How to Press Water Out of Tofu: The Beginner’s Guide

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How to Press the Water Out of Tofu

I love tofu. Which cracks me up. My wife has been vegan for about 13 years as of this writing. I have supported her since day one. For a long time, I told her that I could never be vegan, but I tried Boca Burgers and various other vegan options.

But not tofu. First, there was the estrogen thing. I’ve always been an athlete and wasn’t about to put extra estrogen into my body.

Turns out that’s a bunch of garbage. The number one source of estrogen in the human diet is dairy, (1) followed by meat. And those are hormonal estrogens. Unlike soy, which contains the phytoestrogens genistein and daidzein. Soy phytoestrogens actually have anti-estrogenic effects and are protective against certain forms of cancer (2) and possibly atherosclerosis (3).

Then there was just the idea of tofu. Western cultures aren’t big on tofu. Again, there’s a lot of stigma around it, especially in fitness circles. It’s too bad, really. It’s such an amazing food for everyone, but especially for athletes!

The last animal food that I removed from my diet was fish. I started eating more beans but wasn’t about to start basing a lot of my diet around processed foods. I’ve never been a big fan. So I gave tofu a try.

There’s a bit to learn when you start cooking with tofu. Not more than any other food. But I didn’t grow up eating it. I knew how to cook meat, eggs, and fish. So, like any other food, I started experimenting.

Now, I eat tofu pretty much daily. At least half a block. I love it.

My wife isn’t a huge tofu fan, so I was kind of on my own when I started eating it. She’s not against it, and it’s not that she doesn’t like the taste, she just doesn’t eat much of it and didn’t know much about preparing it.

I figured it out. Learned how to cook it. I can cook up amazing, restaurant-style tofu dishes, or quick tofu-on-the-fly for fast and easy protein-packed dishes. but there are definitely some things I wish I would have known in the beginning. Would have made things much easier.

I’m going to quickly break down the different types of tofu and then go in-depth on some of the methods you can use for pressing tofu.

But before I do, watch Sara show you how to easily cook up some tofu!

Table of Contents

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Types of Tofu

First, let’s cover the types of tofu you’re going to find in the store: soft or silken, medium, firm, extra-firm, and super firm tofu.

The best way to think about this is that most tofu comes in the same size packages. The firmer the tofu, the more water has been pressed out of the final product. So you’re getting more soybean curd and less liquid.

This is why firm, extra firm, and super firm tofu have higher protein contents than their softer counterparts. If you’re looking for something that’s going to hold its shape and not fall apart in your dish, choose a firmer block of tofu.

Soft, extra-soft, or “silken” tofu have higher liquid content and are going to be lower calorie and protein than firmer styles. But that doesn’t make them bad! They simply have different uses. Recipes, where the tofu is blended into other ingredients, will call for softer tofu styles, such as when making smoothies or mousses. I also use these for homemade tofu alfredo sauce.

Essentially…

Firm and extra-firm tofu usually need to be pressed. Medium tofu can be pressed very gently. Soft tofu should never be pressed.

Learn more about where to buy tofu and the different types with this article.

Why Do You Need to Press the Water Out of Tofu?

There are two main reasons to press the excess water out of your tofu: to help tofu hold its shape and to maximize flavor.

If you have a recipe that needs tofu to hold its own shape, you need to press the excess moisture out. Meals like stir-frys, salads, stand-alone tofu, and bar-b-que (yes! you can actually BBQ tofu!) need tofu to hold a shape. Excess water makes the tofu Jell-Oy. Pressing the water out will firm up the tofu and help it hold its shape.

Also, the more water you press out of the tofu, the more flavor it will soak up. Any water left in the tofu is going to dilute the flavors of your spices and sauces. So get the water out to maximize flavor. In fact, one of the best things about tofu is the fact that it is virtually tasteless. So season to your heart’s content!

Do You Always Have to Press the Water Out of Tofu?

Nope. Some recipes call for the tofu to be mixed with other foods. If you are going to mix the tofu, feel free to leave the water in.

A great example is a breakfast tofu scramble (link this). You’re going to crumble the tofu into a pan, add various spices, flavors, and veggies, and cook. The water content of the tofu will actually help the tofu cook and not stick to your pan! And, since you’re crumbling, you don’t want your tofu to be really firm anyway. The water will keep the “blobby” consistency.

Another example is tofu mousse or yogurt. You’re going to blend up the tofu anyway, so no need to squeeze the extra water out.

All right, let’s get on to how to press your tofu!

DIY Methods for Pressing Tofu

When I first started eating tofu, this is the method I used. Pressing tofu without a press is free, easy, and can work as well as using a press.

  • Kitchen tools you will need:
  • Cutting board
  • Paper towels or clean dishcloths
  • Large bowl, plate, Pyrex, or sheet pan
  • A heavy object to use as a weight (my favorite is a cast iron skillet)

Most Common DIY Tofu Pressing Method

Step 1: Open the tofu and drain off the water. I like to slice along one short edge of the container with a knife and then tip the box over and drain the water out. Then slice along one long edge to meet your first cut and tear the cover off.

How to Open Tofu

Step 2: Fold a paper towel or dish towel and place the tofu on it. I used paper towels when I first started working with tofu. You can place the tofu on your counter, but setting it on a cutting board, plate, or another object will keep the mess down.

Step 3: Add some weight on top of tofu. Be careful not to use too much weight! You want to press the water out, not crush and destroy your block. You can place a cast iron skillet right on top of the tofu, or use a cutting board with a heavy bowl, cookbook, or a couple of cans of food on top.

A cast iron skillet makes a great weight for pressing tofu

Let the tofu sit for 20-30 minutes. If you’re short on time, though, just let it sit for as long as you can. The longer it sits, the more water will press out.

I like to check it after about 10 minutes, and will often swap out the paper towel (or kitchen towel) for a new one. By that point, it’s usually pretty saturated.

Step 4: Unwrap and cut, cube, slice, or crumble.

My Favorite DIY Strategy! If You Don’t Have a Tofu Press, Do This!

Once I started eating tofu every day I got frustrated with how many paper towels I was going through. So I started using dishcloths.

This was better. At least I wasn’t wasting a bunch of paper towels!

One of the benefits of a tofu press is that the water will easily drain away from the block. Without paper towel or dishtowel waste. This DIY method does the same!

Step 1: Open your tofu and let some of the water drain out

Step 2: Set a cooling rack into a baking sheet (here I’m also using a silicone baking sheet, which makes clean-up so much easier!)

Cooling Rack in Baking Sheet

Step 3: Slice your block of tofu in half (see the picture below) so that it is half as tall as it started. This is optional, but it works really well! The secret is to try and get the two halves to be as close to the same size as possible.

Cut Tofu

Place your two blocks onto the cooling rack.

Cover Tofu With Paper Towel

Step 4: Place a layer of folded paper towels or a clean kitchen towel on top of the tofu. The cooling rack will catch liquid that press out while the paper towels will absorb water from the top.

Cover Tofu With Paper Towel

Step 5: Place a second baking sheet or cutting board on top of the tofu.

Cutting Board on Tofu

Step 6: Add weight on top of the cutting board or sheet pan. Add enough weight to press the water out, but not so much that you crush your tofu (or have it cut through the cooling rack!). A castiron skillet is perfect!

Weight on Tofu

Let the tofu sit for 20-30 minutes. If you’re short on time, though, just let it sit for as long as you can. The longer it sits, the more water will press out.

Step 7: Unwrap and cut, cube, slice, or crumble

Using a Tofu Press

Eventually, I broke down a bought a tofu press on Amazon. Honestly, best decision ever!

I love my tofu press. This is the only way I press tofu anymore. No more wasted paper towels or extra laundry. And, you can let your tofu drain in the fridge! On days that I’m on top of my game and prep dinner early, I place tofu in my press and set it in the fridge. When dinner rolls around, it’s ready to go.

Benefits of using a tofu press:

  • You can place the tofu press in the fridge for longer pressing times
  • Far less mess than DIY methods
  • No need to add weight
  • No paper towel waste or dishtowel laundry

I use Tofuture’s Tofu Press, so that’s the one I’ll explain how to use.

Step 1: Open the tofu and drain off the water (see instructions above)

Step 2: Place the block of tofu in your press

Place the tofu into the strainer, and place the strainer into the outer container

Step 3: Put the lid on and select your “weight” by placing the silicone strap into one of the three hook positions. I never use the “heaviest” hook (3rd one down). I use the middle hook for firm, extra firm, and super firm. I use the first hook for medium. I don’t press soft or silken tofu.

Select the level of compression you want to press water out of the tofu by placing the silicone straps on each side into one of the side notches

Step 4: After about 5 minutes, tip the tofu press to a corner and drain out what water has been collected so far.

Return the tofu press to its upright position and let the tofu sit for 20-30 minutes.

If you’re short on time, tip the tofu press to a corner and drain out what’s been collected so far. Then, holding the tofu press upside down, squeeze the press with both of your hands. This will force more liquid to drain out.

I do this a lot! Rarely do I press tofu for very long. I usually set it, drain the liquid out after about five minutes, tip it to a corner and squeeze again, and call it good.

Step 5: Unwrap and cut, cube, slice, or crumb

Best Tofu Press

I have Tofuture’s Tofu Press. It’s inexpensive and it’s lasted. I use it every day. It’s simple to use.

The tofu presses I’d like to try:

NOYA Adjustable Tofu Press with Cheesecloth – This one comes with cheesecloth, a lid for marinating your tofu, and a turn knob to adjust pressure.

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Most of the reviews are good, but a couple mention that the turn knob broke after only a few uses. Still, it looks like a great design and most of the reviews are solid.

Grow Your Pantry Bamboo Tofu Press

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I like that this is eco-friendly and sustainably sourced. It also comes with a cookbook of tofu recipes and has a basket to catch the removed liquid. Again, most of the reviews on Amazon are good. The biggest complaint seems to be having to screw and unscrew the press. I get that! In fact, that’s why I didn’t buy one of these originally. The silicone strap system seemed so easy.

After more than four years with the Tofuture’s Press, I’m happy. I have no need to replace it with a different version, but if it breaks, which I doubt, I’ll probably end up buying another one.

This is also the one I buy for friends and family that decide to give tofu a try. I’ve bought a dozen, at least! I haven’t heard a complaint about it yet.

How to Store Tofu After You Open the Package

Most of the time you will cook an entire block of tofu. Press it, cook it, and save some for leftovers. Cooked tofu will keep in the fridge for about a week.

There may be times, however, when you only want to cook half the block. If that’s the case, place the unused half in a container (I use these Pyrex storage containers), cover the block entirely with water, cover, and place it in the fridge. The tofu will last up to three days with this method.

How to Press Water Out of Tofu Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you don’t press tofu?

You can still cook and eat tofu that has not been pressed. I just may not hold its shape as well as if it were pressed, or be as flavorful as you’d like.

Do you need to press extra-firm tofu?

Yes! This is a question I hear a lot. Even though the tofu has a firmer consistency, it’s still holding excess moisture that you’ll want to get out. You should always press your firm AND extra firm tofu. I typically get nearly 1/2 cup of excess liquid out of my extra firm tofu.

Do you need to place your tofu in the fridge while it is pressing?

It is not necessary to press tofu in the fridge. But, if you want to press your tofu for longer periods of time, resulting in firmer tofu, a tofu press will allow this. Most of the time I press tofu right when I start cooking a meal, and then I just leave it on the counter until I’m ready to cook it.

How do you use paper towels to press tofu?

Fold a length of paper towels or a dishcloth in half or quarters. This increases the absorbency. Then wrap the tofu in the towel.

How do you slice tofu?

This totally depends on the recipe! It can be cubed, sliced, or crumbled. I usually cube my tofu. Cut the tofu into 5 slices perpendicular to the long edge, then 3 slices parallel to the long edge. Then I like to tip each of the 3 sections on their sides and cut in half. This gives me the perfect size cubes for most dishes.

How long should I press the tofu?

Press the tofu for 30 minutes, ideally, or up to 1 hour. You can even leave it in the fridge overnight if you’re using a tofu press!

What is Silken Tofu?

Silken tofu is a very soft version of tofu. It works really well for making mouses or yogurt.

How to Press Water Out of Tofu Conclusion

Tofu is high in protein, low in calories, and a great addition to any diet plan. When you purchase tofu, it will likely come in a container of water on top of the block. This can make cooking frustrating if you don’t know how to press the water out of tofu beforehand! In this article, I’ve covered ways you can easily press the water out of tofu. Try a few of these methods and let me know how it goes in the comments section. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me anytime!

Enjoy your tofu and keep chasing those goals!

References

  1. Malekinejad, Hassan, and Aysa Rezabakhsh. “Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health – A Narrative Review Article.” Iranian journal of public health vol. 44,6 (2015): 742-58.
  2. Adjakly, Mawussi, et al. “Genistein and Daidzein: Different Molecular Effects on Prostate Cancer.” Anticancer Research, International Institute of Anticancer Research, 1 Jan. 2013, https://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/33/1/39.
  3. Weijun Pan, Katsumi Ikeda, Minoru Takebe, Yukio Yamori, Genistein, Daidzein and Glycitein Inhibit Growth and DNA Synthesis of Aortic Smooth Muscle Cells from Stroke-Prone Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 131, Issue 4, April 2001, Pages 1154–1158, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/131.4.1154

*Author's Note: The content on this website is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The content of our articles is not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It's always best to speak with your doctor or a certified medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or exercise routine, or trying a new supplement.

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AUTHOR
Matt Walter, CHN, M.A.T
I studied Food Science and Human Nutrition at Washington State University and interned as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the WSU football team. I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and former personal trainer and competitive CrossFit athlete. My mission is to make embracing and adopting a healthy vegan lifestyle simple and fun!

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