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Background: My wife (for some unknown reason) bought a huge bag of dried soy beans. In my efforts to dispose of it I have been experimenting with making soy milk and tofu.

Tofu has a bad reputation for being overly bland. It struck me how tofu making is identical to cheese making except with soy milk. As such I wondered if I could flavor tofu the same way cheese is flavored: salt, fermentation, additives, etc.

I tried adding salt after the curd was drained but before it was pressed. This helped a little but I found I had to add a lot more salt than I do for cheese to taste the difference.

I added quite a bit of smoked peppers at the same time and could only barely taste it at all.

1- Is this a valid approach and I should just add a lot more of my flavoring agents?
2- Are there other flavoring agents that will present themselves more forcefully (and pleasantly) in tofu?
3- What easily accessible bacteria would be able to ferment soy curd in a pleasant way?

** Edit to clarify per comments below **

It is true that marinating tofu is the traditional way to infuse flavor. Marinating seems to only penetrate very shallowly. I want to see if I can introduce flavors that are spread homogeneously through the curd so I can use the tofu in non-traditional applications.

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    I think something you need to keep in mind is that Tofu and cheese are used for different applications and as such should not be lumped together no matter how close their production is. I think tofu is best left bland at its creation and then later flavored when it is cooked. You typically don't eat tofu raw (except for some Chinese applications where you add soysauce/sesame oil/chives on raw tofu). – Jay Jan 10 '12 at 16:56
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    @Jay- You may be right. I agree that it is true that in traditional cuisines tofu is treated more like meat than like cheese and I think that is why most people hate tofu (based on a random sampling of coworkers.) Tofu looks, acts, and is made exactly as a cheese. Treating it like one is a more natural fit and makes people more likely to be accepting of it. The only barrier is the blandness... – Sobachatina Jan 10 '12 at 16:58
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    Was the effect maybe smaller just because more water is drained away from the tofu than from cheese during pressing? – Cascabel Jan 10 '12 at 16:59
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    Also in regards to the flavors not penetrating the tofu when you are cooking, one technique you can use it to put a little bit of corn starch in the sauce when you are cooking to thicken the sauce and get it to stick on to the tofu. Or let the tofu simmer in the sauce longer. Trust me, i've had really flavorful tofu before. Specifically check out recipes for Ma Po Tofu. – Jay Jan 10 '12 at 17:58
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    While tofu has commonly been associated with hot, cooked dish, it can be a fine, cold desert. People had sweetened tofu either by adding sugar and fruit acids to the soy as flavoring agent, or adding yellow suger or syrup to top refrigerated, cold tofu. – KMC Jan 11 '12 at 2:24
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1- Is this a valid approach and I should just add a lot more of my flavoring agents?

Yes, you can make additions to your curd prior to pressing/knitting just like with cheese. Adding bits of dried peppers ala pepper jack cheese sounds like a great idea. The main concern in this regard is to avoid adding so much adjuncts that the tofu curd fails to knit together during the pressing/draining phase and falls apart as you're handling it during subsequent cooking.

A secondary concern is that tofu generally weeps significantly more water than cheese curds. And since you've added your adjuncts already, part of the flavor of those adjuncts will run off as the tofu curd weeps. The only real suggestion I have for that is to use assertively flavored adjuncts.

2- Are there other flavoring agents that will present themselves more forcefully (and pleasantly) in tofu?

Soy beans have fat in them. The fat in the beans becomes emulsified in the milk when processing the beans into soy milk. The majority of that fat ends up in the soy curd when curdling the soy milk. The majority of the fat in the soy curd will remain in the curd during pressing/knitting into tofu blocks.

You can use this to your advantage. When grinding the soy beans into milk, you can fat based flavoring, some of which will end up in the soy milk, some of which will end up in the resulting curd, and thus into the tofu blocks. If your fat based flavoring is particularly intense, then it should be noticeable in your tofu blocks. A common type of intensely flavored (aromatic) fat based flavoring is essential oil. You can add essential oil of lemon or orange and that flavor will certainly carry through into the final tofu blocks.

3- What easily accessible bacteria would be able to ferment soy curd in a pleasant way?

Fermented tofu/bean curd has been made for centuries. There are number of fungii strains commonly used to ferment bean curd. There are likely many other bacteria that could be used. Lactic acid bacteria could feasibly grow in tofu/bean curd, though I'm not sure a sour tofu is something I'd personally enjoy.

Aside from blocks of tofu/bean curd, there is also a long history of fermented products with amazing flavor that use soy beans but not in a curd/block form. There is tempeh, soy sauce, koji, miso, etc.

  • this is a great answer. – c.. Sep 17 at 0:03
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You're right in that most of the tofu that we see in supermarkets are the white, super-bland type...the only variation is in softness. If you're a vegetarian, you probably know where to find other kinds that have been baked, marinated, etc.

I really love tofu and one of my favorite kind is a densely packed tofu called "dofu-gan", literally translated as "tofu dry". It is tofu that has been flavored/marinated and pressed so that it has very little water content. These little "dofu-gan" cakes are sold at Chinese supermarkets in clear plastic bags with lettering on them. They generally will come in packs of 4 or 8. Each cake measures about 2" x 2" x 0.5". The texture is similar to super dense gelatin snack...it has a bite.

Usually these are brown in color because they have been marinated. The inside is also slightly brown so whatever marinade has also entered slightly into the tofu. They have different flavors such as soy, and some have a little spice.

So you can potentially go down this road and stay with Asian flavorings...soy, sesame oil, sambal, fish sauce, teriyaki, lemongrass, Chinese BBQ sauce, XO sauce, etc.

Also, I know that the baked tofu, etc. that has targeted vegetarians use marinade flavors that normally would be used for meats...such as bbq flavor, lemon herb, etc. So if you want to go this route, you can potentially do something such as: Tandoori, satay, liquid smoke, etc.

The way that the "dofu gan" is usually eaten, at least when I was growing up is... julienned and stir fried with vegetables and sometimes with thin strips of pork.

ANOTHER kind of tofu preparation is called "dofu-ru" and this IS actually fermented tofu. You can buy these in jars and the tofu is suspended in some sort of liquid. It is really salty. I've only seen it used (in my family) as flavoring for rice porridge and when stir frying spinach or pea shoots. You would add literally a dab and it would flavor the dish. It has a very distinctive flavor/aroma...it's hard to describe. I've never seen this flavored with additional ingredients, but you can try and see what you get.

  • I am definitely going to try adding some lemongrass- this would also be larger and unable to wash out with the whey! – Sobachatina Jan 16 '12 at 15:24
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I am reviving this q/a because this year a book all about making your own tofu, Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen, has been released and it has a few ideas for flavoring your own tofu. Namely, she mentions a traditional Japanese infusion of yuzu into the tofu. Another traditional option is seaweed.

More similar to cheese would be misozuke (a general recipe of which can be found at Rau Om). Misozuke involves taking finished tofu and wrapping it in a miso and flavoring mixture and letting it ferment. The tofu becomes soft, like a soft cheese, getting softer the longer it sits. You can try it from two days to two months. Adding flavor to it is a matter of wrapping or smearing it with additional ingredients, like seaweed.

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    in Germany I've enjoyed the brand Nagel Tofu which is highly flavored with additions such as herbs added to the curds and pressed into blocks. Confetti veggies another flavor. Can't post this as an answer 'cause haven't tried the technique myself Tofunagel.com – Pat Sommer Mar 7 '13 at 5:58
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I add salt to the soy milk before I add the coagulant to separate the curds.

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It is true that even in cheese making, if you add vinegar or lemon juice to the hot milk to curdle and break into curds and whey, the sourness of the vinegar or lemon do not get bound up in the curd but either neutralize or stay with the whey. The same thing to a degree would happen with salt or similar seasonings, that some would stay in the whey. So perhaps adding more than you believe you would want in your tofu curd would be right since some must go out with the liquid that separates from the tofu curd.

Interesting idea to go with flavors that will combine readily with fats. But adding fats or flavored fats such as chili oil into the soy milk might change the way curds break out or bind into a cake. Good thing you have lots of soybeans to work with. Tireless trial and error is the mother of invention!

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