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Learn how to make fermented tofu, also called “Chao,” from scratch! This 4-ingredient condiment is cheesy and tangy and can be used to add plenty of flavor to soups, marinades, dipping sauces, and more!

Fermented tofu cheese cubes, also called chao in a bowl.

Since discovering fermented tofu, I have been using it a lot. Whether it is in soups, marinades, or as a dipping sauce, it can be used in many dishes to add extra flavor, umami, and some cheesiness.

The thing is, fermented tofu is not that easy to find, and let’s be honest, I wanted to learn how to make my own. Here is a guide on how to make fermented tofu (also called Chao) from scratch!

📘 What is Chao?

Chao (which is its Vietnamese name) is tofu that is fermented for at least 1 month in a brine that consists of water, salt, and usually rice wine. According to some books, the technique of making fermented tofu appeared in 200 BC in China.

It is quite salty, sometimes spicy, and has a very soft texture, almost like a paste that you could compare to blue cheese. When Chao is fermented for a long time, it takes a strong flavor, which reminds me of a strong camembert.

What’s great about chao is that it keeps for months, if not years, in its brine!

🥣 How to Make Fermented Tofu (Chao)?

Making chao is easy but requires some patience!

Before starting: As with most fermented recipes, taking care of hygiene is critical to the success of the fermentation process. So I recommend using gloves while handling the tofu to prevent bad bacteria.

Tofu cubes on a plate with kitchen paper towel.

Preparing the tofu

It starts with the tofu that is boiled for a couple of minutes in salted water. This step not only helps kill some bacteria but also helps the tofu drain more water.

Next, you want to place your tofu on several sheets of kitchen paper towel, cover it with more paper towels, and place a weight on it to press it and remove excess water. I usually use a large iron skillet that is quite heavy. Leave your tofu like this for about 1 and a half hours, and change the paper towel as needed if it becomes too wet.

How to Make Tofu Cheese (Chao)

Fermentation

Next, cut your tofu into 1-inch cubes. Place them on a plate lined with a kitchen paper towel, then place another piece of paper towel on top and cover the whole plate with plastic film.

Now you want to let the tofu ferment for about 2 days at 77-86°F (25-30° Celcius). So as you can guess, this recipe works best in the summer, but it can also be done during winter if you have a warm spot in your house.

After 2-3 days, the tofu should be slightly orange and a bit stinky (see photo below). It may have some white mold as well; that’s okay. If you see black or blue mold, just scrape it off. A quick tip: if the tofu is not stinky enough when you put it in the brine, you will end up with a mild chao. If it is already stinky, your chao will be stronger.

The hardest part is now done!

Fermented tofu with mold.

Adding to the Brine

The tofu now contains some natural cultures and molds that will work during the fermentation process.

To prevent the tofu from going bad, we need a brine. It consists of boiled water mixed with salt, sugar, and rice wine (or vodka). Place the tofu cubes in glass jars and cover with the brine.

Optionally, you can dip each tofu cube in chili flakes. It makes the chao more flavorful and gives it an appealing orange color. If you plan on using chao to make cheeses, simply omit the chili.

Tofu cube dipped in chili powder to make fermented tofu.

Once your jars are filled, secure them with a lid and place them in a dark place at around 68°F (20°C) for at least 3 weeks.

The longer you let it age, the stronger and softer it becomes. I found that after 6 weeks, the tofu was already creamy and had a nice cheese flavor.

💬 FAQ

Can I omit the wine?

I would not recommend it. It helps with the preservation of the tofu.

I am getting a lot of black mold on the tofu. Is this normal?

No, you shouldn’t have any black mold. If that is the case, start again and make sure all of your tools and plates are clean. Use very clean hands while handling the tofu, or handle it with clean chopsticks.

How long can I keep Chao?

You can keep chao in your refrigerator for up to a year. I personally had a jar that I kept for over a year, and the chao was still perfectly good!

Fermented tofu with chili in a brine.

🥢 How to Use Chao?

Chao can be used in a handful of ways:

  • Dipping sauces: Mash a cube of chao and mix it with some lime juice, sugar, chili, and a little bit of water to dilute. The sauce can then be used as a dipping sauce for steamed veggies.
  • Vegan cheeses: Since chao is packed with umami and cheesiness, it’s perfect to add flavor to your vegan cheeses! Add half of a cube to vegan camembert or smoked cheese when blending the cashews for a deeper flavor!
  • On top of rice: Add some chao on top of steamed white rice and slightly mash it using chopsticks. Chao will add saltiness and cheesiness!
  • Stirred into soups: Perfect to take your soups to the next level, you can use it in place of miso.
  • Marinades: Combined with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, this fermented tofu can be used as a base for marinades.

I hope you enjoyed this guide and you will start to make your own fermented tofu!

⭐️ Did you like this recipe? Let us know in the comments below, and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest!

Fermented tofu cubes in a bowl.
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Recipe
How to Make Tofu Cheese (Chao)

How to Make Fermented Tofu (Chao)

4.93 from 40 votes
Author: Thomas Pagot
Learn how to make fermented tofu, also known as Chao, from scratch! It's the perfect condiment to use in sauces, marinades, soups, and more!
Prep Time : 2 hours
Fermenting Time : 21 days
Total Time : 21 days 2 hours
Servings 2 medium jars

Ingredients
 

  • 1 pound firm tofu cut in half
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 cup chili flakes optional

Brine

  • 1 and 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup vodka (or 1/2 cup rice wine)

Instructions
 

  • Before starting: I recommend using gloves when handling the tofu to prevent bad bacteria and mold from growing.
  • Bring 4 cups of water with one tablespoon of salt to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Once boiling, add the tofu and boil for 4 minutes.
  • Remove the tofu from the water and place it on a few sheets of kitchen paper towel. Top with more kitchen paper towel and place a heavy weight on it to press the tofu and remove excess water. I usually use an iron skillet. Let it drain for about 90 minutes, changing the paper towel as needed if it becomes too wet.
  • Line a large plate with two layers of kitchen paper towel or a clean towel. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and place the cubes on the plate, leaving about 1 inch between each cube, so they don't touch each other. Top with another sheet of kitchen paper towel and cover the whole plate with plastic film. The plastic film will prevent bad bacteria from reaching the tofu.
  • Place the plate in a dark place at 77-86°F (25-30°C) and let it ferment for 2 to 3 days. The tofu will have taken a light orange color and will have a stinky smell. You may also see some white mold as well; this is okay. If you see blue or dark mold, scrape it off.
  • Prepare the brine: combine 1 and 1/2 cups of water with the salt and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Once boiling, remove from heat and let it cool completely. Add the vodka and stir to combine.
  • Transfer the stinky tofu to clean glass jars. If you want to make it spicy, dip each tofu cube in chili flakes before putting it in the jars. Pour the brine into the jars to cover the tofu. Close the jars with a lid and place them in a cool dark place (around 68°F – 20°C) for at least 3 weeks. The longer you let it ages, the stronger and softer your tofu will be.
  • For extra flavor, you can add about 1/2 tsp of sesame oil into each jar after the 3 weeks have passed.
  • Use this fermented tofu to make dipping sauces, top rice, add to vegan cheeses, and use in marinades, soups, etc.

Notes

For a quick dipping sauce, mash one cube of fermented tofu in a small bowl. Add about 1 tsp of lime juice, 1 tsp of sugar, and sliced chili to taste. Feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of water to taste if it’s too salty. Use this sauce to dip steamed or roasted vegetables.
Course : Condiment
Cuisine : Vietnamese
Did you make this recipe? Tag @fullofplants on Instagram and hashtag it #fullofplants
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About the Author

Thomas Pagot is the founder, photographer, and recipe developer behind Full of Plants. He created the blog in 2016 as a personal cookbook for vegan recipes. Through years of recipe development, Thomas has successfully grown Full of Plants into a trusted resource for plant-based recipes.

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Thank you very much for this well explained guide!
I’m intrigued about fermented food and learning how to make it myself and thanks to your post I might give it a try soon!
I’ll let you know how it goes!
Have a nice day 🙂

5 stars
Its amazing gave my home-made vegan cheese so much flavoir thank you Thomas

Hi Thomas, thank you so much for this recipe. My tofu didn’t have the orange spots after fermenting it for the first time but more of brown/red like spots. Smelled good and no black or blue. Is that still ok or should I toss it? Thank you!

Hello Thomas!
I started the process, but the tofu cubes do not have any light orange color, and do not stink. The were at 30°C in the oven for 2,5 days. What do you advice? Thanks!

Thank you so much, I’ve been wanting to try this for ages! I’ll let you know how it turns out in a couple fo weeks x

5 stars
I never thought of fermenting tofu before! Do you notice a difference if you let it sit for more than 2 days? Thank you for sharing!

Wow you are superfast! Thank you!

Hi Thomas! Finally I got white mold on the tofu. Some with little dark spots, seamed spore. Is that ok?

5 stars
I love fermented tofu from the jar but recently realized that it’s made of GMO soy. I’m glad I found your recipe that doesn’t use oil. I will try making it at home. Thank you!

Hi there,
The main article says to boil the tofu in salted water to start, but the recipe says just plain water. Which is it please?
Thanks very much for your help.

Thanks, Thomas

Hi Thomas,

thank you for making this recipe, I have wanted a recipe like this for some time, thank you!

Is it possible for you to develop a cheese recipe with the chao? For example, here in Canada we can buy a cheese named “chao” that is made in Greece. This sliced cheese is very well known in North America. There are simple ingredients (i.e. the plain one). I can email you the link if you wish. Do you think you could help us with this? Thank you!

Susana

5 stars
I’m glad to hear this as I was wondering how your recipe for blue cheese would turn out adding some of this chao.
I also saw a recipe for super stretchy cheese using a bit of this chao and made with potato or tapioca starch and coconut oil. It looked like something you could try but in your way which I would love to see

AHhh, my question exactly 🙂 I have long wanted to learn how to make chao because of that cheese! I was going to ask Thomas the same thing…wouldn’t it be lovely to replicate that flavour. I will be watching for your first recipe Thomas! I dearly love and use so many of them regularly as they are spot on!

Hi Thomas,

thank you for making this recipe, I have wanted a recipe like this for some time, thank you!

Is it possible for you to develop a cheese recipe with the chao? For example, here in Canada we can buy a cheese named “chao” that is made in Greece. This sliced cheese is very well known in North America. There are simple ingredients (i.e. the plain one). I can email you the link if you wish. Do you think you could help us with this? Thank you!

Susana

5 stars
I’m thinking of trying it in his fois gras recipe as well

Have you used this to make cheese?

5 stars
Hi,
How long can be stored, and where?
Thank you 🙂

5 stars
This is the closest thing I have ever found to a vegan Bulgarian Feta cheese. Absolutely stunning in a Greek salad with vinaigrette and oregano. Thank you!

5 stars
I’ve been making a lot of variations of this. It’s really interesting…just like in dairy cheese making, small changes can make big differences!
I’ve found that the type of tofu makes a huge difference in texture, regardless of how long I press it. There is a bulk tofu I get from our local coop, it is with this that I make what I call the feta. The prepackaged tofu , even the kind that says extra firm, comes out as a much softer product, and ferments much faster. It reminds me of some of the true ‘’stinky’’ cheeses (washed-rind cheeses that I used to make, and loved, such as Tallegio, and even reminiscent of Epoisses! I’m truly amazed.
Also I played around with adding schezuan pepper instead of chili flakes and it is mind-blowingly good.
Some Vietnamese friends can’t believe I am making chao and they absolutely love it too.
Again, thank you!

That sounds really good!

5 stars
Thanks a lot for this recipe, it turned out very tasty. I used some fresh red chilli slices, and the tofu turned out spicy, but very creamy, flavorful and delicious. For sure not as pretty as in your pictures though. It has a slightly grey tinge and floats, so I had to use an impromptu fermentation weight (a slightly smaller lid covered in cling foil) to keep it in the brine.

Hi Thomas,
thanks a lot for the recipe. I’m right now trying to work on it, but as I took the foil away today I found some white and fluffy mold and the smell is disgusting, like ammonia. Can it be that something went wrong or is it meant to be like that?

Hi Thomas,
thanks a lot for the advice – I’ll discard and start from scratch.
(yes, I meant plastic wrap :))

Can I omit the sugar? Or use an alternative?

So it can’t be sugar free? Is it for taste or fermenting? Honey? Coconut blossom sugar? Agave?

Thank you so much for this recipe, I’d really love to try it, however I don’t really drink… there’s any way to replace the vodka in the brine?

Thomas, it is nice to see a recipe for this dish. One comment though: “Chao” means stinky, it does not mean “stinky tofu”. The word for tofu is pronounced “doufu”. “Chao doufu” is stinky tofu. Happy cooking!

Does the Chao need to be store in the refrigerator, or can it stored in a pantry? Can it be “canned” with a pressure cooker for longer storage?

Traditionally chao jar was safe to left at room temperature for months. I am a Vietnamese 🙂

Thank you for sharing the Chao recipe. Much appreciated. I shall let you the result of my experiment.

Hello Thomas,

I tired to make fermented tofu, but after one month it still has the same grainy texture. What could be the reason? Thanks!

I was wondering would you still need to boil the tofu & that whole part if you are using fresh made tofu?
I make my own tofu & I’m wondering how it would work out.

Also is there anyway to make this shelf-stable?

5 stars
I’m using & making more fermented foods these days; and added your recipe for Chao as my newest. I greatly appreciate your posting this. I had recently bought a Fermented Bean Curd at Asian Market & wonder how yours will be different. I pray you are well. Be safe.

Hello, I have tried this twice now and each time my tofu develops a black Mold and the last batch started smelling like Ammonia. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. I’ve tried to keep anything g that touches the tofu clean each time. If you leave it more than 2 days, can bad bacteria infect the tofu causing my issue?

5 stars
Just wanted to mention again…in all the batches I have been making…the packaged tofu that is available locally is soft, even though it is called xtra firm and I press it well. This kind of tofu needs to be fermented for a much shorter time. If I let it go a full 2 days it starts to develop black mold, and the finished product is melty soft and falls apart. So I ferment it for a shorter time. Even though there isn’t much orange mold, it turns out perfect. The firmer tofu I make or buy in bulk needs a longer ferment time, or it stays hardish and grainyish for a long time. You can test a small piece as it is fermenting to see if it is getting too soft or staying too firm and adjust your ferment time accordingly. The ammonia smell seems to happen if I ferment too long….

Thanks both Kelly and Thomas. I tried for a 3rd time and and only left covered for 2 full days. I saw a few Orange spots, but no black mold and no ammonia smell. Got it all in the brine and did a mix of as is and chilli flakes. I think you are both correct. The 2 batches that went off were left longer than 2 days. Looking forward to trying in a few weeks. Your Vegan smoked cheese looks amazing btw.

5 stars
I’ve had success fermenting at 20 (68f) here in my home. It typically takes about 3 days, but it can vary. Look for light orange/yellow coloring and use the smell as a good indicator. Andrea Nguyen suggests poking few holes in the plastic wrap, but otherwise the recipe is pretty similar.

I love to spread this on home made sourdough and it is the secret ingredient in vegan mac and cheese as well as soy milk ramen. Lastly, I find the mix of gochugaru and szechuan peppercorns to be amazing.

5 stars
In the latest batch I’m creating, I’ve noticed a few pieces with white “hairs”. It looks like the version of what is called hairy tofu. I didn’t have this result in the previous 2 batches so I’m wondering if it is OK. I think it should be since it smells OK and there are no black spots. This is about at day 2 right as the orange tint is starting to develop. Any thoughts Thomas?

Hi Franklin, I was trying to find Andrea Nguyen’s recipe online to compare, but could not. Could you possibly share it please? 🙂 Cheers, Lee

5 stars
Hi Thomas,
Thanks for sharing your recipe and technique!
I’ve been fermenting my tofu cubes for 3 weeks and the cubes are kind of breaking apart. Also on a few cubes there is a pinkish or purplish tinge…is this bad mold do you think?
Thank you!
Kieran

5 stars
That was so easy and so much fun, just amazing. It lasted a long time too and provided just that extra taste to so many vegan dishes. Excellent. Loved the photography too

loved this when I ate it living in China, my father in law’s parents used to make it and I never asked them how to make it, but now I know. Thank you 😀

No airlock is used?

5 stars
Thank you! Do your readers know they can buy this, in jars, in Chinese grocery stores? If you buy it/taste it first, then you will (a) know whether you like it, (b) know what you are aiming for–what is good, and (c) what is a definite failure. (I personally think that is critical when you are trying to make something new. Especially with fermentation, the success of which will depend on what is in your air!) I have read that, in the factory where this is made in Hong Kong, they have a room that is full of the right kind of spores. They simply put racks of pressed tofu in this room for a few days, it ferments and they then bottle it. You can also taste this in some Chinese restaurants. The Taiwanese eat fermented tofu with porridge (congee). The Cantonese use it to cook certain dishes–water spinach, in particular. Actually, there are three kinds of fermented tofu: the white kind as described here; a dark red kind with a different flavor, and then a third kind that is only deep-fried in cubes–usually served as street food. You know whether the vendor is by the smell!

5 stars
Very nice ,very simple. I miss the tip on what brand products i best could use like Rice wine wodka brands just because of the first try.

if the jar full of fermenting tofu shows signs of black and grey coloring …does this mean it has been contaminated and is bad?

I’m a ferment lover always looking to new things and ways to ferment. This opens a whole new world! Oh boy, can’t wait to try it!
Congratulations, the recipe is very clear and the pictures very ilustrative. You got yourself a new follower!

5 stars
Oh, yes, I’m going to make this recipe! I occasionally buy Chao from a Chinese guy at our local farmers’ market. I just eat it with gluten free toast, and I have to be quite economical with it because for a small amount I pay around $8.00 CAN. I absolutely love it. I’m unable to consume dairy products and this is really nice and cheesy. Stinky cheesy, in the most delicious way. Thanks for demystifying it. I’d Googled it a while ago and the recipe I found made me feel that I was bound to screw up and end up with something that could give me an upset stomach. Your recipe makes me feel that I have to dash out and buy firm tofu right now! Thanks 🙂