My friend Bee Yinn Low posted a recipe on how to make sweet tofu
pudding on her site, RasaMalaysia.com. She asked me to give tips on doing it
well because she had a little trouble with her sweet doufu hua recipe. Among the comments that Bee received
were ones about what to use for coagulating soy milk to produce tofu. People
were very confused and I fielded their questions. Obviously, they didn’t have
my book but more importantly, clarification is needed. So here we are.
To make tofu you need 3 ingredients: soybeans, water
and coagulant. What are your coagulant
options and how to choose and get them? I hope to answer your questions
What does a coagulant do to soy milk? It solidifies
the protein and oil in hot soy milk.
Can you use agar agar or gelatin to coagulate
soy milk? No, unless you want to produce soy milk gelatin. “Almond tofu” is
gelled with agar agar or unflavored gelatin but it’s more of a jelly than a
tofu. The term tofu is often used in China and Japan to denote many jelled
things. Tofu is really a different animal. It’s not thickened with a starch or
gelatin type of ingredient.
What can be used to coagulate soy milk for
tofu: Many things, from everyday vinegar, lemon juice, and recycled/fermented
whey to gypsum (calcium sulphate), Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), nigari (magnesium
chloride), and glucono deltalactone (GDL).
Do Japanese tofu makers exclusively use nigari
while Chinese tofu makers favor
gypsum? No. I asked tofu makers in Taiwan, Japan, and China and it just
depends on what they and their customers like. Look on tofu labels and you’ll
see that some tofu is made with a combination of coagulants to get at the
desired texture. GDL, for example, is added for a more jelly-like finish. There
are ethnic divides (e.g., hardcore traditional Viet tofu shops such as Dong
Phuong, portrayed in Asian Tofu, use recycled whey) but they are also blurred.
What tofu coagulant is easy for home cooks to
use? Gypsum and nigari are the best (and equally good), with
Epsom salts coming in third. An acid such as lemon juice or vinegar produces
grainy tofu that’s slightly sour tasting. Go with a type of salt!
If you can have only one tofu coagulant, which
should it be? As suggested in Asian Tofu,
gypsum is the most versatile soy milk coagulant. It produces tofu that’s a
little on the sweet side whereas nigari tend to be a touch bitter. The curds
are a bit loftier with gypsum so you can coax soy milk into tender tofu. Nigari
coagulates quicker but the curds can be smaller than those made with gypsum so
your tofu is firmer.
Epsom salts yield slightly grainy results with flavor similar
to that of gypsum. If you have room for two (2) tofu coagulants in your life,
get gypsum and nigari. If you're in a desperate pinch, run to a drugstore for Epson salts.
How do I find gypsum, nigari or Epsom salts? Use
food-grade gypsum (not the stuff in
drywall!) to make tofu. It’s used by some brewers and winemakers to tweak
pH. If you have a local home brewing supply shop, call and ask for gypsum. Food-grade
gypsum can also be purchased online.
as a clear liquid in small bottles, as crystalline or granulated nigari that
resembles wet sand, and as dry fine crystals. At Japanese markets, you’ll
likely find nigari in small bottles that have little (okay, no) English. In Asian
Tofu, we included a photo of the bottle (above) to help cooks find the
right kind. Macrobiotic stores or sections in a health food store may have
Epsom salts is widely sold in the United States at pharmacies and
drugstores. Yes, it’s a laxative and muscle soother but it also works for tofu.
I buy my gypsum and refined from Soymilkmaker.com, where I
also buy cheap plastic tofu molds too. The caveat is that you have to buy a lot
of coagulant. On the other hand, it only costs $10 for each type. Share it with
friends or gift a DIY tofu newbie.
What do I keep
around? The stuff I mostly use is gypsum and
refined nigari. It’s handy and I can travel with it without TSA searching my
Any brands of
coagulants to avoid? I had trouble with
in the small plastic bag came from a Chinese market. I opened it up and it
released a strange perfume. I didn’t want that smell in my tofu and that made
me suspect. If you have a Chinese brand that you like, use it. My preference is
to get it from a reliable source. After taking time to make soy milk from
scratch, why take chances on the coagulant?
weird reason, the liquid nigari in the orange capped bottle produced very yucky
tofu. One of the testers bought it and his soy milk didn’t coagulate quite
right. I had the same experience when I used it. The bottle was stocked at
Marukai. At other Japanese markets, I’ve mostly found smaller bottles with the
white and blue label.
is very fine, dry nigari from Ohsawa, a producer of Macrobiotic ingredients. I
got it at the Venice, CA, Whole Foods and the curds were finer than those made
with chunkier grain, wetter nigari. I may be wrong as Amazon
reviews of the Ohsawa nigari have successfully used it for tofu.
How to store tofu coagulants? I store my tofu coagulants in plastic tubs at room temperature. The
liquid nigari bottles are kept at room temperature too, though they will form
salt crystals if kept too long. The liquid still worked for making tofu.
Got any insights
or questions about tofu making? Let me know…
Related post: Is tofu healthy or harmul? (for those who question eating soy)