Does Tofu Go Bad?

So maybe you bought tofu for the first time, procrastinated on making the dish you set out to, and now it’s nearing the date on the label. You assume that tofu does go bad, but aren’t sure when that happens. Or what are the signs of bad tofu.

Or you’re a more seasoned tofu consumer, but up to this point you always used the whole package at once. Now you needed a smaller amount, and you’re not certain what to do with the leftovers. Maybe you even read somewhere, that you should submerge leftover tofu in water, but aren’t quite sure if that’s a legit piece of advice.

If you have any questions or doubts regarding storage, shelf life, and going bad of this soy product, this article is for you. In it, I discuss everything about tofu that you need to know so you can consume it safely.

Tofu and Fish
(credit: star5112)

How To Store Tofu

When it comes to tofu, there are two varieties available on the market. One that’s sold refrigerated and one that’s not. Generally, the label should say if the package needs to be in the fridge at all times, or not. If the label doesn’t make it clear, store it at the same temperature that it was in the store. That means you should put tofu that was in the refrigerated section in the fridge once you get home. Plus even if you can store the unopened package in the pantry, chilling it in the fridge generally has no adverse effects. In other words, when in doubt, refrigerate it.

Once you open the package, the leftovers always need to be refrigerated. Even if you bought the shelf-stable variety. For tofu to last as long as it can, you need to cover it tightly, and in some cases submerge in water. When should you submerge it in water and when not? You need to check the label if the producer advises against it. Some producers, like Morinaga, say outright that you shouldn’t cover their product in water. Other, like SoyBoy, clearly inform that covering the product with water is the proper way to store the leftovers. When in doubt, cover in water for best effects.

When it comes to storing leftover tofu in water, here’s what you need to know. First, use an airtight container, so the product doesn’t pick up any odors or bacteria. Second, the water should cover the tofu entirely. And third, the water needs to be always fresh, which requires you to change it every day or so.

Can You Freeze Tofu?

The general consensus is that you can freeze tofu and it freezes quite well. First off, don’t freeze the tofu in its original, unopened package. While that depends on how tofu is packed, some packages could burst in the freezer, and leave you with a big mess to clean up instead of frozen tofu. Second, frozen and thawed tofu changes in texture. It becomes somewhat similar to a fish filet or chicken breast, so often people will simply call it “meaty.”

Now let’s talk about the freezing process. If it was packed with water, drain it. Now it’s time to decide how large portions of tofu will work best for you in the future and cut tofu accordingly. Slicing it or cutting lengthwise into strips are the most popular options. Wrap each slice with plastic wrap or put each one in its own freezer bag. Be wrapping them separately you can easily take one or two from the freezer when needed, without thawing the rest. Once they’re wrapped, chuck them into the freezer. When it comes to thawing, there at least a few options.

How Long Does Tofu Last

All varieties of tofu come with a date on the package, and most often it’s a sell-by date. And that date is a pretty good estimate of how long the tofu will remain at peak quality. So as long as it remains unopened, you can keep it in storage up to that date, and probably a few days longer.

Once you open the package, the suggested storage time varies from brand to brand. Some brands, especially those that advise against covering the leftovers with water, usually suggest consuming the tofu within two to three days. Others, often those that recommend submerging the tofu, usually recommend finishing or freezing the leftovers within 4 to 5 days. Unfortunately, storing tofu in water is nowhere as effective as storing feta in brine. If the label doesn’t specify how long you can keep the leftovers, assume it’s 3 to 4 days tops.

Tofu (sold refrigerated, unopened)Sell-by + 3 – 5 days
Tofu (sold unrefrigerated, unopened)Best-by + 1 week
Tofu (opened)3 – 4 days

Please note that the periods above are estimates.

How To Tell If Tofu Is Bad

As usual, if there are any signs of mold or any other organic growth on the surface, throw the soy product out. Next, look for spoilage signs similar to those of dairy products, like cottage cheese or half and half. Those signs include a sour smell, often intensive enough that you notice it immediately after opening the package, or a sour taste. If you think that there’s anything wrong with the tofu, or it’s stored for much longer than the suggested periods, discard it too.