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Tofu: how to cook Asian ingredients at home

This Month’s Ingredient: Silken Tofu

(Aliases: soft tofu, smooth tofu, silky tofu)


What is it?

Soybeans are a staple in Asia. A smorgasbord of products are derived from this humble bean, including soya milk, soya desserts, soya sauce and tofu. Soybeans themselves are an inexpensive source of protein, and would need a column to themselves by right; but for this month we will look at just one soybean product that is hugely adaptable to Western cooking: silken tofu.

Silken tofu is made by coagulating thick soy milk without draining off the whey liquid. As such, it contains the highest moisture content and lowest fat content of all fresh tofu.

The silky-soft block is off-white in colour and similar in texture to a very fine, set custard. It is not to be confused with regular tofu, which is much firmer due to the whey being drained and only the curds remaining, giving a sliceable block that needs to be cooked before consumption and is often used in the West in stir-fries, in savoury dishes and as a meat substitute.

The Flavour

With very little flavour or smell of its own, silken tofu can be prepared either in savoury or sweet dishes.  It has the ability to take on the flavours of its surrounding ingredients and can be either raw or cooked.  

Where to Find It

Silken tofu is most commonly sold in water-filled packs and is readily available in the refrigerated sections of local supermarkets. Once the tofu package is open, leftover tofu should be rinsed and covered with fresh water (changed daily) and kept in the fridge for up to a week.

Traditional Uses

• In Japan, silken tofu is enjoyed raw with a touch of soy sauce and topped with chopped scallions.

• In China “Douhua”, raw silken tofu with soya sauce, shrimp, and chilli sauce is eaten for breakfast

• In Malaysia, it is served warm with palm sugar syrup (Gula Melaka), or served cold with Longans (a type of fruit similar in taste to lychees).

Try it in Town

Tau Huay, $1. Known as beancurd custard, this is silken tofu served in little ornamental Chinese bowls covered with a warm syrupy sauce to slurp up. Rochor Original Beancurd, 2 Short Street or next door at competitor brother’s joint Beancurd City .

Health Benefits

• Studies suggest soy lowers cholesterol levels as much as 30%, therefore reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.

• Soy is a rich source of isoflavones (plant hormones), which have been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms and minimise the risk of developing certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancer.

• Weight loss – silken tofu is low in saturated fat, so can be used to replace full fat ingredients like cream

• Soy is rich in high-quality protein and is a good source of B-vitamins and iron.

Those who are anti-soy, however, believe that it is a high-allergen food and is especially toxic for those with thyroid problems. As with anything, soy should be eaten in moderation, especially given the variety of soy products out there.

Cooking it at Home

Silken tofu adds a creamy texture to dishes or sauces when blended till smooth.  It can replace or partially replace milk, cream, mayonnaise, sour cream and even, sometimes, the egg element of a dish:

• Add to lasagnes in lieu of white sauce (milk and flour), or to replace egg in quiches

• In protein shakes with frozen bananas, berries and honey

• To thicken soups and replace full-fat cream

• In dips and salad dressings; for example, replacing mayonnaise in Caesar dressing


RECIPE: Chilled Cheesecake

This cheesecake is so light that eating it practically burns calories in itself. Wink. Creamy and sumptuous, yet delightfully airy with a refreshing tanginess from the passion fruit – a perfect complement to your afternoon caffeine fix.


• 125g digestive or ginger biscuits

• 75g soft butter

• 2 blocks extra-smooth silken tofu

• 300g cream cheese

• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

• Pinch salt

• 60g icing sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 2 tsp gelatin dissolved in ¼ cup boiling water

• 5 fresh passion fruits, just the seeds and juice


1. In a food processor, blitz the biscuits into crumbs, then add the butter and incorporate thoroughly.

2. Press mixture into a buttered 20cm spring-form tin. Firm in the fridge for at least an hour before adding the filling.

3. Beat together the silken tofu, cream cheese, icing sugar, salt, vanilla extract and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth.

4. Mix in the dissolved gelatin and whisk until smooth.

5. Spoon the cheesecake filling on top of the biscuit base and smoothen with a spatula. Set in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.

6. When you are ready, unmould the cheesecake and decorate with fresh passion fruit or a border of tinned mandarin orange segments.

7. Serve, smile and enjoy with the knowledge of (almost) angelic virtue.