The word yuba means dried tofu skin, a staple of Chinese and Japanese cuisines. This somewhat buoyant, and rubbery ingredient naturally forms on top of soy milk, and simply put, it's made of coagulated soy proteins. For consumers, we see it less as the top of tofu and more in prepared dishes such as sushi, dim sum, soups, and noodle bowls. Understand more about how yuba became a popular addition to the Asian pantry and ways you can incorporate it into your own kitchen.
What Is Yuba?
Fresh yuba looks just a lot like thinly sliced tofu but proves denser and has more of a bouncy ball quality to it—thanks to the aggregation of soy proteins that form this unique ingredient. To make this food traditionally, the congealed top of simmering soy milk gets plucked off with a large stick and hung to dry. This could happen many times in one vat of the heating soy milk, a byproduct of what later becomes tofu. Hence the translation, tofu skin.
Legend states this food came to Kyoto and Shiga in Japan about 1,200 years ago from China, and the word yuba is actually a Japanese phrase. This ingredient has a long history in Japanese culture and remains one of the items you find in sho-jin meals, which are the special foods given to holy men. Though the priests enjoy plenty of yuba, the food permeates Japanese culture in other ways and is still found throughout Chinese cuisine as well. In fact, jai, a vegetarian stew prepared during the Lunar New Year, remains a staple, and when eating dim sum you may have sampled plenty of stuffed bean curd rolls, which often contain a yuba.
Another interesting side to yuba, it was used to make some of the first fake meat products thanks to the Buddhist monks in China a few hundred years ago. They took slices of yuba and stuffed them with chopped and spiced yuba chunks to mimic pork dumplings and sausages. Today, you can take sheets of yuba and layer them to create fake chicken, roll a pile of tofu skin to make a meatless meatloaf, and wrap this food around vegetables and fry to give your vegetarian dish a savory, umami-forward side.
What To Do With Yuba
A staple in Asian foods, you will see yuba both fresh and dried. You can actually try and make your own yuba by simmering soy milk for about 30 minutes and then letting it cool. Once the proteins have bonded, you scoop off the film and let it dry for a few days or sample the fresh-cheese-like tofu skin raw. Think of yuba as the butter of soy milk, and try it slathered on your toast or mixed into a steaming bowl of noodles. In parts of Japan, this flan-like food is called namayuba, and it gets prized based on the nuances each fresh sample presents.
The dried yuba proves even more prevalent since it can travel to markets across the world and stays good longer. To eat it you have to dehydrate, and then yuba can be used in soups and stews as the main protein or to add a different texture. Stir fry yuba with vegetables and seafood. Or cut it thin like noodles for a gluten-free pasta-like dish. You can even fry up slices of the stuff and toss it into a salad, garnish grilled salmon, or use an accouterment with other dipping foods. Really you can add yuba to almost anything, even if the meal doesn't have an Asian bent.
What Does Yuba Taste Like?
Like tofu, yuba doesn't have a strong taste, and it tends to pick up flavors based on what you're cooking with it. You will get nutty, slightly sweet nuances if sampling raw, but really it's the texture that stands out. If prepared right, it will be pliable and soft, but stretchy and slightly rubbery, almost like the outer skin of burrata or a tight mozzarella ball. You can eat fresh yuba straight from the pot, but to try the dried variety, you will need to dehydrate first.
Most recipes with yuba will be in the Chinese or Japanese category, but really you can take this ingredient and try it out with all sorts of spices, sauces, and methods. It can work the same way wonton paper does if you're making something like a dumpling, or yuba can be fried to add a fun texture to many dishes. Try it with these recipes and get inspired.
Where To Buy Yuba
It's not impossible to find yuba at a non-Asian grocery, but you probably won't see it at your usual big name store. Instead, seek out tofu skin in health food shops and Chinese and Japanese markets. You'll see it mainly dehydrated into sticks or sheets in the dried goods area of the store. It comes under many names too, such as tofu skin, tofu sheets, beancurd sticks, dried tofu, fu zhi, bamboo tofu, and bean curd skin.
Keep dried yuba as you would any pasta or grain—in a dark, dry spot in your pantry. If you get it fresh or have some dehydrated tofu skin to save, keep it sealed in the fridge, perhaps with a little water depending on how soon you plan to use it. It will stay good this way for a short time, about a week.
As far as types of yuba, you'll find it really just depends on the soy milk. Since soybeans aren't too different from each other, tofu skin proves consistent no matter what brand you get. However, there are two styles of yuba—dried and fresh. The former is more common, especially if you aren't located in an Asian country or have access to a Chinese or Japanese marketplace.