You’ve probably tasted paneer and tofu in some of your favorite vegetarian dishes. They are both white, soft, and mild, and they provide many of the same nutrients but in different amounts.

Paneer is a type of cheese derived from animal milk. Tofu is made from soy and does not contain animal-based ingredients.

This article provides an overview of the similarities and differences between paneer and tofu, along with tips on how to prepare both for a nutritious vegetarian meal.

Paneer is a fresh, non-aged cheese made from cow’s or buffalo’s milk that has been curdled with lemon juice or another acid. Likely originating in India, paneer is also known as Indian cottage cheese.

You might find that the mild taste of paneer reminds you of American cottage cheese. Depending on how long paneer is pressed, its texture ranges from soft and spongy to slightly firm. Also, it does not melt during cooking.

Cooks often cut paneer into cubes and add it to curries. You can also bread and fry paneer, as is common in many Indian, Afghan, Pakistani, and other South Asian cuisines.

Tofu, on the other hand, is a bean curd made from soy milk. Like paneer, it’s curdled and pressed. There are many available textures of tofu, including soft, firm, and extra-firm.

Both foods look similarly like white blocks, but their ingredients are very different. Tofu is usually cut into cubes or slabs like paneer, but paneer is essentially a dairy product, while tofu is not. Soy “milk” can be a misleading term, as soy contains no dairy.

Tofu originated in China and is a staple of many Asian cuisines. Today, it is consumed all over the world. Common tofu preparations include soups and stir-fries. While bland on its own, tofu soaks up the flavors of its marinades and seasonings.

Summary

Paneer and tofu are both white blocks that have been pressed and curdled. However, paneer is a type of cheese from India, while tofu is soybean curd from China.

Tofu and paneer are both good sources of protein and commonly used in vegetarian dishes. They also contain some of the same micronutrients in varying amounts.

Here’s a comparison of the nutrition of 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of paneer and firm tofu made with calcium sulfate (1, 2).

PaneerFirm tofu
Calories321144
Protein25 grams17.3 grams
Fat25 grams8.72 grams
Carbohydrates3.57 grams2.78 grams
Fiber02.3 grams
Calcium31% of the Daily Value (DV)53% of the DV
Iron0% of the DV15% of the DV
Potassium2% of the DV5% of the DV

Based on this comparison, the nutritional chart shows that paneer has more calories, protein, and fat by weight.

However, keep in mind that you may be more likely to consume paneer in 1-ounce (28-gram) servings and tofu in 1/2-cup (126-gram) servings. Your normal portion of tofu likely has more protein than your typical portion of paneer in a dish.

Both foods are also rich sources of calcium, an essential mineral that supports bone health. As shown, tofu contains more calcium than paneer (3).

Just keep in mind that a lot of the calcium in tofu comes from calcium sulfate, a compound that’s widely used to help make tofu solid. Tofu that is not made with calcium sulfate won’t provide as much calcium.

Lastly, tofu provides more fiber, iron, and potassium than paneer. It’s also a source of beneficial plant compounds known as isoflavones that paneer does not provide (4).

Summary

Both paneer and tofu are good sources of protein and calcium. Paneer contains more protein, calories, and fat by weight, but this depends on the serving size.

Paneer and tofu are both foods sold in white blocks that can be added to dishes spanning many Asian cuisines. The production of both foods involves curdling and pressing. Each has a mild taste on its own yet absorbs the flavors of its marinades.

Additionally, these foods offer vegetarians excellent sources of protein and calcium. In particular, paneer and tofu are complete sources of protein, meaning they contain all the amino acids you need to get from your diet (5).

Consuming enough protein is important for maintaining a healthy weight and muscle mass. Eating both paneer and tofu can help you meet your protein needs (6).

However, the two foods don’t have many other similarities when it comes to health benefits.

Tofu, unlike paneer, is a source of isoflavones. These plant compounds may play a role in the prevention of certain diseases (4).

In fact, eating isoflavone-rich soy foods like tofu may be linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and some cancers. Still, the research is mixed and results may vary (7, 8, 9, 10).

Finally, tofu is a fully plant-based food, while paneer is made from milk. Therefore, tofu can fit into vegan diets that exclude all animal products, while paneer can be a part of vegetarian diets but not vegan ones.

Summary

Paneer and tofu are similar in color and texture. Both foods have a mild taste and provide protein and calcium. However, tofu is not made from animal products and contains some beneficial compounds that paneer does not.

Both tofu and paneer are used in a variety of Asian dishes. Some of the most common preparations of paneer are found in Indian cuisine, while tofu is common in Chinese recipes.

However, these ingredients are incorporated into dishes in areas all over the world. If you are interested in using them in home cooking, they are wonderful additions to stir-fries, soups, or curries.

For instance, you may enjoy the popular Indian dish palak paneer made with pureed spinach as your first introduction to paneer. If you’re trying tofu for the first time, this Chinese garlic tofu stir-fry is a great place to start.

In many recipes, you can substitute one for the other without a drastic change in taste or texture. Firm or extra-firm tofu would likely be the best replacement for paneer, texturewise. If you want or need a recipe to be vegan, use tofu instead of paneer.

Paneer and tofu are sold in blocks. You can find both of them at most large grocery stores — paneer in the cheese section and tofu usually in the refrigerated area of the produce section.

Tofu needs to be drained before you use it in recipes. Some people prefer to put it in a tofu press to drain additional liquid before cooking.

If a recipe calls for cubed tofu or paneer, slice the block into slabs about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Then stack a couple of slabs and cut them into cubes.

Summary

Tofu and paneer are typically used in Asian dishes but can be incorporated into all sorts of recipes, including soups and stir-fries. Since both have mild tastes and fairly similar textures, you can even use them interchangeably, depending on the dish.

Even though they may look similar, paneer and tofu are different foods. Paneer is a cheese, while tofu is made from soy.

However, they’re both vegetarian sources of protein and calcium that have mild tastes and fairly soft textures. For these reasons, they may be used interchangeably in some recipes.