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Tofu is always being touted as a "flavour sponge" due to its texture. Yet, I have never been able to get it to actually absorb any flavour.

People talk about marinating it, searing it, invoking sacred incantations, yet nothing works (for me).

Is there a genuinely tried and tested method that works?


For what it's worth, I generally tend to use extra firm tofu, however I get pretty lazy with the drying process: I just quickly squeeze the little guy between some towels using my hands until it has lost a significant amount of water.

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    ‘Quick squeeze’ might be the problem. A lot of recipes call for putting it under some heavy weight for a while to remove a lot of water
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 13:04
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    Maybe "flavor sponge" is a misnomer.
    – moscafj
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 15:11
  • I just saw a short video about how to make your own tofu from soymilk , can you put seasoning when it's curdling? Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 6:37
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    @Joe I would agree. I had trouble with Tofu until I started drying it more thoroughly. Squeeze it gently over a sink, then sandwich it between two plates or chopping boards lined generously with kitchen roll. Put some cans or bottles on top to give it weight and leave it for a few hours. The result takes up flavour better and stays firmer in the pan.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 12:11
  • In most Korean food, my understanding is that you don't expect tofu to absorb too much flavor - generally it is expected you will eat it together with the broth it is cooked in (which will tend to be pretty salty) - you can see this in various jjigaes in particular.
    – mantra
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:12

2 Answers 2

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Speaking from personal experience:

The only kind of tofu which is genuinely a "flavor sponge" is deep-fried tofu, which is sponge-like in several ways. Frozen and thawed tofu has a similar sponge texture.

Tofu is 85-90% water. Drying it doesn't change that more than 2%, and is essentially a waste of time (if the purpose is to marinate it). For this reason, tofu will not absorb other liquids, either as a cold marinade or even cooking in a liquid, unless braised for a long time (which is a thing in some traditional dishes). If anything, tofu is less absorptive of liquid flavors than meat.

The reason that tofu is portrayed as a "flavor sponge" in Western recipes is that, in general, the tofu available in Western markets is extremely bland and fairly low quality, so that any added flavor will overshadow it. A Japanese, Chinese, or other East Asian person could tell you that tofu is supposed to have its own flavor.

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    Freeze and thaw will make a significant difference (to texture/mouthfeel as well, of course.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 16:32
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    While you're probably right that drying the surface of tofu pieces won't help it absorb flavour, I do find that it stick to my pans less and browns more readily if the surface is dried somewhat. So I'd dispute the idea that it's a waste of time. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 1:03
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    > "tofu available in Western markets is extremely bland and fairly low quality" I sometimes get my tofu from Chinese supermarkets (Wing Yip in the UK). Any particular brands you recommend?
    – turnip
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 7:21
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    As a Korean, I will say that most packaged tofu I've had were fairly flavorless - It was only with freshly made tofu with high quality beans that I could really experience the subtle nutty flavor they can have, and tofu shops where you can get fresh tofu are becoming more and and more of a rarity, unfortunately.
    – mantra
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:10
  • MIchael: it's a waste of time if you're going to immediately stick it into a wet marinade.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:56
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Option 1: Press the tofu

The idea here is basically to squeeze out as much of the water that it's packaged with as you can before cooking. You place the tofu between two towels, and put something heavy on top of it for a few minutes. https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-press-tofu-3376642

Option 2: Freeze and thaw it

The water in tofu expands when it’s frozen, thereby destroying the original structure. When the ice crystals thaws, they seep out in the form of water, leaving the holes they formed behind. A star different tofu product with an entirely distinct consistency is born. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/freeze-your-tofu

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