-protein option that can be hydrated, cooked, and used in place of tofu.
TVP is a favorite in the plant-based community because it is shelf stable and very cheap. Once hydrated, it can be simmered or pan-fried, and it acts like shredded meat, making it a favorable tofu replacement! TVP can be flavored with virtually anything and is nutritious and low in fat!
5. Cheese (Vegan or Non-Vegan)
If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, there are some great vegan cheese brands available which make for a great tofu substitute. Many vegan cheeses are made with soy milk so the consistency and taste will be similar.
Meat, especially chicken, is a great replacement for tofu! Chicken is high in protein as well, and chicken breast is relatively lean, making it a healthy option. Chicken can also be marinated and flavored in any way you want and, like tofu, is very versatile.
If you have a recipe that requires firm tofu, such as stirfry, pasta, soup, or curry, you can absolutely use diced chicken instead! It is worth noting that chicken must be thoroughly cooked, whereas tofu can be eaten raw, so you will need to cook your recipe for longer.
Mushrooms are similar to tofu in texture and water content and are famous for being little sponges that absorb just about anything! Mushrooms, like tofu, can also be eaten raw or stewed, sautéed, fried, grilled, or baked, making them super versatile.
Mushrooms can be added to tofu or used as a replacement. Although mushrooms are very nutritious, they do not contain nearly as much calcium or protein as tofu, so if you’re using mushrooms as a replacement, you may want to also add some nuts, beans, or meat to your dish too.
As tofu becomes more popular in the Western world, it is becoming increasingly easier to find in big grocery stores and even in small shops. This is a wonderful thing for those who enjoy it! However, there will always be folks unwilling to try it and even those who don’t like it.
Soy allergies are also becoming more prevalent, so there is a need for these delicious and affordable substitutions. We think you’ll find any one of these a good alternative to cooking with tofu and encourage you to try any one or all of them! Tempeh is likely the best bet for firm tofu replacements, whereas blended cashews are a great alternative for soft tofu.
Related: Vegan Moussaka Recipe