The Vegan's Guide to Tofu: Textures, Products, and When Tofu Is Not Vegan

Discover tofu varieties and non-vegan tofu products to beware.

Close-Up Of Tofu With Sauce In Plate
Ngoc To Vy Nguyen / EyeEm / Getty Images

Tofu is a soy-based food that is best known as a vegan source of protein. While almost all tofu products you find in stores will be vegan, some have non-vegan additives worth nothing. Here, we explore tofu's vegan status and why it gets our stamp of plant-based approval.

Why Is Most Tofu Vegan?

The basic recipe for tofu involves curdling or coagulating soy milk (prepared soaking and grinding soybeans until you get a milky consistency) and forming it into solid blocks. There are no animal products involved in this part of the production process. From there, a variety of techniques are used to achieve different textures and consistencies that work in sweet or savory recipes.

When Is Tofu Not Vegan?

While most tofu is vegan, certain products may have added ingredients to flavor or alter the texture of their tofu, rendering it a non-vegan food. To see if a flavored or altered tofu product is vegan, check the label for animal products such as milk, fish, eggs, or honey.

Keep in mind that restaurants may use tofu as an ingredient for dishes that also contain chicken or pork for added texture and density. Likewise, beware of "stinky" tofu (popular in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China) that adds shrimp brine or milk to the recipe during fermentation. When in doubt, ask your server for the ingredients in a dish before ordering.

Tofu Textures

cold tofu on wooden table
Silken tofu is the creamiest of the tofu varieties. taa22 / Getty Images

A good rule of thumb to follow when picking the right packaged tofu for a specific recipe is that more water content makes the tofu softer and silkier.

Silken/Unpressed

This is the softest and creamiest tofu with a very high moisture content and a more delicate flavor than regular packaged tofu. It is a good substitute for dairy products when creating desserts and smoothies.

Regular

Tofu with regular firmness is firmer than the silken type. It is often used in soups, broths, and stews to add texture and density.

Firm

With a texture similar to feta cheese, firm tofu is often sold while still submerged in water to keep it fresh and can be easily marinated or seasoned to duplicate some animal-based proteins.

Extra/Super Firm

With less water content, extra-firm tofu doesn’t absorb marinades as well. It is best when cooked for fried tofu dishes and stir-fry dishes

Vegan Tofu Byproducts

Speaking of texture, some of the byproducts of tofu, when you confirm they're plant-based, add extra dimensions to recipes or can be seasoned at home and enjoyed as a snack.

  • Tofu skin
  • Tofu sticks
  • Fried tofu
  • Tofu pockets
  • Tofu puffs

Types of Non-Vegan Tofu

Fried stinky tofu with chili dipping sauce
Stinky tofu is sometimes prepared with fish brine, making it non-vegan. Ivan / Getty Images

Proceed with caution when considering these tofus. Before buying and eating, make sure to confirm through an ingredients label or a vendor that animal products were not used in its production or fermentation.

  • Fermented varieties, such as stinky tofu, often involve the use of fish or shrimp brine, or dairy.
  • Frozen, or kori tofu, that is freeze fried may have animal-based additives.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can vegan people eat tofu?

    Yes! Tofu is entirely soy-based in its basic form, therefore it is safe for vegans.

  • Are seitan and tempeh types of tofu?

    No, both are different from tofu. Seitan is made from wheat gluten, and although tempeh is made from soy, the whole bean is used in its fermentation process. Despite their differences, the three are usually vegan.

  • Is tofu dairy-free?

    Almost always, tofu is dairy-free. Check the labels or with a server to make sure dairy-based ingredients are not included.