Japanese Food Report Logo (Wide)
Making Tofu

Making Tofu

Learn how to make authentic Japanese kinugoshi tofu using only soymilk and nigari. Follow the recipe and tips shared by Chef Yasuhiro Honma for creating fresh silken tofu at home. Spoiler alert: the temperature and method of adding nigari are crucial!

There's nothing like fresh, handmade Japanese "silken" tofu (called kinugoshi in Japanese). Coaxed from just soybeans, water, and nigari, a coagulant derived from seawater, it's a quintessential expression of Japanese cuisine -- the idea of finessing something so sublime from a few simple elements. I first tasted the real deal at the workshop of a traditional tofu maker in Kyoto I visited one morning before sunrise. With a lovely custard-like texture, delicate natural sweetness and seductive fresh soybean flavor, their tofu had as much to do with the stuff sold in supermarkets as a beautiful farmstead ricotta does with a tub of Polly-O.

Here in New York, my friends at En Japanese Brasserie have made fresh tofu a centerpiece of their menu since the restaurant opened. It is absolutely wonderful tofu, and has gained a legion of devoted fans. Many customers have asked Chef Yasuhiro Honma how to make tofu, so now En runs occasional tofu-making demonstrations at the restaurant, which I help moderate. The latest one was yesterday.

You need soymilk and nigari to make silken tofu. You can produce soymilk from scratch, but a good ready made soymilk will work fine, too. Okay, so what's "good soymilk?" Soy milk is not the stuff you see in health food stores or supermarkets. Those products are watered down and loaded with (albeit natural) additives, flavors, salt and sometimes sweeteners. Even "unsweetened" commercial so-called soymilk doesn't cut it (read the label). You need real, fresh soymilk, made from two ingredients: soybeans and water. You can find said soymilk at Japanese and Asian food markets. Like cow's milk, it comes in half-gallon jugs and has an expiration date.

Nigari is magnesium chloride extracted from sea water (the salt is removed and water evaporated). It acts just like rennet does with animal milk in cheesemaking -- it coagulates the milk to produce curds and whey. You can also buy it in Japanese markets.

Now, there are two overall kinds of Japanese tofu: momen, a firmer tofu, and kinugoshi. Producing momen is a lot like making cheese -- the nigari breaks the soy milk down in to curds and whey, and you press the whey to form tofu blocks. With kinugoshi, though, you first thicken the soymilk by boiling off some of its water, then carefully add nigari in a such a way that it doesn't separate the soymilk. It you do this right, the soymilk remarkably coagulates into silken tofu. If you screw it up, it doesn't. You'll know right away.

Homemade Tofu Recipe


  • 2 quarts soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon liquid nigari


  • A wooden spatula
  • A square container (7x7x7 inches recommended)


  1. Heat the Soy Milk: In a pot over medium heat, cook the soy milk until it’s reduced by 80%. Using a kitchen thermometer, bring the temperature to about 135°F. Chef Honma mentions that a temperature between 140°F and 160°F could also work, depending on the nigari used.

  2. Add Nigari: Once heated, pour the soy milk into the square container. Then, add 1 tablespoon of nigari to the soy milk all at once.

  3. Mix: Stir the soy milk with a back and forth motion a few times using the wooden spatula. Then, stop the liquid from moving by placing the spatula upright in the container's center for a couple of seconds.

  4. Let It Set: Remove the spatula, cover the container with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 15 minutes. The secret is in the nigari's addition; stir just enough to combine without breaking the soy milk into whey and curds.

  5. Finishing Touches: If done correctly, you'll have tofu in the container. You can enjoy it fresh, seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and ginger, or wrap the tofu in cheesecloth, store it in a bamboo basket in the fridge to firm up and release water for a few hours.

Chef’s Insights:

  • Stirring Technique: Excessive stirring after adding nigari can lead to whey and curds formation, which is not desirable. The idea is to blend just enough to mix the nigari with the soy milk and then immediately halt the movement.

  • Square Container: A square shape helps prevent excessive swirling, which allows the nigari to combine with the soy milk more uniformly, promoting a coagulation process with less breakup into whey and curds.

  • Temperature Notice: Experimenting with the best temperature based on your cooking equipment, the ingredients used, and your giftable techniques.