Tofu is a sponge-like cake made from condensed soy milk. It serves as a popular plant-based protein in many Asian and vegetarian dishes.
Many recipes use baked or fried tofu, while others may call for cold, raw tofu that’s often crumbled or cut into cubes.
If you’re new to eating tofu, you may wonder whether it’s safe to consume tofu that hasn’t been cooked.
This article examines whether raw tofu is safe to eat, as well as any potential risks that may come along with doing so.
The idea of eating raw tofu is slightly misleading, as tofu is an already cooked food.
To make tofu, soybeans are soaked, boiled, and made into soy milk. The soy milk is then cooked again, and thickening agents called coagulants are added to help form it into a cake (
There are a number of potential benefits of eating tofu straight from its packaging.
Tofu is one of the quickest and most inexpensive ways to add plant-based protein to your diet, as it doesn’t require much preparation besides draining excess water. It’s also a good source of nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese (
You can add raw tofu to things like smoothies, purées, and blended sauces, or use it as a base in homemade ice cream.
Eating tofu raw also minimizes any added oils or fats that may be used during common cooking methods. This, in addition to the fact that tofu is low in calories, may be important for someone wanting to limit their fat or calorie intake.
Tofu is technically a cooked food that can be cooked again at home, but it doesn’t have to be. Tofu is an inexpensive, nutritious plant protein that requires minimal preparation and is easy to add to recipes and meals.
Compared with eating raw meat or eggs, eating raw tofu poses minimal risk of foodborne illness due to the fact that tofu itself is a cooked food.
Still, eating raw tofu may increase your risk of certain foodborne illnesses, depending on how it was prepared.
As with all commercially prepared foods, tofu could become contaminated during its manufacturing process.
This could happen by way of cross-contamination if it was exposed to germs from another food like raw chicken, or if an employee sneezed on, coughed on, or handled it with unwashed hands.
As tofu is stored in water, contamination through germs in the water poses another potential risk.
One such case from the early 1980s linked an outbreak of Yersinia enterocolitica, a severe gastrointestinal infection, to tofu that came in contact with untreated water at the manufacturing plant (
Raw tofu may also be at risk for Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause foodborne illness symptoms. However, preservatives like nisin are often used on tofu to prevent it from growing (
Additionally, fermented tofu, which is raw tofu that has been fermented with yeast and different from the raw tofu sold at stores, is also at a higher risk of containing dangerous foodborne pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, a toxin that can cause paralysis (
Certain populations, including those with immature development or compromised immunity, are at a higher risk of more serious consequences of foodborne illness.
Some of these individuals include infants, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with autoimmune conditions (
These groups will want to practice good food safety and storage habits with raw tofu, just as they should with other foods.
Symptoms of foodborne illness may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, bloating, cramps, and gas. Severe symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea, fever, or diarrhea lasting more than a couple of days, should be evaluated by a medical professional (
While tofu generally poses a low risk of foodborne illness itself, contamination may occur during its manufacturing process or if it’s homemade. This could be especially dangerous for populations with weakened immune systems.
While tofu comes in a variety of textures — silken, firm, and extra firm — technically any of them can be eaten raw.
Before enjoying raw tofu, drain off any excess liquid from the packaging.
It’s also important to store tofu properly to prevent germs from growing on any unused portions. Bacteria are more likely to grow if the tofu is stored at temperatures between 40–140°F (4–60°C), a range known as the danger zone (10).
When preparing raw tofu to eat — for instance, if you’re crumbling it on a salad or chopping it into cubes — be sure to use clean and washed utensils to minimize exposure to potential contaminants. This includes a clean countertop or cutting surface.
Aftering draining off the excess liquid, tofu can be eaten straight out of its packaging. To prevent contamination, prepare it using clean utensils and surfaces at home, and store it at proper temperatures.
The tofu at most grocery stores is technically not a raw food, as it has been precooked before being placed in its packaging.
It’s a good source of nutrition and can easily be added to a number of meals and recipes with little preparation required.
While tofu can be eaten straight out of its package, it still comes with some risk of contamination, which can occur during its manufacturing process. It’s also important to practice safe preparation and storage at home before eating it.
While most people are at a low risk of becoming ill from eating raw tofu, very young children, older adults, pregnant women, or individuals with weakened immune systems may want to practice extra caution when eating tofu without cooking it again at home.