Is Tofu Fermented?

Tofu is one of the most versatile foods in the world, so it’s always strange when people complain about how it’s flavorless. They must be eating it wrong, but let’s move on to the topic of today’s article. I’m going to take a look at whether or not tofu is fermented. 

Tofu is not naturally fermented, though it’s preferred by many to be so for its increased health benefits. Fermenting tofu, called Chao, removes some of the antinutrients from the plant, and some argue that it’s much healthier than ordinary, unfermented tofu. 

In this blog, we’ll explain whether or not tofu is fermented as well as how to ferment tofu in your own home. 

Is Tofu Fermented?

Tofu is an exceptionally popular option for those looking for meat alternatives, so much so that restaurants like Chipotle have added it to the menu and saw immediate success. 

One of the great things about tofu is that cooking is not always necessary, though there are ways to prepare it that make it all the more delicious. Asking is tofu fermented suggests you don’t know much about it, or at least haven’t tried it yourself. It’s not terribly difficult to prepare, and it’s just as versatile, if not more so than regular tofu. 

Surprisingly, buying fermented tofu can be hard to do. Only some grocery stores bother to carry it, so you’re likely better off attempting to make it at home. There’s something more satisfying about doing it that way anyway, and you can use it in anything you like from soups to other exciting dishes. 

When Tofu is fermented, it’s called chao. Chao is the Vietnamese word for tofu that has been fermented in brine for at least 1 month.  The brine is usually made up of water, rice wine and salt. 

Unlike some foods, we actually have some understanding of where tofu first came from, it’s not as elusive an origin as Gyoza. Tofu appeared in China around 200 BC. The taste has been described as somewhat salty, sometimes spicy. The fermentation process gives it time to develop a strong flavor, not unlike a camembert cheese. 

Fermented tofu, or chao, can be kept for months, even after you take it out of the brine. 

How To Make Chao

The only requirement to properly make your chao is having extraordinary patience. The first thing you’ll need are a pair of gloves, as one of the most important parts of preparing chao is hygiene. Make sure whatever counter or cutting board you put the tofu on is also hygienic. 

The first step is to boil the tofu in water for a few minutes. Salt the water. This step helps kill off any existing bacteria on the tofu. Next, you’ll want to drain it, though properly draining tofu is a much more complex and thorough process than most foods. 

You’ll need a lot of paper towels. Place the tofu on top of a stack of paper towels and wrap it in another. Then, place something heavy on top to squeeze out all the water. Something like a large pan or a thick book should do.  Leave it there to drain for about 90 minutes, changing the towels should they get too wet. 

Now, cut the tofu into one-inch cubes and put them on a plate covered with some paper towels.  Use the paper towel to cover the tofu, then wrap the whole plate in shrink-wrap plastic.

Allow the tofu to ferment for a few days, keeping the temperature at around 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Obviously, that means the best time of year for this recipe would be the summer or fall or spring depending on where you live. In the Southwest, summer temperatures get too high. Higher on the east coast, fall can stay around those temperatures well until October some years. 

Two to three days later, open the plastic and examine the tofu. It should be a little stinky by now, and the color should have changed to a light orange. 

The tofu has some natural molds and cultures in it that go to work during fermentation. You can substitute the rice wine with vodka if you prefer, but it’s important to transport it into the brine fast. 

You can also dip the tofu in chili flakes before putting it in the brine if you prefer them a little spicy. 

Put the tofu in the brine and let it sit in a cool, dark place at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 3 weeks. The longer you let it ferment, the stronger and softer it will become. People often recommend 6 weeks to ensure a proper, strong cheese smell and flavor. 

Another draw to tofu is health. People all over the world are always looking for ways to eat healthier, finding exciting and delicious options in foreign meals such as miso soup. Today, however, they don’t have to look so far. 

Fermenting tofu has health benefits due to the removal of some anti-nutrients naturally found in the soybean. It also gives it the strongest taste possible, so the real question is why wouldn’t you want to ferment it?