Last month, I noticed that a number of people land on this website by searching for the terms, “silken vs soft tofu” “difference silken soft tofu” “soft silken tofu”, and the various variations on those two terms. It never occurred to me that people would be confused by those terms.
As a kid enjoying a very large selection of tofu, including many of the 9 Types Of Tofu You’ve Never Heard Of, I assume everybody knows the difference. Not the case.
Well, for those who are befuddled by the difference between silken and soft tofu, here’s the grand answer:
What is the difference?
There is none. Silken tofu is soft tofu. Soft tofu is silken tofu. They are the same thing!
Let’s peel back the onion to see why. Tofu is simply coagulated soy milk. If you let the soy milk coagulate and drain it, but you do not press it, then you get soft, silken, jiggly tofu with the consistency of a firm custard. If you press it with a cheesecloth, then you end up with a medium-firm, firm, or extra-firm tofu. It follows the same process as cheese if you consider how milk curdles and coagulates to form ricotta to mozzarella to parmesan.
Soft, or silken tofu if you prefer, has the highest water content and therefore less fat and protein compared to its firmer tofu cousins.
I did a rigorous experiment where I went to my local Asian supermarket and bought all the tofu I could find labeled “silken” or “soft” (and one “extra soft”). I discovered empirically from my supermarket test that soft and silken tofu are indeed the same texture and level of firmness.
The biggest difference in the 5 different tofus I purchased was that one silken tofu was very clearly much firmer than the rest. There was another variety that was much softer than all the rest. Why? Because of the Extra-Soft Tofu and the Extra-Firm Silken Tofu.
Let’s Throw In Extra-Soft Tofu. What’s That?
Truthfully, I hadn’t experienced extra-soft tofu much until I moved to Los Angeles. Thanks to the abundance of Korean restaurants, especially in K-Town, I came to enjoy extra-soft tofu in the Tofu Bowls they serve in hot stone bowls.
This Extra-Soft Tofu is much softer and more delicate than even soft/silken tofu. You can at least pick up soft tofu with chopsticks, albeit with a lot of difficulty. But extra-soft tofu is in a different league; it has to be eaten with a spoon. According to the Tofu page on Wikipedia, extra-soft tofu is most commonly found in Korea.
The closest thing that Chinese people have is Dou Hua, a soft tofu pudding eaten with a drizzle of palm sugar (or maple syrup if you Americanize it like me).
What’s With the Different Grades of Silken Tofu?
I discovered at the grocery store that silken tofu has different grades of firmness, which is confusing as hell.
What is the difference between
- soft silken tofu
- firm silken tofu
- extra-firm silken tofu
In fact, all I discovered was that extra-firm silken tofu should simply be called medium-firm tofu. Don’t get confused or you’ll go home wondering how you got tricked into buying firm tofu.
If you’re expecting a tofu with a wiggly, jelly (or jello for the Americans), custard-like texture, opt for the soft silken tofu. Skip the extra-firm silken tofu and get medium-firm tofu instead.
What’s Silken and Extra-Soft Tofu Good In?
Soft tofu is delicious in Egg Drop soup. Heat chicken broth in a pan and add green onions. Add a few cubes of soft tofu and soy sauce. When the soup comes to a boil, add a tablespoon of tapioca starch dissolved in 1/3 cup of water straight into the soup. Stir until the soup thickens. Then crack an egg and swirl it until you get long, pretty strands of yet. Voilà Egg Drop Soup with soft tofu.
There is also a classic Shanghainese dish with Thousand-Year Egg (or pidan for the Chinese), spring onions (green onions for the Americans), soy sauce, and sesame oil. You can use extra-soft tofu for this dish but I find it is too soft.
As a result, I can’t pick up tofu with chopsticks, so I prefer using soft tofu in the dish.
Extra-soft tofu is a real treat. Last weekend, I used blended extra-soft tofu with frozen blueberries and strawberries to make a thick creamy smoothie, that was completely vegan.
In addition to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese recipes using extra-soft tofu, you can add it to cakes and other desserts as an egg substitute. Even though I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I enjoy the texture and flavor it adds.
If you are, extra-soft tofu would be a great way for you to make creamy desserts and puddings!