What Is Bean Curd? Learn All About It & How To Cook and Store It

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Odette Modified: January 30, 2023
What Is Bean Curd? Learn All About It & How To Cook and Store It
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Bean curd, more popularly known as tofu, originated in China and has been a staple in Chinese cuisine for more than 2,000 years upon its invention. However, it didn’t take long until it found its way across neighboring Asian countries such as the Philippines, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, and more. Even so, each cuisine has its own unique and different way of making and preparing this ingredient.

But it didn’t stop there. Despite making its way into Western cuisine as early as the 18th century, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it grew in popularity as a substitute for meat. Whereas in China, it is used as a primary ingredient for savory dishes. However, other varieties can be used as an ingredient for dipping sauces and desserts. But nowadays, it’s only your creativity in the kitchen that is the limit for bean curd.

If you are new to soybean curd and tofu, you may have a limited idea of how to cook and prepare this ingredient (aside from using it as one of your ramen toppings). You can discover more through our guide below to get you on your way to making delicious bean curd recipes!

What Is Bean Curd: Taste, Health Benefits, and More

Taste, Health Benefits, and More

Bean curd is made from soybeans. To be exact, it is made from coagulated soy milk. If you’ve never tasted and/or seen soybean curd before, you might think it tastes a bit more on the bland side. But before you back out and miss on this amazing ingredient, it’s important to know that soybean curd is not exactly priced for its initial taste. In fact, soybean curd is famous for being a “clean canvass” because it absorbs and goes along with any flavor you put into it.

Interestingly, bean curd tofu can be enjoyed however you like. You can fry it, bake it, enjoy it as a dessert, or you can even grind it and make it into a baked tofu burger.

Additionally, you’d get more than just finger-lickin’ dishes from soybean curd. Soybean is also a great source of 9 nine amino acids that’s important for strength and muscle development. Because of this, vegetarians, vegans, and the health-conscious consider tofu as their holy grail and go-to food. Moreover, it is a good way to stay healthy and fit.

Want to explore more healthy snacks that can satisfy your palate and cravings? Check out 55 healthy foods to eat that you can add to your everyday meals.

Bean Curd vs Tofu vs Tempeh

tempeh tofu, tempeh vs tofu vs bean curd

If you tell anyone you didn’t confuse bean curd with tofu or tempeh at one point, you’d probably be lying. Confusion with these three is pretty common not just among Westerners, but Asians alike.

We mentioned how bean curd is also known to many as tofu. However, technically speaking, the two are different. How? To start, tofu is a by-product of bean curd. You get bean curd when you mix soy milk with a coagulant like lemon juice and vinegar. So in short, bean curd is curdled soy milk. Bean curd is then pressed and made into what we know as tofu. To cap it all off: tofu is bean curd, but bean curd isn’t exactly tofu. However, in the culinary world, bean curd has eventually become synonymous with tofu.

On another note, like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans that are curdled and pressed into blocks. The difference is from the soybeans that are used. Tempeh used fermented soybeans before being compacted and pressed into blocks. So in comparison to tofu, tempeh has a nutty and savory flavor while tofu is clean and flavorless.

Types of Soybean Curd

You’ll never know what confusion is unless you’ve wandered in Asian groceries and found several preserved tofu available, wondering what to pick. And that’s okay! Being new to soybean curd also means confusing it with other types of curd in the market. That said, you can always check our guide below and review each type of soybean curd you’ll need for your recipe.

Soft Silken Bean Curd (Silken Tofu)

Silken tofu

Wikimedia Commons | fireworks

Silken tofu is one of the main types of tofu you’ll often find in Asian groceries. Essentially, this is one of the silkiest and creamiest tofu there is, having an almost jelly-like texture.  So, if you find yourself wanting to try this ingredient, it’s best to use it as you would ricotta cheese or thick creams. But it also works in a variety of dressings such as ranch, caesar, and peanut butter. Intriguingly, you can also make whipped silken tofu as a substitute for whipped cream if you want to stay healthy.

Soft and Medium Bean Curd

medium bean curd

Flickr | Edsel Little

Soft and medium soybean curd is rougher and denser in texture compared to silken tofu. However, like silken tofu, it is also not great at holding its shape. Even the most delicate of handling will get this ingredient cracking and breaking. For this reason, you would often find this curd in noodles and soups that don’t require much stirring like soups and stews. Popular dishes that use this ingredient are miso soup and the traditional mapo tofu recipe.

Firm Bean Curd

firm tofu

Flickr | Jenny Hones

Firm bean curd, or firm tofu, holds its shape best over other types of bean curd. Depending on the amount of water you squeeze out, firm and extra tofu can be characterized as spongy and airy to dense and rubbery in texture. The firmer the tofu, the easier it is to handle. With that said, firm and extra firm tofu are relatively easier to handle than the rest of the other types as well. You will have no problem glazing and searing this ingredient for your tofu bao buns recipe. And, it can be used in a variety of ways too. You can bake it, fry it, and grill it. You can also deep-fry this tofu and it will hold its shape nicely.

Bean Curd Sheets (Tofu Skin)

Tofu skin

Flickr | Andrea Nguyen

Bean curd sheets, more commonly known as tofu skin, are the formed skin on the surface of boiling soy milk. It’s then collected and made into three varieties. Initially, there is fresh and dried tofu skin, but you can also ferment it. In Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine, fermented tofu skin is more favored as a condiment. However you like to enjoy them, dried and fresh tofu skin has the same clean and subdued flavor of the soybean curd.

Season your tofu skins right and you’ll be able to use them as an alternative to meat. These types can especially replicate chicken and duck in both flavor and texture.

Fried Bean Curd (Tofu Puff)

deep fried tofu puffs

Tofu puffs are bite-sized tofus that that are fried to a crisp. Despite what they look like, its interior is chewy and soft. Their spongy and airy texture allows this tofu to absorb sauces. In Japan and Korea as well as some other Asian countries, they are pre-packaged for fast and easy meal prep. Throw them into in your pad thai noodles and it will go along with its sweet and spicy flavor. You can also enjoy it on its own or dip it in your favorite dipping sauce.

Another variation of tofu puff is tofu pockets. To make tofu pockets, simply slice the tofu puff in the middle to create a pouch. This variation of tofu puff is especially famous in Japan where it is often stuffed with seasoned rice, then topped with nori flakes or furikake.

Seasoned Bean Curd

seasoned bean curd

Flicker | kattebelletje

If you often found yourself pressed for time, you may try seasoned bean curd that’s easier to prepare. Basically, seasoned bean curd is just tofu steeped in seasonings. The best part? They’re also sold pre-seasoned in most Asian groceries. So anytime you want seasoned tofu, just run to the nearest Asian markets near you. Or you can make this ahead of time to whip up future meal preps quicker. Moreover, there are several ways you can season your tofu. One way is by making a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and sesame. For Koreans, however, a combination of ketchup, honey, sesame oil, minced garlic, and gochujang (Korean chili paste) is the favorite.

Smoked Bean Curd

smoked bean curd

Flickr | Marco Verch

Smoked tofu is a crowd-favorite not just in Asian countries but also among vegetarians and vegans everywhere who miss the smokey aroma and flavor of bacon and ham. You make smoked tofu by, of course, smoking them. But not just any tofu. You smoke seasoned tofu to lend it different flavors in contrast to its initial flavorless taste. You can enjoy this any way you want: pair it with rice, add it to your favorite sandwich, or as an additional flavor to peanut tofu wrap.

Doufuhua (Douhua)

Flicker | Choo Yut Shing

We mentioned how silken tofu is one of the silkiest tofu among the rest. Douhua — short for doufu hua — on the other hand, is even silkier and softer than the silken tofu. Though it can be used for savory dishes as well, douhua is more popularly known in China as a bean curd dessert called dao foo meaning bean curd flower. This dessert is also common in the Philippines and goes by the term taho.

In China, it is served with a sugary syrup and sweet ginger. While in the Philippines, it is often accompanied by sugar syrup and sago or pearls

Cooking with Bean Curd

bean curd recipes

Now that you’ve seen different types of soybean curd, you’re now ready to try your first attempt at cooking it. You may check some recipes below that you can try at home:

  • Vegetarian Buffalo Nuggets – Are you craving for Wendy’s buffalo nuggets but you’re determined to eat healthily? You can try this vegetarian copycat of their recipe instead. This deep-fried goodness whips up in a jiff and is a healthy alternative to your fast food and meat cravings. It makes for good late-night snack too!
  • Tofu Stir Fry – Trying to get in shape means being a healthy eater, and so this bean curd with mixed vegetables will make a good addition to your diet. Just stir and throw all the ingredients in vegetable stock to make a scrumptious yet healthy feast.
  • Tofu Lasagna – If you’re vegetarian, you’ve probably tried this recipe already. For those who don’t know, this lasagna recipe uses tofu in place of the usual beef. And if you’d like, you can also use firm tofu to substitute for ricotta cheese. Have a semblance to the classic lasagna with this tofu lasagna recipe with basil and Italian cheese.

How to Store Bean Curd

Like any food you leave out in the open, soybean curd can attract nasty bacteria that will speed up its spoilage process. To slow this down, refrigeration is a must. Regular tofu can be stored for one to two weeks if left unopened and refrigerated. Once opened, remember to change water every day to help it last for at least five days. Fermented tofu, on the other hand, can last for 12 months if you store it the right way. An airtight container stored in the refrigerator works best for this curd variety.

Bean Curd Is a Versatile Ingredient

There are just so many ways you can incorporate bean curd into your delectable dishes. To start, try one or two from the recipes we listed above. Use soybean curd and we’re sure you’ll start getting creative in the kitchen too!

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Odette is a content writer and proofreader by day, and living her inner artist as a poet and singer by night. She's also a former member of a publication who she now mentors from time to time. She likes how sharing a tiny bit of her life and her journey can help others in return. And because she is a curl embassador, she finds joy in empowering fellow curlies to embrace their natural curls. She also loves doing random acts of service to people she loves by cooking for them during her free time. This girl loves anything pasta and French cuisine though she just went through her Japanese and Korean cuisine phase.