Tofu is one of my go-to ingredients in the kitchen. It’s versatile, packed with protein, and easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes. However, like any perishable food, tofu doesn’t last forever. Knowing the shelf life of both uncooked and cooked tofu can help prevent wasting this nutritious staple.
In this article, I’ll share how to store tofu to extend its freshness and signs that your tofu has spoiled. You’ll also learn how long cooked tofu lasts in the refrigerator and whether you can freeze tofu for longer storage. With a few simple storage tips, you can enjoy tasty tofu dishes while reducing food waste.
How Long Unopened Tofu Stays Fresh
First, let’s start with uncooked tofu you buy at the grocery store. When properly sealed in packaging, tofu has a surprisingly long shelf life.
Unopened tofu can be kept refrigerated for many months past the expiration or “best by” date printed on the package. Tofu is packed in water to maintain freshness. As long as the water hasn’t evaporated and the package remains sealed, it will stay fresh for a prolonged period under refrigeration.
Once you open the package, the clock starts ticking. Exposing the tofu to air causes it to spoil more quickly. Make sure to check the date on the package when purchasing. I recommend using unopened tofu within several days of the “best by” date for best flavor and texture.
Refrigerator Life of Opened Tofu
After opening a package of tofu, it’s important to use it soon for food safety. How long does opened tofu last in the refrigerator?
Once exposed to air, the shelf life decreases dramatically. You should use opened, refrigerated tofu within 3 to 5 days for optimal freshness.
Make sure to drain off any excess water and store the block of tofu in a sealed container. You can also submerge it in fresh water, changing the water daily to maximize the refrigerator life. But I find draining and sealing it is an easier method.
Follow your nose – if you detect an off smell or see mold growth on opened tofu, it has spoiled and should be discarded.
Proper Storage of Cooked Tofu
Knowing how to store leftover or prepared cooked tofu can prevent waste and keep it fresher longer. Here are some tips for maximizing the shelf life of cooked tofu:
- Allow tofu to cool completely after cooking before refrigerating. You don’t want to put piping hot tofu into the fridge.
- Transfer cooled cooked tofu to an airtight container. Glass and plastic containers with tight-fitting lids work best.
- Minimize air exposure by pressing plastic wrap directly on the surface of the tofu.
- Refrigerate cooked tofu within 2 hours of preparation. Don’t leave cooked tofu at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
- Store cooked tofu towards the back of the fridge, away from the door where temperatures fluctuate.
Following these steps, properly stored cooked tofu will keep fresh for 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
If you mix tofu into dishes like stir fries, fried rice, or sauces, follow the refrigerated shelf life guidelines for the ingredient in the recipe with the shortest shelf life. For example, if mixed into rice which lasts only 3-4 days, consume the tofu dish within that timeframe.
How to Know When Cooked Tofu Goes Bad
Even when stored properly in the fridge, cooked tofu eventually will spoil. Check for these signs that indicate your tofu has gone bad and should be thrown out:
- Appearance: Mold growth and unusual colors like red, blue, or green indicate spoiled tofu. Discard moldy tofu.
- Texture: Tofu that is extremely mushy, slimy, or has become dry and crumbly has gone bad. Edible tofu should be creamy and moist.
- Smell: Strong sour, unpleasant, or fermented odors signal spoiled tofu. Cooked tofu normally has a mild beany aroma when fresh.
- Taste: Off flavors like tangy, bitter, or funky tastes mean your cooked tofu has turned. Fresh tofu has a neutral or mild savory flavor.
Trust your senses – they will alert you when refrigerated cooked tofu is past its prime. Remember the 4-5 day rule for cooked tofu storage.
Freezing and Thawing Tofu
For longer storage, cooked tofu can be frozen. Frozen tofu will keep for 2 to 3 months before the texture and flavor starts to degrade.
Here are some freezing tips:
- Place cooled cooked tofu into airtight freezer containers or bags. Remove as much air as possible.
- Label bags with the date and contents. This prevents mystery frozen foods!
- For best texture, thaw frozen tofu slowly by moving to the refrigerator the day before needed.
- Microwaving partially thawed tofu can lead to rubbery texture.
- Press out any excess moisture after thawing, since freezing causes water crystals to form.
With proper freezing technique, you can store a batch of cooked tofu for months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before using or adding to dishes.
Storing Tofu to Reduce Waste
Here are some key storage reminders for maximizing the shelf life and freshness of tofu:
- Check “best by” or expiration dates and use unopened tofu within several days, refrigerated.
- Once opened, use within 3-5 days for optimal flavor and texture.
- Allow cooked tofu to cool, then refrigerate in sealed containers within 2 hours.
- Consume cooked tofu within 4-5 days. Discard if moldy or smells bad.
- Freeze leftover cooked tofu for longer storage, up to 2-3 months.
Following these simple guidelines can help extend the refrigerator life of both uncooked and cooked tofu. Knowing proper storage times and signs of spoiled tofu prevents wasting this highly nutritious and versatile ingredient. With a few precautions, you can enjoy tasty tofu dishes while reducing food waste.
Bethany is an experienced food writer and recipe developer whose popular site Grangefarmschool.org provides home cooks with approachable recipes, cooking tips, and practical kitchen advice. Her thoroughly-tested recipes and inviting photography aim to make cooking fun and fulfilling for cooks of all levels.