How Long Does Tofu Last In The Freezer?

Tofu is a versatile protein that can be used in just about any type of cuisine, but it's not the most long-lasting ingredient. This fresh product is often sold packed in water to preserve it, and once opened, the clock starts ticking in terms of shelf life. Luckily, whether you're making tofu at home or buying it, you can use some handy tricks to extend its freshness.

One gem of tofu wisdom is that freezing it not only extends its lifespan, but changes its texture to a meatier, denser bite and improves its ability to absorb flavors. The freezing and thawing process transforms your block of soybean goodness from the inside out, resulting in a more hearty dish. Freezing works best for medium, firm, or extra-firm block or "cotton" tofu, as opposed to soft or silken tofu, which is too delicate and full of water to withstand the freezing process.

For unopened store-bought tofu, the date on the package will tell you how long it lasts before opening. If you open the package, but don't finish the block, the key to storing open tofu in the fridge is to keep it in water. It should be used within seven days of purchase. Freezing, on the other hand, will give you a lot more time — about three to five months (per the USDA).

How to freeze tofu

While you can eat raw tofu out of the package, many people prefer to cook it in a way that plays up its meaty qualities. Freezing it before cooking gives it the ability to soak up marinades and sauces, and it will turn firmer and chewier, perfect for dishes where it serves as a meat substitute. This remarkable texture is due to water in the tofu expanding as it freezes. The ice crystals form pockets within the curd, and once defrosted and drained, the tofu winds up somewhat dehydrated, with plenty of airy holes inside. The pockets drink up whatever tasty flavors you season the tofu with.

There are a couple different schools of thought on how to freeze tofu. One way is to remove it from its packaging, press out the liquid, slice it into slabs or cubes, and store it in a container or freezer bag. This works to divide up a whole block, as you can just take out as much tofu you want to use, while the remainder can stay frozen. An easier method is to just put the entire unopened block into the freezer. This works well for longer-term storage, and the square plastic containers tofu is sold in are great for stacking.

How to thaw frozen tofu

You'll need to defrost frozen tofu before cooking it, so plan ahead. Depending on if you're using a solid block or one cut into pieces, thawing can take a few hours to overnight. To thaw, place the tofu in a bowl or on a plate and transfer it to the refrigerator. You can also speed up the process by soaking it in warm water. Once the tofu has thawed and no longer feels hard and icy, remove any remaining water. You can either give it a good squeeze while it's sandwiched by paper towels or a clean cloth, or if you have one, use a tofu press.

While you should be aware of how to tell when tofu has gone bad (mold, a puffy texture, or foul odors are sure signs), freezing tofu will alter its appearance in a way that doesn't signify spoilage. It may take on a darker or yellowed color and can even turn a bit translucent, but as long as you used fresh tofu to begin with, these changes are to be expected and do not mean that it has spoiled. Once it's completely thawed, your frozen tofu is ready to soak up your choice of flavors, followed by roasting, sautéing, frying, or whatever other cooking methods you please.