This Sticky Lemon Tofu is sweet, sour and sticky- just like take out lemon chicken. You’ll never know its naturally sweetened with dates! Vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free & oil-free!

Despite being half Chinese, I was never really a fan of Chinese cuisine. I never really craved it even though its full of sugar, MSG and all the chemicals that make it “so good”. A couple dishes I did love though was doused in sticky, sweet and sour sauces: orange sauce, sweet and sour sauce, kung pao sauce, general tso sauce and sticky lemon sauce… just to name a few.

sticky lemon tofu ingredients

After my last Date-Sweetened Korean BBQ Sauce & Date Sweetened Coffee Infused BBQ Sauce, I was curious to see if I could make other sauces using dates instead of refined sugar and I’m so excited to say it delivered. There are no artificial colours, flavours, sugars, chemicals or MSG used in this recipe AND to make it even healthier, the tofu is air fried instead of doused in oil. The lemon flavour is wonderful and perfect for the spring season.

air fryer tofu oil free

Theres no doubt take out is convenient, but when a recipe is this easy to make makes it worth it to spend a few extra minutes to make a healthier version at home! Guaranteed, it’s also way more budget friendly per serving.

I love pairing this Sticky Lemon Tofu with a bed of fresh rice and a side of vegetables such as broccoli, boy choy or cauliflower (get those vegetables in!).

I hope you try and enjoy this Sticky Lemon Tofu as much as I do! It’s:

  • sweet
  • sour
  • sticky
  • crispy
  • date sweetened
  • way healthier than the take out stuff
  • easy and simple
  • & makes a damn tasty replica of lemon sticky chicken!
chinese sticky lemon tofu

I’m super keen on making more Chinese dishes with sticky tasty sauces using dates! What was your favourite Chinese take out dish? Which sauce should I sweetened with dates next? Let me know in the comments below or on instagram!

vegan sticky lemon tofu

Tips and Tricks to making Sticky Lemon Tofu (Date Sweetened)

  • I 110% prefer to air fry my tofu as it yields a perfectly crisp exterior with a light inside (almost like fried puffed tofu). It saves time, heat & money so I highly recommend an air fryer!
  • The sauce recipe is quite sweet but if you enjoy a very sweet tasting sauce (like the one from fast food chains), you can bump up the amount of dates OR add in sugar if you don’t care for sugar free.
  • If using sugar and NO dates, use 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp of sugar and add in an extra tsp of corn starch to the slurry.
  • If you are looking for that glossy, sticky beautiful finish on your tofu do not skip out on straining the sauce. The date skin adds a bit of darkness so by straining it out, you will get that nice glistening sticky sauce finish.
  • You can save the left overs in the fridge in an airtight container for 1-2 days.
air fryer sticky lemon tofu

If you recreate these Sticky Lemon Tofu (Date Sweetened) please share it and let me know what you think by tagging me on Instagram @lisakitahara, I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!

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Sticky Lemon Tofu (Date Sweetened)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 6 reviews

  • Author: Lisa Kitahara
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Yield: 23 servings 1x


This Sticky Lemon Tofu is sweet, sour and sticky- just like take out lemon chicken. You’ll never know its naturally sweetened with dates!


  • 1 block of medium firm OR firm tofu (450g)
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • Optional: 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Sticky Lemon Sauce:
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth/water (80ml)
  • 1 cup dates (148g)
  • 1/3 c cup lemon juice (80ml)
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1.5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp corn starch + 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp salt and pepper (+ more to taste)
  • Toppings: sesame seeds & green onion tops


  1.     First prepare your tofu. After squeezing out as much liquid from the tofu cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes. Place into a container along with corn starch and garlic powder (if using). Gently shake the container until the tofu is coated with the corn starch. Place into lined air fryer at 400 for 12 minutes. Shake the basket and flip the tofu and air fry for another 12-15 minutes (or until crispy). I used medium firm tofu, so if using firm tofu you may need to reduce the time by 1-3 minutes.
  2. For the sticky lemon sauce, add all the ingredients into the blender except the corn starch and water. I recommend straining the sauce at this point but if you’re in a pinch this step is not crucial. Add the sauce in a small non-stick pan over medium high and bring to a simmer. While waiting, mix the corn starch and water to make a slurry. Once the sauce begins to simmer, reduce to medium low and whisk in the slurry. Continue whisking and simmering for 1 more minute, until thick. Add in the lemon zest. Taste and adjust by adding in more salt. Once nice and thick reduce the temp to the lowest temperature until the tofu is finished.
  3. Once the tofu is nice and crispy, toss in the thickened sauce until all pieces are evenly coated. Immediately serve with your grain of choice, pair it with some of your favorite vegetables and top with sesame seeds and/or green onion tops!


  • I used medium first tofu in this recipe as I like the inside of my tofu to be light and puffed. Firm tofu can also be used but adjust air frying/baking times accordingly.
  • For baking the tofu: Pre-heat the oven to 400 F and bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the tray and flipping the tofu around the half way mark.
  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 25 mins

Save it for later! ↓

sticky lemon tofu

About Lisa

I'm Lisa, a home cook, recipe developer and founder of Okonomi Kitchen. Here, you'll find a mix of classic and modernized Japanese recipes, and creative, plant-forward meal inspiration using seasonal ingredients. I hope to share more about Japanese cuisine and culture through food and recipes.

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  1. This was my first time trying Lemon Tofu (hadn’t tried Lemon Chicken before) and it was delicious! The sauce has a great pairing of flavors and the lemon juice and zest really set it off; I’m definitely going to use it with other recipes.
    I didn’t have any Dates on hand so subbed in all sugar, as suggested in the recipe.
    Will definitely make this again~

  2. I love this recipe! It was so tasty and packed with flavor! The lemon really comes through which I super appreciate. Can’t recommend it enough and never would have thought dates would work so well in a sauce.

  3. i only made this once way back when and it was heart eyes amazeballs

    i didn’t follow this recipe to a T, i combined it with an orange sauce recipe and used sugar instead of dates. but the combo was delectable
    i wish i wrote down the measurements but i would love to try this one again and also as its written

    1. Awesome to hear it worked with the modifications, I’ll have to try making an orange sauce version too! 🙂

  4. This recipe was delicious and tasted so authentic! I am not a huge fan of sweetened savoury foods however I quite enjoyed this. My mom couldn’t stop eating the sauce and thought the tofu was chicken!