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

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 29, 2021

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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 aburaage like Hime brand Inarizushi no Moto because it is stored in a liquid that helps to keep the tofu pockets soft and chewy.

With the canned aburaage, 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 aburaage 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 is also called usu-age sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aburaage 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 aburaage 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

Aburaage vs atsu-age vs inari age

There’s some confusion about aburaage, atsu-age, and inare age, but they are 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 is a type of aburaage, so if you want already seasoned and flavored tofu pockets, you can buy inari age and save yourself the task of seasoning.

Types of aburaage

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

Triangular shape aburaage

The triangular aburaage is native to Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture. There is 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 aburaage. It is 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 aburaage. In fact, the deep-fried tofu is so thin; you can easily break it by hand like a potato chip.

This type of aburaage 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 is a local food from Nagaoka in the Niigata Prefecture.

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

Where to buy abura age and best brands

Talented home cooks will make fresh aburaage 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 aburaage. J-Baskett is another great brand.

The aburaage 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 aburaage 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 are 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 aburaage. This one is seasoned in a soy sauce liquid, so it is 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 aburaage 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 aburaage with flavored seasoning, packed in air-tight packaging.

This is a frozen aburaage 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 aburaage include:

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, which is 110-120 C. After being deep-fried, tofu will get larger and crispy.

The second time, the tofu is fried at a very high temperature between 360-400 F or 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 is aburaage used in most often? Perhaps, you’re unsure and want to know ‘how do you use abura age?’

The three most common recipes that use aburaage are:

But, I’ll share other beloved dishes that will surely make you want to try cooking with aburaage.

Before using aburaage, though, one thing to note is that it is 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 aburaage. 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 aburaage 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 aburaage in stew or broths and add it to noodles dishes.

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

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

Aburaage 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. For this dish, aburaage is cooked in the hot pot in a very flavorful broth, and it’s then served with rice.

It is 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 aburaage 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 aburaage 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 aburaage 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 aburaage. The tofu is seasoned while cooking in dashi stock.

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

Aburaage is a mythical food

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

It all starts with a goddess called Inari, and she 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 aburaage, and it’s one of their favorite foods.

Do foxes actually like fried tofu? Well, I’m not sure, but aburaage is always associated with Kitsune (foxes). Aburaage is even offered as a gift at shrines.

Takeaway

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

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

So, 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!

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

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.