You may be wondering, is tofu gluten free? In this article, I’ll help you understand this mysterious product and learn which tofu brands you can safely eat when following a strict gluten-free diet. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
Tofu is one of those foods many people love, and many people hate.
My personal opinion is that tofu is a terrific plant-based swap for meat, and you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Let’s talk about tofu, what it’s made of, how to cook it, and what brands are gluten free and safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities to eat.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is made from dried soybeans and is often referred to as bean curd. It’s flavorless and an important protein source in China, Japan, Korea and throughout Southeast Asia.
Tofu is a great source of protein; each serving of it contains 14 grams of plant-based protein. Tofu is also a great source for calcium, potassium and iron, making it part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Tofu is also popular in the U.S. among those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or for those trying to eat less meat (like me).
Tofu is made when dried soybeans are soaked in water, crushed, and then boiled.
According to Britannica, the tofu mixture is then separated into solid pulp (okara) and soy milk. Salt coagulants, including calcium, magnesium chlorides and sulfates, are added to the soy milk to separate the curds from the whey.
The mixture is then molded into soft cakes that are cut into squares and stored under water until consumed. The water helps the tofu maintain its freshness, but the water should be drained and even pressed out before cooking.
Some tofu is made from genetically engineered soybeans, however, many brands, including the popular House Foods brand, use traditional breeding methods and are Non-GMO Project verified.
I typically wrap a tofu block in paper towels and apply gentle pressure to remove as much moisture as possible before cooking with it.
You can find tofu at most grocery stores in the U.S. in a variety of textures, including:
- Silken tofu (undrained, unpressed Japanese-style tofu)
- Soft tofu (good for blending in smoothies or dips)
- Firm tofu (good for mashing or crumbling as an add on to a dish, or as a scrambled egg substitute)
- Extra firm (good for stir-frying and grilling; can be marinated)
The type of tofu is related to how much water is pressed out of it. Extra firm tofu has the least amount of water in it and is therefore sturdier in texture. Inversely, silken tofu contains a lot of water and is very delicate to work with.
Tofu, when prepared as-is, is naturally gluten free. Avoid tofu that has been pre-seasoned and instead opt to season it yourself. See below section, Is Tofu Gluten Free?, for more details and a list of safe brands.
Please note tofu is different from tempeh, although the two are often confused.
Tempeh is another soy-based protein that is a pressed patty made from compressed whole fermented soybeans instead of the soy milk used to make tofu. It’s denser in texture than tofu, and also has a nuttier flavor whereas tofu is tasteless.
Tempeh is also higher in protein and fiber than tofu and it also boasts a firmer texture that holds up well to grilling and frying; this is why it’s often used as a true meat substitute. Tempeh, like tofu, does not contain any gluten.
How to Cook with Tofu
Tofu is flavorless and absorbs the flavors added to a dish, making it a very versatile food to cook with.
You can fry firm or extra firm tofu to make it crispy, and even coat it with a little cornstarch to make it even crispier when deep fried or pan fried in a little oil. I coat cubes of tofu with cornstarch in my Extra Crispy Tofu Stir-Fry with Garlic-Ginger Sauce recipe.
You can cube silken tofu and serve it in soups, and many people enjoy tofu as a dairy replacement in smoothies and as a meat replacement in stir fries and even sandwiches.
You can eat pasteurized tofu raw, otherwise, be sure to cook it first.
If you only cook with half of a block of tofu, you can store the leftover tofu in a sealed container filled with clean, cold water. It will last for 2-3 days.
Is Tofu Gluten Free?
As mentioned, tofu is made from soybeans, which are gluten free. A lot of people think soy contains gluten, and this is not true.
This misinformation may stem from the fact that soy sauce is not gluten free. Soy sauce contains soy and wheat, and the wheat part is what contains gluten, not the soy. (Read: 10 Surprise Foods that Contain Gluten from Haribo Gummy Bears to Twizzlers Licorice.)
Remember, gluten is a sticky protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. Gluten is not found in soy.
You can enjoy many tofu brands without worry, and many are certified gluten free.
Avoid tofu that is pre-flavored and always check ingredient labels to make sure the only ingredients in tofu is tofu, soybeans, water and a coagulant (i.e. calcium, magnesium chloride and sulfates).
One potential concern is that tofu can become cross contaminated at the farm level. Some farmers grow soybeans in rotation with wheat crops. (Did you know that 82 to 94 percent of crops are grown in rotation with other crops?)
That said, many farmers take extra measures to ensure their tofu is gluten free and can be labeled as such.
Plus, keep in mind that it’s easy to sort soybeans from wheat crops. And you can wash the soybeans thoroughly to remove any potential contaminants. (Separating wheat from oats is another story and it’s why oats are controversial in the gluten-free world.)
If you are extra careful about what you eat, and you’re worried about the potential for cross contamination, look for packages of tofu that bear a gluten-free label.
Gluten-Free Tofu Brands
House Foods: House Foods tofu is a popular brand and found at most grocery stores, including Sprouts, Safeway and Costco. It’s the brand I usually buy because it’s certified gluten free by the GFCO and clearly labeled “gluten free” on the front of each package. House Foods also makes tofu shirataki, which are spaghetti-like noodles made from tofu. They, too, are certified gluten free.
Morinaga: Morinaga makes authentic Japanese-style tofu that is found in the Asian food aisle as it does not require refrigeration. It’s also certified gluten free by the GFCO.
Sprouts and Kroger (Simple Truth) grocery stores also make privately-labeled tofu that are labeled gluten free, although neither is certified gluten free.
Nasoya Tofu is also labeled gluten free but not certified.
Tofu Brands NOT Labeled Gluten Free
The following tofu brands are not labeled gluten free, although none contain any gluten ingredients:
- 365 Tofu (Whole Foods)
- Trader Joe’s Tofu
- Wildwood Tofu
- O Organics Tofu (Safeway)
- Sunrise Tofu
You might enjoy these gluten-free dinners made with tofu:
- Sheet Pan Tofu and Broccoli Dinner (this is a favorite recipe in my house!)
- Crispy Tofu and Rice Ramen (learn more about gluten-free ramen noodles in this post)
- Extra Crispy Tofu Stir-Fry with Garlic-Ginger Sauce
- Delicious Gluten-Free BBQ Tofu Bowls
Joan Sowinski says
Even though I removed gluten from my diet, I still was having ( intestinal) problems. I finally pinpointed the problem to be soy protein (not oil or lecithin, thankfully)! I’ve read that approx. 20% of celiacs cannot tolerate soy, that’s 1 in 5 celiacs! It would be great if you would research/write about this.
( Btw, inulin and some plant fibers, e.g. chicory root also don’t work for me, and they are in lots of products.)
Good For You Gluten Free says
LYNDA WINTER says
I forgot about cross contamination and ate tempeh that was not labelled gluten free. And I suffered the next day. I won’t make that mistake again.