Have you ever purchased a block of tofu, only to disappointingly find it has gone bad just a few days later? You’re not alone. After all, leftover tofu—which is made from condensed soybean milk pressed into blocks in a process similar to cheesemaking—has an average shelf life of just three to five days, depending on how it’s made. (Tofu comes in various consistencies such as silken, soft, medium, firm, extra firm, and super firm, and the best way to store and use each differs. More on this below!)
Good thing there are a few simple steps you can take that will help keep your favorite form of plant-based protein fresh for longer. Read up on how to store tofu, how to tell if it’s expired, and how to prolong its shelf-life for months according to an industry expert below.
How to store tofu so it lasts as long as possible
1. Identify what type of tofu you have.
First thing’s first: Identify which type of tofu you have. Tofu can range from extremely silky, almost pudding-like, to very firm, like feta cheese. The moisture and composition of the ingredient depends on how much the soymilk was pressed to create the tofu. Silken tofu is pressed the least, making the consistency soft and creamy; super firm tofu is pressed the most to create a spongy, drier block. The super firm tofu is a more concentrated, denser version of the soymilk, and it also contains the most protein compared to the softer variations.
These differences in moisture and composition affect how long each type of tofu will last. Because silken tofu has a more watery texture, it tends to go bad sooner than firmer varieties of tofu (think three days versus six, as an estimation). The texture of silken tofu will also not be preserved as nicely as firm tofu once frozen and thawed, because its water content will turn to ice crystals throughout.
2. Store tofu in water in the refrigerator.
Once a package of tofu has been opened, storing it in water can help prolong its shelf life and maintain its soft, spongy texture for several days. To do so, store it in a resealable container in the refrigerator submerged in enough clean, filtered water to cover the entire surface of the tofu. This method works well for any type of tofu and prevents the bean curd from drying up or becoming stale.
3. Stash tofu in the freezer for later use.
Chris Yang, a professional chef, food scientist, and founder of PopCultivate supper club shared his scientific approach to freezing tofu with us. “Freezing the tofu not only makes it last longer; it’ll actually make the consistency even smoother and more spongy, which makes soaking up flavors in braises or broths more effective,” Yand says. As the water held within the tofu freezes, it expands, forming ice crystals that turn into sponge-like, porous holes as the tofu thaws. The result is a chewier, firmer tofu product that absorbs sauces better—the porous holes allow the liquid to penetrate the tofu easily, and help the tofu get crispier when seared due to the reduced moisture levels. Again, this method works best for firm, extra firm, and super firm types of tofu. You can still freeze silken tofu, but once defrosted, it may not hold its shape as well.
To freeze the tofu, remove as much excess liquid as possible from the exterior using a clean towel, then cut it into pre-portioned slices or pieces for easier access and individual portions for later use. Place the tofu in a clean, freezer-safe bag, and store it in the freezer for up to three months.
4. Avoid keeping the tofu at room temperature for too long.
Like most refrigerated foods, tofu should not be kept at room temperature for long periods. As the product reaches temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, it runs the risk of entering the “temperature danger zone,” which makes the food susceptible to bacterial growth and spoilage. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.” Thus, avoid keeping tofu at room temperature for longer than two hours.
5. How to tell if tofu has gone bad.
When storing tofu in water, if the liquid becomes cloudy or murky, it may indicate that it has spoiled and bacteria has begun to develop. Additionally, if the tofu becomes discolored or begins to yellow or brown at the edges, it may be past its peak freshness. A foul or strongly scented tofu product or one that develops visible mold growth indicates that it’s gone bad and should not be consumed. Fresh tofu should have a little-to-no scent and have an eggshell white coloration. Remember: Leftover tofu that’s been fully cooked will also last about three to five days when stored in the refrigerator.
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