Five Spice Tofu with crispy seasoned tofu tossed in a sticky sauce is an explosion of flavours. It's the perfect combination of sweet, savoury, spicy and tangy and is really quick and easy to make.
If you love food with BIG flavours this Five Spice Tofu won't disappoint. It's one of my favourite tofu recipes and gets made almost as often as my Baked Tofu and Maple Garlic Tofu.
This recipe involves crispy seasoned tofu tossed in a sweet, sticky, spicy, tangy and fragrant sauce. All the good stuff! And it's really quick and easy to make too.
Here's the rundown on what you need to make my Five Spice Tofu recipe and why:
- Tofu - For the best results it should be extra-firm and pressed. It's sturdy and will hold up to being tossed around and pan-fried. It will also give you the best texture.
- Chinese Five Spice - A spice blend that you should easily be able to find at most grocery stores. It has the most unique, fragrant and complex flavour. More details on what it is, (including a recipe to make the blend yourself from individual spices) are included in the FAQs. Once you've got some be sure to make my Tofu Quinoa Stir Fry too.
- Cornstarch - Known as corn flour in the UK. We use this to thicken the sauce and dredge the tofu. It makes sauces nicely shiny and clear in a much more visually appealing way than using regular wheat flour. It also makes tofu way crispier than regular wheat flour does. Important warning - Do not swap the cornstarch for arrowroot when dredging your tofu cubes. It will not work and you'll end up with a sticky, gluey mess in your skillet when you try to cook it.
- Rice vinegar – For the necessary touch of tang. It has a distinct flavour and is what works best. If you don't have it though use apple cider vinegar instead.
- Ketchup - The base of the sauce. It adds lots of flavour as well as sweetness and makes this sauce extra delicious!
- Maple syrup - For the sweet in the sauce with a slight caramel note. You could use brown sugar instead but you will need to add a little extra water to thin things out a bit.
- Toasted sesame oil – For a wonderful hint of sesame flavour. Omit to make the recipe oil-free.
- Soy sauce – For depth of flavour and savouriness. Any kind will do and you can use Tamari or coconut aminos instead if you are gluten-free.
- Garlic, ginger, salt - Essential for lots of flavour! I always keep some fresh ginger root in my freezer and simply grate it with my microplane straight from frozen when I need it. I don't even bother peeling it.
- Chilli flakes – For a hint of spiciness in the sauce. You could use a bit of chili paste, sriracha, Gochujang or Sambal Oelak instead if you prefer. Adjust the amount to suit your heat tolerance!
How to make Five Spice Tofu
This is a really quick and easy meal to bring together. Here's how it's done:
- Press the tofu
- Add the sauce ingredients to a pan and warm through until thick and glossy.
- Coat the tofu in five spice seasoned cornstarch then fry, oven bake or air fry until crispy.
- Toss in the sauce and serve.
For the best results when making this recipe, take note of these tips:
- Use extra-firm tofu. Don't try using a different type as you won't get the best results.
- For a really great tofu texture press the tofu. For anything to get crispy it needs to be dry, so by removing as much water from your tofu as possible, you set yourself up for success. A tofu press makes the job easy, but is not necessary. Just wrap it in a clean dish towel then use something heavy like a stack of cookbooks or a cast iron skillet with some cans in it to weigh it down.
- Do not swap the cornstarch for arrowroot when dredging your tofu cubes. It does not work in the same way as cornstarch and you'll end up with a sticky, gluey mess in your skillet when you try to fry it.
- Although I include details in the notes for how to bake the tofu oil-free, I highly recommend pan-frying it if you can for optimum flavour, crispy edges and texture.
- If you don't have a non-stick pan it is better to bake the tofu (or air fry it) rather than pan-frying it.
Serve Five Spice Tofu with the rice of your choice. Plain steamed rice is great, or try it with coconut lime rice, mushroom fried rice or oven-baked garlic mushroom rice. It's also good with noodles or quinoa.
On the side, steamed or stir-fried greens, bok choy, green beans, broccoli, edamame beans, or a fresh salad are nice. Finish with some sliced raw green onions and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
I don't recommend making the crispy tofu ahead, but the sauce can be made in advance and stored in the fridge or freezer. It keeps well for up to 1 week in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer. If frozen, defrost overnight in the fridge, then reheat gently in a pan on the stove.
Five Spice Tofu is best eaten fresh, but leftovers can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days and warmed through gently in a skillet before serving. Leftover sauce will keep in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for up to 3 months.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) are manifested in different parts of the body and if there are imbalances in these elements, then disease can occur. For thousands of years, different herbs and spices have been used to bring balance to these elements and that is how five-spice powder is thought to have originated.
Chinese Five Spice is a spice blend that usually contains star anise, fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon, although ingredients can vary slightly. The blend contains all five taste elements: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty and creates a perfect balance of warm, aromatic flavours and heat. A little goes a long way so use it sparingly.
You can find Chinese Five Spice in the spices section of most grocery stores, or if you have the individual spices you can also make up your own blend. Here is a homemade Chinese Five Spice recipe.
Arrowroot is a good sub for cornstarch when thickening, but it does not work in the same way when used to dredge something like tofu. It will end up a sticky, gluey mess in the pan and ruin your meal.
Wondering what to do with the leftover Chinese Five Spice? It's great in stir-fries or stir fry sauces, used to season flour when coating tofu, seitan or vegan chick'n, in cocktails, for seasoning vegetables and roasted nuts, and also added to baked goods and desserts. Try it in any recipe that calls for pumpkin pie spice. It's really good in my vegan pumpkin pie!
If you try this recipe, let me know how you like it by leaving a comment and rating below! And be sure to join my mailing list for more deliciousness!
Five Spice TofuAuthor:
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup (60 mls) rice vinegar , or apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup (120 mls) tomato ketchup
- ¼ cup (60 mls) maple syrup
- 1 cup (240 mls) water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce , or tamari or coconut aminos for GF
- 2 large cloves garlic , minced or grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger , grated finely
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (omit to make free)
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
For the tofu
- 1 block extra firm tofu , they vary in size slightly but about 450 g/16 oz
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch , (corn flour in the UK) - DO NOT USE ARROWROOT
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons oil of choice, omit to make oil-free
Press the tofu
- Press the tofu for at least 30 minutes. Either use a tofu press or wrap the block of tofu in a clean dish towel and stack some heavy things (like cookbooks and canned foods)on top of it. While it's pressing make the sauce.
For the sauce
- Add the cornstarch to a small pan and slowly add the vinegar, stirring as you go to work out any lumps.
- Now add all of the other sauce ingredients and stir well.
- Place over medium-low heat and keep stirring until it becomes thick and silky. Don't stop stirring as it will get lumpy. It will take about 10 minutes. Once thick turn down to the lowest setting possible and keep warm while you make the tofu. Or turn it off completely and reheat again when you are ready.
For the tofu
- Cut the pressed tofu into ½ inch cubes.
- In a large bowl, mix the Chinese five-spice and salt into the cornstarch.
- Add the tofu cubes to the flour mixture and toss to coat every cube. I find fingers the best option for doing this as you are less likely to break the tofu pieces.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. (to oven-bake or air fry the tofu with no oil see recipe notes)
- Once it is very hot, add the tofu. Cook until golden brown and crispy on all sides, tossing frequently. It will take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add enough sauce to the pan to coat the tofu, allowing it to cook for a couple of minutes until sticky, then serve immediately with the remaining sauce.
This recipe was originally published on March 1st, 2016. The post has been updated with new information and a video and now I am republishing it for you. The recipe itself remains the same. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for following A Virtual Vegan!
Made this for supper, as I had all the ingredients in the cupboard/fridge, it was delicious with spicy noodles.
Didn’t change anything altogether I added some chilli flakes to the tofu flour.
Will definitely do it again.
I just made this and it is SO GOOD! Thank you for another great recipe, Mel. I'm going to try and save some for tomorrow but I don't know if that will happen. LOL ;-)
Eric L says
Love you site but this recipe didn't work out for us. I served the tofu with rice and broccoli. Sauce had a great texture, but even though I replaced half the ketchup with tomato sauce . . .the taste was all ketchup and vinegar, and overly-sweet. Only one of the six people eating liked it.
Another terrific recipe. It tasted incredible (I cut down the syrup and ketchup just a tad to lower the sugar level) and I finally got to open the Chinese five-spice I've had sitting on my spice rack for probably five years. Never knew what to do with it, it sure is a potent spice blend. I'll definitely use it in the future - I made it last night and it still smells like a chinese restaurant in here, I love it!
I think I will pair this with some lightly sauteed carrots and shelled edamame, and some fluffy white rice. Thanks for this excellent recipe, yet again.
Hi, We made this sauce tonight with Chang Shing five spice tofu. So good! We used Heinz ketchup and half of the syrup. Thanks for the recipe!
This is amazing. I loved it. My 5 spice mixture was a bit heavy on the cinammon though (certainly not your fault!!)... have you ever substituted it for anything else? I love the consistency of the sauce, it's sticky and wonderful. I would love to reduce the cinnamon flavour a bit but don't want to mess up such a great recipe!! ha ha - I am making it again tonight!!
Melanie McDonald says
I'm really pleased you enjoyed it! This recipe is still really good without the 5 spice. I've run out and made it without it a few times. Or you could reduce the 5 spice by half and see how you go. Even down to a quarter of the amount and add more to the sauce to taste if you feel it needs it. And the tofu is fine with just the flour to coat it if you want to reduce the 5 spice a bit more. Maybe add a little salt and black pepper to the flour to make up for it. Enjoy!!
Starting making this and then realised I didn't have chinese five spice! Still tasted fantastic - I used GF flour and pepper for the tofu and simply omitted the five spice for the sauce. Will have to try again with the right ingredients ;) Thanks for the clear instructions - made a huge difference. One tip - I didn't have 'natural' tomato sauce so next time I'll reduce the maple syrup considerably to allow for this & reduce the sweetness a little.
Thanks for a great recipe :)
Thank you = that's the yummiest thing I have made for ages.
Do you use all of the sauce for this? I’d like to double the ingredients as well as add veggies and want to ensure I have enough sauce, though don’t want to make too much!
A Virtual Vegan says
You do use all of the sauce, but I do like things very saucy so there is a generous amount. You could probably get away with doubling the ingredients, but I would double the sauce too just to be safe. If you don't use it all it will keep for up to a week in the fridge and it freezes well so it wouldn't go to waste.
Gorgeous sweet sticky sauce - so easy to make for a non cook like me! The tofu crisped up really nicely too after following your tips - can I freeze the remainder after it has been pressed and dried?
A Virtual Vegan says
I'm so glad you enjoyed it Sarah. Yes it will be fine to freeze. It changes the texture a little, but for the better in my opinion.
Paul Gabriel says
Thanks for publishing oil-free versions. Besides that, since I'm a sissy. When it comes to heat, so I halved the ginger and added a small can of tomato sauce. We thought it was delicious.
A Virtual Vegan says
Sissy's are very welcome here ;O) I am so glad you enjoyed it and were able to adapt it to your taste. Thanks so much for stopping by to let me know!
What a brill recipe - so easy and quick to make. We had it for tea tonight and it was fab. Steve (a meat eater) said it tasted 'just like Chinese'!
A Virtual Vegan says
That so good to hear Sandra and it's an even bigger compliment that a meat eater enjoyed it! It does kind of taste like a Chinese takeout doesn't it? Thanks so much for stopping by to let me know :0)
Made it , eaten it, fed it to the family. It really is very good, easy to make. I will definitely be making it for dinner guests.
A Virtual Vegan says
I am so glad that you and you're family enjoyed it Lynda. Thank you for taking the time to let me know :O)