A History Of Tofu: How It's Used Across Various Cuisines
Image Credit: Tofu

The Origin Of Tofu

Tofu has its origins in China, where it was first cultivated in the Yangtze River Valley in 5000 BC. It was then introduced to Japan around 300 BC. It wasn’t until around 700 AD that soybeans were first imported to the Middle East and India, where it was then cultivated. Tofu was mentioned in a number of ancient texts, with some even suggesting that the food was a significant contributor to the health of the ancient Chinese. It was an important food to the ancient Japanese, and the earliest evidence of tofu finding its way to Europe can be traced to the late 16th century when Portuguese traders were documented to have brought soybeans to Europe. While soybeans were widely cultivated in the Americas and Europe at this time, they weren’t widely used as a food source until the 19th century when they were introduced to Asian countries by Western traders.

The History Of Tofu In Asia

The earliest known written record of tofu comes from China’s Neolithic Age, where it was being grown as early as 5000 BC. Researchers believe that this tofu was made from soybeans, rather than soy milk, as the method of making the food was different. The ancient Chinese were renowned for their tofu, and it was used in a variety of recipes. It was often served alongside soy sauce, and fermented tofu was even used in Chinese medicine. The Chinese were also credited with inventing the tofu press, which allowed them to increase the number of soybeans that could be extracted from the beans.

Types Of Tofu

Tofu can be classified by texture or consistency. The more the water content in the tofu, the softer or ‘silkier’ the tofu. The lesser the water, the firmer the tofu. Different types of tofu are:


Silken tofu, or Japanese-style tofu, is silky, creamy and has the highest water content. It will fall into pieces if you try to hold it. It resembles mozzarella and is used as thick cream or fresh cream cheese in dishes. 


This tofu is used mostly in Asian dishes. It is more compact than silken tofu but still soft. It easily soaks up the flavors of sauces and is used in noodle soups and stews.  


This type is the most popular tofu available in supermarkets. It is quite compact and can be pan-fried, stir-fried, deep-fried, used in stews, etc. It has to be fully dry before cooking.


Extra-firm tofu contains less water than firm tofu, it doesn’t absorb marinades well. But is easier to pan-fry, stir-fry or deep-fry.  


Super-firm tofu can easily be mistaken for meat because it is so dense. It is a great meat substitute and can easily be cut into slices, sticks or cubes, mixed with marinade, and pan-fried.  

Seasoned Tofu

Tofu may also be sold as pre-seasoned tofu in packets which allow you to cook it immediately. They maybe tomato flavored, basil-flavored and can be eaten pan-fried, stir-fried, deep-fried, grilled, etc. 

Smoked Tofu

This tofu is extra-firm with a smoky flavor. It gets its smoky flavor from the beech wood. It can be pan-fried, stir-fried, etc. 

Tofu à La Minute

They are small tofu pieces that are pre-marinated and pre-cooked. You just have to add them to a stir-fry dish, or fry them in oil till crispy and add to salads and stews. 

The Rise Of Veganism And The Impact Of Social Media

Even though tofu has been making its way across the globe for centuries, it didn’t really undergo a major transformation until the 2000s. By then, Western-style varieties of tofu had been popularized, while Asian types of tofu were still being cultivated using traditional methods. With the rise of social media, though, Asian tofu suddenly found a new fan base, reaching people all over the world. This was largely due to online blogs and media, which highlighted traditional Asian tofu dishes and encouraged people to eat more tofu. This was followed by TV shows, podcasts, and other forms of content, which also shared tofu recipes and recipes that used tofu as a protein substitute.