Best abura-age | What is it, where to buy it, and how to use it

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 16, 2022

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When it comes to deep-fried foods, the Japanese sure love their abura-age.

If you’re unfamiliar with this interesting food, you might’ve already had it as part of miso soup, hot pot, or in inari sushi.

It’s actually deep-fried tofu and adds a tasty savory crunch to your favorite Japanese dishes.

Best abura age | What is it, where to buy it and how to use it [full aburaage guide]

The best abura-age is canned abura-age like Hime brand inarizushi no moto because it’s stored in a liquid that helps to keep the tofu pockets soft and chewy.

With the canned abura-age, you can blanch the tofu with hot water to remove the excess oil and then use the pockets for sushi, soup, stews, and toppings.

Best aburaage Image
Best canned aburaage: Hime brand inarizushi no moto   Best canned aburaage- Hime brand Inarizushi no Moto  

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Best canned aburaage with seasoning: Shirakiku inarizushi no moto  Best canned aburaage with seasoning: Shirakiku Inarizushi No Moto 

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Best frozen and seasoned aburaage: Shirakiku seasoned inari age ajitsuke Best frozen and seasoned aburaage : Shirakiku Seasoned Inari Age Ajitsuke

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But first, let’s look at what abura-age is, how it’s made, and what kind of recipes you can use it for.

What is abura-age (aburaage)?

Abura-age, or aburaage (油揚げ), is known as “tofu pockets” in English. In Japanese, it’s also called usu-age sometimes.

For the sake of uniformity, I’ll be spelling it as abura-age, as it’s the most common way to spell it in English.

This Japanese food is made from bean curds (soybeans), and it’s actually double deep-fried tofu.

Firm tofu (momen-dofu) is cut up into thin slices and then deep-fried not once, but twice at different temperatures until it becomes crispy and hollow.

Basically, the tofu has a thin exterior and an air pocket inside. Generally, abura-age is moistened before serving, and it takes on a fluffy, chewy texture.

The best abura-age is made with firm tofu that has at least 85% moisture content. It expands when it’s deep-fried and has a yellow to brownish color.

You can expect abura-age to be oily, so you’ll likely have to remove some of the excess oil first.

Abura-age has a flexible, chewy texture but a relatively mild flavor. It has the classic tofu taste but the added goodness of fried foods.

It’s usually sold in a triangle shape or as rectangular pieces. But the reason why abura-age is so popular is that it absorbs seasonings and broths!

Aburaage tastes great in many dishes; for example, the comforting and simple rice dish takikomi gohan.

Abura-age vs atsu-age vs inari-age

There’s some confusion about abura-age, atsu-age, and inare-age, but they’re NOT the exact same thing.

Aburaage refers to THIN slices of deep-fried tofu. On the other hand, atsu-age refers to THICK slices of deep-fried tofu.

Inari-age is actually abura-age that’s been seasoned in a sweet and savory dashi broth. It’s a type of abura-age, so if you want already seasoned and flavored tofu pockets, you can buy inari-age and save yourself the task of seasoning.

Types of abura-age

Aburaage refers to deep-fried tofu pockets, but of course, there are some local variations worth mentioning.

Triangular shape abura-age

The triangular abura-age is native to Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture. There’s a famous temple located there called Mt. Jogi, and the locals formed the tofu into the shape of a mountain.

This variation is larger and thicker than other abura-age. It’s served with garlic powder, red pepper, and some salty soy sauce.

Matsuyama age

In the Matsuyama area of Ehime Prefecture, the locals prefer a thin and very crispy abura-age. In fact, the deep-fried tofu is so thin that you can easily break it by hand like a potato chip!

This type of abura-age is best for storing in the pantry, as it lasts about 3 months at room temperature and doesn’t need to be refrigerated or frozen.

Tochio abura-age

This is the ultimate thick, dry, and fluffy aburaage. It’s a local food from Nagaoka in the Niigata Prefecture.

Since it’s so thick and delicious, it’s best served with green onion, red peppers, and soy sauce.

Where to buy abura-age and the best brands

Talented home cooks will make fresh abura-age at home, but there’s no reason why you can’t save some time and buy it at the grocery store!

Aburaage is sold in plastic packages or cans, and you can usually find it at Asian grocery shops in the refrigerated or frozen food aisle. You can also buy dry aburaage and then cook it in your dishes, which means you can stock it in your pantry.

Best canned aburaage: Hime brand inarizushi no moto

Best canned aburaage- Hime brand Inarizushi no Moto  

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Hime brand inarizushi no moto is one of the best canned abura-age around. J-Baskett is another great brand.

The abura-age is medium-thick and perfect for making inari sushi. The tofu is easy to work with, and you can stuff it without problems.

Plus, you can use the liquid from the can to add a bit of flavor to your dish!

The abura-age pieces are stacked on top of each other, and you can remove them from the can easily without breaking them.

These particular tofu pockets have a mild and slightly sweet taste, and they’re very soft and fluffy.

Check prices and availability here

Best canned aburaage with seasoning: Shirakiku inarizushi no moto

Best canned aburaage with seasoning: Shirakiku Inarizushi No Moto 

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Shirakiku inarizushi no moto is another canned abura-age.

This one is seasoned in a soy sauce liquid, so it’s savory but still sweet. I wouldn’t say that it’s salty, so you can definitely add more seasoning when you cook it.

These tofu pockets are small and the perfect size for inari sushi. Each can contains 20 small pouches, so it’s enough to feed the whole family.

The reason people love Shirakiku brand abura-age is because of the texture: the tofu is chewy, but still melts in your mouth.

They also aren’t overly oily, and that makes them easier to work with while prepping and cooking.

Check prices and availability here

Best frozen and seasoned aburaage: Shirakiku seasoned inari age ajitsuke

Shirakiku seasoned inari age ajitsuke is abura-age with flavored seasoning, packed in air-tight packaging.

This is a frozen abura-age product, so you have to store it in the freezer and then consume it within a few days. You can use these frozen tofu pockets to make any of the best Japanese recipes.

Other notable brands that make abura-age include:

  • JFC
  • Kikkoman
  • Maruki
  • Yutaka
  • Mac foods

How is aburaage made?

As I mentioned, you need to take a block of firm tofu and then deep-fry it twice to give it the perfect texture.

Before getting started though, the tofu must be well-drained. Place the tofu block in a towel the night before you make it and let it drain for at least 8 hours.

Then, it’s first fried at a lower temperature between 230-250 F (110-120 C). After being deep-fried, the tofu will get larger and crispy.

The second time, the tofu is fried at a very high temperature between 360-400 F (180-200 C.) This second deep-fry makes the abura-age crispier and gives it a nice golden brown color.

As a result of the deep-frying process, the tofu develops a very thin outer skin and becomes hollow inside.

Making abura-age at home is simpler than it appears. All you have to do is slice tofu into thin slices and then double deep-fry them.

Then, you can keep the aburaage in the freezer for later use.

Made your own tofu for aburaage and have some tofu skin or “yuba” leftover? Read all about it’s benefits, nutritional content, and how to make it here

Best recipes with abura-age

You might be wondering: what’s aburaage used in most often? Perhaps you’re unsure and want to know the answer to this question: how do you use abura-age?

The 3 most common recipes that use abura-age are:

But I’ll share other beloved dishes that’ll surely make you want to try cooking with abura-age!

Before using abura-age, though, one thing to note is that it’s oily, and you might have to pat some of the oil off. Do this by dabbing each pouch with a paper towel. Alternatively, you can place boiling hot water on the pouches and blanch it that way.

There are many ways to use abura-age. Let’s explore some tasty options!

Slice it into small strips and add it to miso soup. Without tofu, miso soup tastes a bit bland. Instead of regular tofu, using abura-age adds more richness, flavor, and texture.

It can be simmered and added to any type of dish and even works as a delicious meat substitute. Try simmering abura-age in stew or broths and add it to noodle dishes.

Make inari-age by simmering the abura-age in a savory and seafood-flavored dashi broth. To make it vegan, use a kelp and mushroom vegan dashi stock.

You can also add it to rice dishes. It’s especially tasty alongside steamed rice or as a topping for rice.

Abura-age can also be formed into small pouches, called kinchaku. The pouches are filled with rice cakes and then added to soups and stews.

Aburaage tastes excellent when you simmer it in broth for hot pot alongside beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetables.

Make oden hot pot too. For this dish, abura-age is cooked in the hot pot in a very flavorful broth, and it’s then served with rice.

It’s also commonly added to bento box lunches.

Don’t forget that you can use it as a topping for savory dishes like ginger rice. You need to remove the excess oil with hot water, and then you can slice the abura-age into very thin pieces and add it to the ginger-flavored rice.

Use it in inari-sushi. This is a tasty twist on sushi where rice, fish, and veggies are stuffed inside the aburaage pocket.

Imagine how tasty deep-fried tofu sushi tastes! The abura-age is first simmered in dashi stock and then stuffed full of sushi ingredients.

You can add it to takikomi gohan, which is a bowl of tasty rice mixed with abura-age and root veggies. Check out my takikomi gohan recipe too! You’ll love this quick and simple comfort food.

Aburaage is a popular addition to hijiki seaweed salad. It’s a salad made with seaweed, carrots, lotus, and abura-age. The tofu is seasoned while cooking in dashi stock.

Kitsune udon is a popular udon noodle soup that’s usually topped with abura-age and naruto fish cakes.

Check out this video by YouTuber JapaneseCooking101 on all the ways to cook with abura-age:

 

Aburaage is a mythical food

Aburaage is the “food of the gods”. There’s a mythical legend surrounding this tofu dish, and it has something to do with foxes.

It all starts with a goddess called Inari, who has fox messengers and also appears as a fox in her earthly form. Thus, foxes are highly respected animals in Japan and even have their own shrines.

If people give Inari and her foxes deep-fried tofu, she will bless farmers with a plentiful harvest. Inari is also the goddess of rice, tea, sake, and fertility.

According to Japanese legend, foxes love to eat abura-age, and it’s one of their favorite foods.

Do foxes actually like fried tofu? Well, I’m not sure, but abura-age is always associated with kitsune (foxes). Abura-age is even offered as a gift at shrines!

Enjoy this deep-fried tofu dish

The bottom line is that abura-age is a tasty deep-fried tofu dish. The best varieties on the market include frozen tofu pockets and canned abura-age.

These are easy to blanch and cook, and they can be used in a variety of dishes. Since abura-age has a mild flavor, you can always add your favorite seasonings and improve the taste.

So the next time you’re at an Asian supermarket, don’t forget to pick up some tasty deep-fried tofu!

Rather try teriyaki tofu? Check out my flavorful & vegan-friendly teriyaki tofu recipe!

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.