Tofu is probably the most ubiquitous vegetarian food on the planet. It’s a well-known replacement for meat in many dishes. But that doesn’t mean that every kind of tofu dish is prepared to be fully vegan.
Is tofu vegan? Tofu itself is vegan; it is made entirely of soybeans. Most popular tofu dishes are also vegan. But some tofu dishes, such as Agedashi tofu and Mapo tofu, traditionally contain meat. In these cases, specific ingredients can be omitted or replaced to make it vegan.
If you’ve never tried tofu before, it can easily take on any flavor from sweet to sour, savory to spicy, making it versatile and fun to create recipes with. I’m going to break down some of the top types of tofu you might try and any ingredients you need to be wary of!
What Tofu Adds to a Vegan Diet
First, let me just say: Tofu is a great food to add to a vegan diet for multiple reasons. First, let’s look at the nutritional side of it.
As far as plant foods go, tofu provides a whole lot of protein. Vegans often recommend eating beans for protein, and yes—beans do have protein. But a whole can of beans still only has about half the protein of a standard-sized block of tofu.
For me personally, I know if I’m trying to meet a certain protein intake for building muscle mass or getting fit—see my article on getting a 6-pack as a vegan—I need something like tofu or tempeh to get me there.
But aside from just the nutritional benefits, tofu is also very satiating. It fills you up because of all that protein and also because of its healthy fats.
And lastly, tofu is versatile. It can fill many different roles in different dishes. And it can become a pillar of your meals in a similar way as meat in the Standard American Diet. You can build meals around it.
Is Raw Tofu Vegan?
Raw tofu is vegan, and there’s nothing wrong with eating tofu raw. Salad bars will often have blocks of raw, firm tofu that you can add to your salads. However, raw tofu can lack flavor, so you may want to spice it up using some other vegan ingredients to make an actual dish.
For example, you can make delicious tofu breakfast tacos in a matter of minutes, or you can make a savory vegan raw tofu dinner using almonds, rosemary, lemon, and so many other delightful ingredients.
Is Fried Tofu Vegan?
Fried tofu is usually vegan. Some fried tofu recipes may suggest using butter or other non-vegan ingredients, but most will be vegan because tofu is commonly viewed as a vegetarian option. Even if a recipe suggests frying with butter, you can simply replace it with vegetable oil.
Rest assured that fried tofu is going to be very satisfying and can even be used as one of your comfort foods. It’s warm, delicious and feels good in the tummy. Check out this crispy fried tofu recipe, for example!
Fried Tofu: Vegan But Not Necessarily Healthy
Remember that just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. Even if you’re deep-frying something healthy like vegetables or tofu, the outcome is still high in calories and fat. I covered this a bit more in my article “Can Vegans Eat Fried Food?“
That said, having fried food every once in a while is not going to wreck your diet or health overall. Make fried tofu your “cheat meal” and you will be glad you did. Pair it with some vegetables, and it’s really not bad at all.
Just keep in mind for the long term that fried foods can sometimes add to a caloric surplus and cause weight gain. So keep that in mind if weight loss is a goal of yours.
Is Sesame Tofu Vegan?
Sesame tofu is almost always vegan. It is also very easy to make and makes for a very healthy dinner. It pairs best with a plate of brown rice and steamed broccoli, together making a powerhouse of protein and carbohydrates that will effectively fuel your vegan journey.
There’s something about sesame seeds in almost any dish that provides a delicate crunch while still being nutty and flavorful. Sesame is an easy way to rev up your plate and is a great way to add some crunchiness to soft tofu.
Is Agedashi Tofu Vegan?
Agedashi tofu can be made vegan. The usual way to serve Agedashi Tofu is with daikon (katsuobushi), also known as bonito flakes. Unfortunately, bonito flakes are not vegan, nor are they vegetarian. But there are vegan recipes that allow this dish to be made vegan.
I highly suggest adding Agedashi tofu to your “try” list! This fried tofu has a decadent outer crispy shell, with the inside being creamy and soft. It’s a two-in-one delight that can quickly be whipped up in your kitchen as an appetizer or snack.
Here is a simple vegan Agedashi Tofu recipe. If you’re up for a deep-fried treat, we highly recommend trying these out at least once. You will love the flavor composition and the silky, yet crunchy texture of the tofu.
Is Mapo Tofu Vegan?
Mapo tofu is not normally vegan, but it can be made vegan. Traditional mapo recipes contain either pork or beef. But there are plenty of vegan recipes out there and ways to replace the meat to create vegan mapo tofu.
Have you tried mapo tofu yet? It’s a spicy, succulent, and fully-flavored dinner—a staple in China, and for good reason.
Mapo consists of a variety of ingredients that are sure to bring the heat as well as offer a colorful plate that pleases the eye in an instant.
This vegan Mapo Tofu recipe is sure to bring the fierceness of regular mapo dishes without any meat or dairy products. It’s fully vegan!
Is General Tso’s Tofu Vegan?
General Tso’s tofu is vegan. Commonly available at Chinese restaurants even in the United States, General Tso’s tofu is accessible and delicious vegan Chinese food at its best.
With a perfect blend of sweet and spicy, this trademark Chinese plate is easily one of the best you will ever have.
Normal General Tso’s dishes include chicken—but the tofu version just includes deep-fried tofu instead. If you’re interested in making General Tso’s tofu at home, try out this recipe!
Note: You can also buy General Tso’s sauce at most grocery stores. It relies on processed sugar for its sweetness, so it’s not the healthiest option, but you should be fine eating it in moderation.
Two More Awesome Vegan Tofu Dishes to Try
Not every tofu recipe has to be inspired by Asian culture (although I am pretty sure we could eat it every day and never complain or get bored with it).
Check out these last two options for something different!
Southwestern Style Baked Tofu
If you occasionally crave the flavor of a good old-fashioned steak along your vegan journey, you can still eat a “steak” made entirely of tofu—and yes, it tastes amazing.
This Southwestern Style Baked Tofu has an assertive flavor combined with the heartiness of real meat, making it the ideal dish to bring to any BBQ. With so many spices that give it a ‘kick,’ you won’t miss real steak for a second.
Chocolate Tofu Pudding
No list would be complete without a delicious dessert option, and yes, you can actually make a flavorful and completely satisfying dessert using tofu.
The best thing about using tofu in your dessert is you won’t be sacrificing protein while devouring it. It’s a healthier option, although it will still contain a couple of not-so-good-for-you ingredients.
This Chocolate Tofu Pudding will fool even your non-vegan friends into being tofu believers. They will love it because it’s loaded with a succulent chocolate flavor that’s creamy and silky thanks to the tofu, and you will love it because they aren’t eating animal products. Everybody wins!
Tofu is completely vegan, but you just need to look at the details when preparing some of the recipes.
As mentioned, traditional tofu recipes can still contain animal products—namely Agedashi Tofu and Mapo Tofu, from this list—so it’s important to tweak these recipes to your own taste and vegan specifications!
If you’re ever in doubt about whether other particular foods are truly vegan, check out this article I did on checking food labels for help!