Is Tofu Vegan? What You Need to Know From a Dietitian

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So is tofu vegan? Yes, tofu is vegan at the core. However, some traditional dishes that use this plant based protein source are not vegan friendly.

As a dietitian (aka: credentialed nutrition expert) and vegan, I break down the food and nutrition details so you don’t have to keep searching for answers.

Keep reading to learn from a vegan food and nutrition expert!

Disclaimer: This article is just providing info and is not a substitute for personal medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about any major dietary changes, health concerns, or supplements. See our Disclaimers for more details.

This post was originally published on 4/12/23. The updated date is listed above.

What Is Tofu?

a picture of a a package of earth grown extra firm tofu that says vegan

Tofu is a plant based food that is made from soy beans.

Much like the process of making cheese, soy milk (typically soy and water) is made into the solid form we know of as tofu via coagulation.

With the help of coagulants, it gets strained and pressed, although the process will vary a bit depending on the final texture of tofu(1).

Types of tofu include:

  • Soft or Silken Tofu: The silky-smooth texture fells slippery when pressed and does not hold up well in baked tofu recipes. Instead, it’s great for smoothies, desserts, and soup.
    Because of it’s more wet texture (more water retained), this type tends to have the least protein per gram compared to other types.
  • Firm Tofu: Just like the name, this tofu is is firm, and has a slight “give” when pressed. Firm tofu is a great texture for tofu “egg” scrambles – where you might want a firm, yet not too firm texture.
    This type tends to have more protein per gram than soft or silken tofu.
  • Extra or Super Firm Tofu: This type has the least amount of water and tends to be the most concentrated in plant based protein. It’s drier texture has the firmness of some meat products, making it excellent for baked tofu recipes or as a meat substitute in stir-frys.

Bean Curd Vs. Tofu

The term ‘bean curd’ is often used interchangeably with ‘tofu.’

If you’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant, you may have seen ‘bean curd-‘ only to find out from the waiter that it is tofu!

Now, some resources suggest there are differences between bean curd and tofu, such as the taste and texture or perhaps even the way it is made.

So while there may be slight differences, both are made from soybeans, provide plant based protein and important nutrients that we’ll get to later!

Is Tofu Vegan? (Let’s break down the ingredients)

Yes, tofu is inherently vegan.

That’s because it typically contains these core vegan ingredients:

  • Water: Is there anything more vegan than water?
  • Soybeans: This legume is inherently plant based. The combination of soybeans and water results in a very minimal “soymilk,” that makes the bulk of tofu.
  • Coagulant: These help the water and soymilk become more solidified to form what we know of as tofu. Salt or acid coagulants are commonly used. An example of a popular salt coagulant is calcium sulfate, which also adds calcium. These coagulants do not involve animal products(1).
a close up of the ingredients and nutrition facts on a Extra Firm organic Earth Grown brand tofu package

When Is Tofu Not Vegan Friendly?

Tofu is not vegan friendly if it is served with animal products.

Here are some examples of tofu dishes that are not vegan friendly:

  • Soups that include eggs or fish or are made with animal derived broth
  • Tofu based desserts with honey or food coloring made from insects
  • Gelatin based coating to give tofu texture
  • Tofu marinated in oyster sauce or honey.
  • Stir fired tofu made with dairy butter

Tips For Vegans Eating Tofu At Restaurants

Tofu is a great option for vegans who are eating out, unless you have a soy allergy– in that case, avoid it!

Still, there are several tofu dishes that may contain animal products.

For example, sometimes, tofu soups at Asian restaurants include eggs or a fish derived broth.

With that in mind, here’s some quick tips for vegans eating tofu at restaurants:

  1. Avoid tofu dishes that include animals, such as tofu egg drop soup, or
  2. ask if your tofu dish can be made vegan!
  3. Look for tofu dishes that are listed as vegan. If they are listed as “plant based” ask someone if that means vegan.

Do Vegans Eat Tofu?

Many vegans who aren’t allergic to soy eat tofu. You could even argue that tofu has much of its fame because it’s such a popular vegan food!

Why is tofu so popular? I’m going to guess it has something to do with it’s versatility.

Tofu is quite bland. That’s great for cooking, because it can take on the flavors you add to it.

If you choose extra firm tofu, you’re also getting a similar texture to meat, something vegans may miss.

Finally, tofu provides health benefits and helps to meet some nutrients of concern on a vegan diet.

Let me put my dietitian hat on and talk about that next!

Health Benefits

graphic with a title that says Health Benefits of tofu, which include: plant based protein, antioxidants, zero to small amounts of saturated fat, and nutrient dense. There are also pictures of tofu in dishes.

I can’t rave enough about tofu because it’s such a healthy, nutrient dense food!

Here’s just some of the health benefits you can get from tofu (if you aren’t allergic to soy!):

  • Plant Based Protein: Some research suggests that replacing red meat with plant based protein may lower mortality risk from heart disease (2). Canada’s 2019 food guide even suggests replacing some meat with plant based protein foods, like tofu(3). I’ve seen most firm tofu products have around 8 grams of protein per serving, and I’ve also seen varieties as high as 14 grams of protein per serving!
  • Low In Saturated Fat: Depending on the brand and type of tofu, these soybean curds may have virtually no saturated fat or only a little. Too much saturated fat could increase the risk of heart disease(4). Most of the fat in raw tofu is polyunsaturated(5)It would be healthier to replace saturated fats with plant based polyunsaturated fats, plant based monounsaturated fats or healthy carbohydrates like whole grains or fiber rich carbohydrates.
  • Isoflavones: These antioxidant and phytoestrogens might reduce the risk of breast cancer according to some research of moderate lifetime soy intake (6). This is one of the reasons why I chow down on soy!
  • Calcium (in calcium set tofu): Calcium set tofu can contain a hefty amount of calcium, at about 350 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams of raw tofu prepared with calcium sulfate! This crucial nutrient for bones and teeth can sometimes be tricky to get enough of as a vegan. Check out my article about calcium in tofu to learn more.
  • Lysine: This essential amino acid can be easy to forget about if you are a vegan who doesn’t eat many legumes (not recommended unless your doctor tells you otherwise), or high whole food plant based protein’s like seitan. Luckily, tofu is lysine rich!
  • Essential Amino Acids: Tofu is a “complete protein” meaning it contains all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantifies. This isn’t as important if you are eating a variety of healthy foods including grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. But I just had to mention it for the icing on the “tofu cheesecake!” 😉

Vegan Tofu Recipes

Tofu isn’t only for vegetarians. I hope you got the hint by now!

But if you’re not (yet) persuaded, check out these mouthwatering dietitian created recipes featuring tofu!

Tofu Caprese Skewers

tofu caprese on skewers on a plate with a hand holding one of them
Photo Credit: Dahlia Marin RDN, LD, CGN from Married to Health

Who needs cheese when you have tofu? If you have minimal cooking skills, or are intimidated by tofu, give this recipe a try.

Power Bowls

Tofu + Veggies + a carbohydrate rich source sounds like a recipe for balanced yumminess.

Get inspired with these ideas:

Mexican Buddha Bowl

picture of a mexican tofu bowl with tofu corn beans avocado olives and rice lettuce and tomatoes
Photo Credit: Summer Yule, RD

Why not skip the mexican takeout and try a buddha bowl? Get the recipe here.

Crispy Tofu with Black Pepper Sauce

picture of tofu with veggies and rice in a bowl
Photo Credit: Elise Harlow, RD from The Flourished Table

One of my favorite ways to eat tofu is stir fired with other broccoli. Check out this Asian inspired tofu, veg, and rice bowl here.

Grilled Tofu

grilled tofu on a plate with grilled veggies
Photo Credit: Melissa Altman-Traub, MS, RDN, LDN

A fish free way to get a filling dose of protein! Check out Melissa’s recipe for grilled tofu over here.

Tofu Scramble

picture of toast with tofu scramble on top and blueberries on the side
Photo Credit: Deborah Murphy MS, RDN from Dietitian Debbie

Egg tofu (without the eggs) is one of my favorite ways to use tofu! It’s not quite eggs, but satisfies that savory craving. Snag this recipe here.

General Tso’s Tofu with Cauliflower

general tso tofu with rice and cauliflower in a big bowl.
Photo Credit: Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN

You might just have guests wondering if you ordered takeout! Check out the recipe here.

Creamy Citrus Pad Thai

pad thai with tofu and in a bowl.
Photo credit: Colleen Woods, MS, RDN, CLC

Like thai food? Check out this pad thai that uses tofu instead of meat!

Tofu Filled Lasagna

picture of a vegan lazagna in a dish
Photo Credit: Karla Moreno-Bryce MDA, RD, LD from Vegan Kids Nutrition

Tofu replaces ricotta in this Italian inspired dish that’s going to have people thinking they can actully give up cheese 😉 Check it out over here.

Pesto Inspired Tofu

pesto tofu in a white bowl
Photo Credit: Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES

Pesto without cheese? You bet!

Tofu paired with nutritional yeast help give this dairy free option a cheesy flavor. Check it out the recipe here.

Tofu Nuggets

a picture of air fryer tofu nuggets with a hand dipping one  in a sauce
Photo Credit: Tori Vasko, RD from EasyChickpeasy.com

See if your guests can tell that the base is actually made from tofu! Who needs chicken when you can recreate that meaty texture without animals?

Snag this recipe here.

Chocolate Silken Tofu Pie

a hand holding a dish with a chocolate tofu pie
Photo Credit: Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN

This recipe had me at chocolate (I kind of like chocolate treats a lot 😉 )!

Silken tofu makes this pie extra silky. Check out the recipe here.

Chocolate Vegan Fruit Dip

chocolate dip in a bowl with banana slices, graham crackers,  pretzels and strawberries near by.
Photo Credit: Nicole Addison, RD

Check out this twist on fondue with a special ingredient- tofu!

Get the recipe here.

A Tofu-Filled Smoothie

picture of creamy blueberry mango smoothie in a glass jar with a pretty straw.
Photo Credit: Kristi Ruth, RD

Replace the dairy milk with a plant based version, and add tofu for extra creaminess and protein!

Check out this blueberry and mango tofu smoothie recipe here.

Final Words

Tofu is inherently vegan since it is made with only plant based ingredients.

Still, some dishes that include tofu may not be vegan because they include animals products.

For example, tofu marinated in honey is not vegan. If you have concerns, check the ingredients, or find out how your tofu dish is made.

Tofu is nutrient dense and has many health benefits. If you aren’t allergic to soy, it can be a nice addition to a healthy, varied diet.

I hope that you feel like a tofu whiz now! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our other related posts around the subject of ‘Is it Vegan?’ including:
What Cereals are Vegan?
Is Peanut Butter Vegan?
Is Oatmeal 100% Plant Based
Want to keep up with our new articles and podcast episodes from Plant Powered You? 

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6 thoughts on “Is Tofu Vegan? What You Need to Know From a Dietitian”

  1. Fantastic info – and I love that you included some recipes, too. I’m always on the lookout for new tofu recipes.

  2. I had no idea what that “bean curd” on the menu was! Now I’ll think about this article every time I see it 😂 very informative post!

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