A lot of food nowadays gets the superfood label. However, if there is one delicacy that deserves it, it’s tofu. This soy-derivative is a health bomb vegans and vegetarians use to substitute meat. However, meat-eaters can benefit from it too, since it’s filled with plenty of vitamins and minerals to support your wellbeing.
But how do you start using it? For kitchen newbies, cooking tofu can be daunting. How do you prepare it? Do you keep it in the pantry or the fridge? Does tofu go bad? Keep reading to find out all the basics of tofu.
Before getting into tofu storage, first, we need to cover the basics — what even is tofu? Tofu is a soy-based product, made from fermented soybeans. Often called ‘bean curd,’ the process to make it is surprisingly similar to creating regular cheese.
Manufacturers take soy milk and curdle it. They then take the curds and press them into solid blocks to create a product with a consistency similar to semi-hard white cow’s cheese. Though you may think tofu is a fairly recent vegan fad, it actually has a very rich and ancient history.
The bean curd originated in China some 2,000 years ago. It’s been a staple in Chinese and other East Asian cuisines ever since, holding the same importance as meat and other animal-based products. It’s a highly versatile ingredient that works well in pretty much any dish.
Its versatility is entirely due to its fairly neutral flavor and texture. Though this is something that puts many people off eating it, it’s actually an advantage. A neutral flavor means that tofu absorbs all other flavors and spices incredibly well.
That is why you can use it in stir-frys, salads, soups, and even desserts when you want to do a meatless meal, or just want to bump up the protein content of your favorite dish.
But not all types of tofu work in every dish. Overall, tofu is divided into two basic types: silken and regular. Silken tofu has a softer texture since it doesn’t undergo the same curdling and pressing process.
Regular tofu, on the other hand, does undergo curdling, and manufacturers form it into solid blocks by squeezing out the excess water from the curds. The more water they squeeze out, the harder the tofu block will be. And that is how we distinguish between soft, firm, and extra-firm tofu.
Silken tofu works beautifully in desserts as a substitute for cream cheese or whipped cream. As for regular and extra-firm tofu, you’re more likely to find them in savory dishes like vegan bbq recipes or stir-frys, since their firmness makes them the perfect meat substitute.
Does Tofu Go Bad?
Now that we’ve given you a tofu crash course, it’s time to get to the important questions — does tofu go bad? The short answer is yes. Just like animal-based products, tofu doesn’t have an infinite shelf-life. Tofu packs contain moisture, meaning that they’re the perfect breeding ground for some very nasty bacteria.
When you leave a tofu pack to sit outside at room temp, you risk speeding up bacterial growth. However, how long it will take for tofu to go bad depends on how you store it and on the type of tofu you get.
Apart from texture, we can also differentiate between shelf-stable and refrigerated ones. While both varieties do go bad eventually, shelf-stable tofu is more resilient and can last in the pantry.
Does Unopened Tofu Go Bad?
While you may think leaving tofu unopened at room temp will preserve it longer, think again. Your pantry may be slightly colder than your stuffy kitchen, but it’s still too warm — hence why bacteria will start breeding even if you haven’t broken the protective seal.
But, as we’ve mentioned, that applies to refrigerated tofu only. Shelf-stable tofu won’t go bad if you properly store it in your pantry unopened. However, it does have a shorter shelf life than other pantry items, like canned legumes or pickled veggies.
Therefore be sure to use it up shortly after you buy it.
How Long Does Tofu Last?
Gauging tofu shelf life is complicated because it depends on a variety of factors. The biggest one is, of course, the type of tofu you bought and whether or not you opened it.
Unopened, shelf-stable tofu will usually be good to eat for around two to three months. However, that period will vary from brand to brand and whether or not the tofu is smoked, marinated, etc. Therefore, you should always play it safe and check the best-by date.
If you happen to open a pack of shelf-stable tofu, use it up quickly. Once you’ve broken the protective seal, the soy cheese will last about 3‒5 days. Of course, this number applies only if you refrigerate it immediately after using it.
As for refrigerated tofu, this type has a dramatically shorter shelf life. If you keep it in the fridge unopened, it will generally last about 3‒4 days. However, if you’ve opened it, be sure to use it up in a day or two to keep it from spoiling.
How to Tell If Tofu Has Gone Bad
Say you found a forgotten pack of tofu at the back of your fridge. The best buy date is still good, but you’re on the fence about using it up. Here is how you can tell if your tofu has gone rancid.
Possibly the biggest sign of bad tofu is the look of the package. When bacteria breed, they produce a lot of gas. Since tofu comes in a hermetically sealed package, there is no way for that gas to escape. Therefore, it ends up stuck inside the pack, causing it to bloat.
Therefore, if your tofu pack has significantly swelled, immediately toss it out. There is a very good chance it’s gone rancid.
Another big clue about the safety of your tofu is color. This doesn’t just apply to the color of the block itself but also the water inside the package.
Good tofu will usually have a white or light gray color. However, if your tofu has started to go bad, the white color will darken to either a muddy brownish or murky yellow. The water inside the pack will become murky too.
With certain types, the water will get thicker and more viscous. That is a clear sign of bacterial growth, and it should be your cue to toss the pack out.
3. Smell and Taste
Last, but certainly not least is the taste and smell of the tofu. Good tofu has a very mild, earthy scent. However, if it’s gone bad, it will acquire a very strong, very sour smell, similar to curdled milk.
It will taste rancid too, like moldy cheese. So if you happened to take a bite out of some bad tofu, head straight to the trashcan and spit it out
Tofu Storing Tips
Now that you know how delicate tofu can be, you might be wondering how you can make it last longer. The answer is, of course, proper storage.
As mentioned, depending on the type of tofu you get, you can either keep it in a pantry or the fridge. To extend its shelf life, you can leave the tofu pack unopened and even wrap it in some plastic wrap for extra security.
However, if you really want to get the most out of your tofu, you can always freeze it.
Tofu freezes incredibly well, especially if you chop it up into little cubes and squeeze out any remaining moisture. That way, you will be able to take only the amount you need, without defrosting an entire block!
Frozen tofu will last anywhere between 3‒6 months. It will still probably be good even if you eat it afterward, but be warned — the taste and texture will not be the same.
Can You Eat Expired Tofu?
So your tofu has gone bad, but you’re not in the mood to run to the grocery store to get another one. Therefore, you may be wondering if you can eat the expired tofu? The short answer is no, you can’t.
All expired items are definitely not safe to consume, especially ones with a short shelf life. The bacteria that breed on them are very dangerous and can cause many health problems like food poisoning and allergies. In some extreme cases, eating spoiled food can even result in death.
So, to summarize. Does tofu go bad? Yes. Should you eat rancid tofu? Not if you want to stay healthy.