Can You Freeze Tofu?

An expert on Chinese cuisine weighs in.

August 24, 2022
Seared Tofu with Chinese Broccoli and Rice

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Seared Tofu with Chinese Broccoli and Rice

Photo by: Saddako/Getty Images

Saddako/Getty Images

By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

Can You Freeze Tofu?

Yes, you can freeze any type of tofu, and this not only extends its shelf life, but also transforms the ingredient completely – from a slippery cube to a textured, chewy almost meaty-like piece of protein. Frozen tofu has a unique latticed honeycomb structure when it’s thawed, which helps it easily soak up marinades and sauces and stand up to hearty stir-fries and long marinades.

The art of freezing tofu allegedly originates from Northern China, where it is a popular winter staple. Cooks used to leave slabs of tofu outside in the frosty evenings, where it would morph overnight into dense, icy cubes. They would defrost it indoors, where the tofu was treated with immense care and plopped into gentle stir-fries or soups with pork or lamb slivers, pickled cabbage and bamboo shoots.

Freezing is also just a really great way to elongate tofu’s shelf life; a fresh package usually lasts three to five days in the fridge, but by freezing it, it can be stored up to five months according to the USDA.

Tofu cubes serving in a bowl, seasoned with black and white sesame and chopped scallion

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Tofu cubes serving in a bowl, seasoned with black and white sesame and chopped scallion

Photo by: zoranm/Getty Images

zoranm/Getty Images

How Does Freezing Affect Tofu?

The act of freezing completely alters the cellular structure of tofu. Because tofu is about 85% water, its protein structure expands in the freezer as ice crystals begin to form. The tofu grows and bloats. When it’s thawed, the tofu turns to a porous sponge, which is great for mopping up sauces. Frozen tofu also tends to be much more elastic and chewy – a contrast to the soft, supple texture of normal tofu.

The only downside to freezing tofu is that it will no longer retain its silky smooth texture and generally speaking, it’s not as fragrant as freshly made tofu.

Block of fresh tofu on cutting block.

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Block of fresh tofu on cutting block.

Photo by: cheche22/Getty Images

cheche22/Getty Images

How to Freeze Tofu, Step-by-Step

  1. Drain the tofu. Unbox a package of firm tofu and drain excess liquid on a paper towel.
  2. Freeze the tofu in a single layer. It’s best to freeze whole blocks of tofu first before cutting it into pieces; it retains more moisture this way. If you’re freezing multiple squares of tofu, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet or plate, then freeze overnight.
  3. Transfer the tofu to an airtight container. Transfer the tofu to a resealable freezer bag or airtight container. Store the tofu in the freezer for up to five months.
  4. Thaw the tofu. To use, thaw the tofu in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Remove excess moisture. Squeeze out excess water and drain on a paper towel again. Cut into cubes or 3/4-inch slabs and cook immediately.
Food Network Kitchen's Hot Pot at Home.

Food Network Kitchen's Hot Pot at Home.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

How to Use Frozen Tofu

An extremely versatile protein, frozen tofu can be braised, deep-fried, stir-fried or put into a soup. (For more info on how to cook tofu, head over to our story How to Cook Tofu 3 Ways). One of the most traditional preparations of frozen tofu is to just add cubes of it into hot pot (pictured above) or in a cabbage soup, the latter of which is a preparation typical of Northern China. It also works beautifully in a miso fish broth with whole chunks of salmon. If you’re using it in a soup, the frozen tofu does not need to be defrosted again as long as it’s been portioned out into bite-sized pieces already; it will sort itself out in the hot, simmering broth.

Frozen tofu can also be braised for long periods of time in a concoction of soy sauce, sugar and rice vinegar, or thrown into a wok and stir-fried—traditionally with thin slices of pork or lamb. It can basically be used in any recipe in lieu of extra-firm tofu (see: Air Fryer Chilli-Garlic Tofu with Green Beans, Grilled Tofu and Chicken Pad Thai or Crispy Air-Fryer Tofu).

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