Fermented Chili Tofu (Chao)

Homemade means no unwanted additives or preservatives!

This Fermented Chili Tofu is a favorite with vegetarians but you don’t have to be vegetarian to enjoy it.  This deliciously briny and creamy tofu, which has been equated to a soft bleu cheese, is often served as a dip for fresh vegetables or simply a flavoring for rice in place of soy sauce or fish sauce.  Use it as a seasoning in soups, stir-fries or noodle dishes to add unique flavor to any meal.  This recipe is really simple and you’ll love the results–a healthy, homemade tofu condiment without any unwanted preservatives or additives.  Enjoy!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

Be sure to use extra firm or firm tofu.  Because tofu is soft to begin with and then is immersed in liquid, it breaks up very easily, so choose a firm tofu.  Also, be gentle when handling the tofu and once it’s in the jar, do not shake the contents.

There are no set rules for what size to cut the tofu.  I prefer smaller pieces because the brine permeates the tofu better.  As tofu blocks vary in size, I recommend cutting them so they are about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick.

I use vodka because it’s doesn’t have a strong flavor.   Feel free to use a white wine or liquor that you like.  Keep in mind that if your alcohol is sweet, you may want to add more salt to balance the flavor.  This condiment is suppose to be on the salty side.

If after fermenting for 24 hours you see black mold on the tofu, something has gone wrong and you need to discard the batch.  Chances are the tofu was contaminated during the preparation.

If making this during the winter, you may need to let the tofu ferment in the oven for 2 days or more.  Each day turn the oven light on for about 1 hour.  After the tofu is placed into jars, place them by a heating vent, next to stove or in the oven and again turn the oven light on for about 1 hour each day.

If you’re using a jar with a metal lid, wrap plastic wrap around the mouth of the jar before covering with the lid.  This prevents the metal from reacting with the brining liquid during the fermentation process.

As the tofu is preserved, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.  Make sure to seal it tightly when storing in the refrigerator.  Also be sure to use a clean utensil when spooning it out to avoid contamination from other foods.  This will help to prolong its life.

Watch the video below for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Pickled Mustard Greens (Dua Cai Chua)Dried Carrot and Radish Pickles (Dua Mon)and Pickled Jalapenos (Ot Ngam Giam).


14 oz extra-firm tofu
3/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vodka
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes


Remove the tofu from its packaging.  Gently rinse the tofu with cool water and then pat dry using paper towels.

Place the tofu into a colander lined with paper towels.  Cover with more paper towels.  Place a plate on top of the tofu and something heavy on the plate like a bag of sugar or a bowl.  Press the tofu for 2 hours.

Remove the paper towels and discard.  Cut the tofu into small pieces approximately 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch sections.

Place the tofu pieces into a baking pan lined with a paper towel.  Leave some room in between each piece.  Press another sheet of paper towel on top of the tofu.  Cover with foil and seal securely.  Place the pan into the oven and allow to rest for 24 hours.

To make the brine, combine the water with the salt and stir to dissolve.  Add the vodka and sesame oil and combine together.

Uncover the tofu and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Carefully place the tofu pieces into a jar.  Pour in the brining liquid and then seal the jars securely.

Place the jars by a sunny window and allow to ferment for 3 days.  After 3 days, place the jars in a refrigerator and allow to ferment for another 10 days.


Yields: 50 pieces, 14 oz

Serve this as a dip for fresh vegetables or a flavoring for rice.


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62 Responses to Fermented Chili Tofu (Chao)

  1. Charlotte September 6, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    Do you discard the brine after the 10 days of fermentation in the fridge?

    • Trang September 10, 2018 at 4:48 pm #

      Hi Charlotte,
      You do not need to discard the brine. You can store the tofu as is. Enjoy!

  2. Amelia June 5, 2018 at 1:06 pm #

    Hello Trang,
    This is my second one , the first one was delicious although couldn’t wait for 7 days in the fridage :D. I may try it for longer this time.
    I have left my tofu for 36 hours as after 24 hours wasn’t ready but then I had some yellow spots which I had the first time and thought were fine I believe but have noticed some like cotton texture on some. Is that ok ? I don’t have dark spots maybe one little green in the two trails. What do you think? Is that good to go what is the cottonish texture and the yellow spots ?
    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe and your knowledge and support xxx

    • Trang June 8, 2018 at 7:41 am #

      Hi Amelia,
      A bit of cotton texture is ok. As long as you don’t see green or dark spots which is mold. Enjoy!

      • Amelia June 16, 2018 at 11:20 am #

        Thank you Trang I am really enjoying this recipe
        Blessings and light

        • Trang June 19, 2018 at 11:48 am #

          Hi Amelia,
          I am so glad to hear that! Thanks for sharing your results. 🙂

      • Amelia June 16, 2018 at 11:23 am #

        Sorry I forgot to ask another question. Is it OK to use the same brine for the next preparation or does it have to be a new one. The only reason is that I think it might speed up the fermentation and soften more the tofu cube from the last experience.
        Thanks again 🙂

        • Trang June 19, 2018 at 11:50 am #

          Hi Amelia,
          I have not tried to reuse the brine but it’s a good idea. If you try this, please stop back to share your results. I am sure other readers are curious as well.

          • Amelia July 13, 2018 at 4:06 am #

            Hi Trang,

            Sorry for taking so long to get back to you, just wanted to share my experience with reusing the brine definitely quicker and softer texture and delicious too.
            How long you can keep it stored in the fridge?

            Thank you again for sharing this wonderful recipe.

          • Trang July 13, 2018 at 12:06 pm #

            Hi Amelia,
            No worries! I appreciate you sharing your results for reusing the brine. It’s great information! My Fermented Chili Tofu never lasts very long because my family loves it so much. If sealed well, the tofu will last up to 1 year in the refrigerator as it’s fermented. However, if you’re eating out of the jar daily, consume it within the month. Cheers!

  3. Rosann May 30, 2018 at 6:57 pm #

    Hi I love your recipes and thank you for posting and filming them for our use. I was wondering if i can skip the vodka or vinegar in fermenting the tofu? Acid or alcohol is a problem for a member of my family due to acid reflux. thanks for your help

    • Trang May 30, 2018 at 7:45 pm #

      Hi Rosann,
      Yes, you can definitely skip the alcohol or vinegar. Enjoy the recipe!

  4. Amelia May 28, 2018 at 3:23 am #

    Hello Trang 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe. Can I substitute sesame oil with olive oil or another oil?
    Many thanks again
    Blessings and light

    • Trang May 28, 2018 at 10:15 am #

      Hi Amelia,
      Definitely, any oil you like would work well. Enjoy the recipe and please stop back to share your results! 🙂

    • Amelia May 28, 2018 at 11:12 am #

      Thank you Trang for getting back to me, I will definitely share my results:)

  5. Keith October 19, 2017 at 12:10 am #

    I was having trouble seeing this as fermentation after reading everything and before watching the video. So the fermentation is via the lactobacillus and other flora on your skin. Doing this with gloves on will not work unless you inoculate the cubes with the microorganisms you want on there. And if you could get your hands on the right organisms, you could change the flavor even more like cheese.

    I also make kombucha, so I wonder what flavor a kombucha mother would give. Fresh sauerkraut liquid would also be a nice possible source of microbiota. I will be experimenting! Thanks.

    • Trang October 25, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

      Hi Keith,
      I’d love to hear about your results if you try making the tofu with a kombucha mother. Please stop back to share your results! 🙂

    • Anh Phan April 21, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

      The Sauerkraut is fermented by lactobacillus different with the microorganism which ferments tofu.
      I think it similar to the bacteria, which fermented Natto.

  6. Ann @ CreatedToCook September 23, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recipe. I grew up enjoying the store bough version of this… but don’t like all the chemical addictives that you get the the store bought stuff.

    I’m SO HAPPY to find out there’s a simple way to make it at home. I can’t wait to give your recipe a try. Your video was SUPER HELPFUL!

    I make kombucha at home (fermented probiotic tea), and have lots of kombucha vinegar on hand. I think I may experiment with a brine that includes my raw kombucha vinegar.

    • Trang September 26, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Ann,

      I am thrilled to hear you found my recipe and video helpful. I love kombucha but haven’t tried to make it at home. I’d love to hear how the fermented tofu turns out using the kombucha vinegar. Please stop back to share your results! 🙂 Thanks!

  7. Hiroshi March 15, 2017 at 12:57 am #

    Hello. I was wondering if using sake or mirin as a substitute for the vodka would be okay? About how much extra salt do you reckon would help it taste saltier? Is it something I should just experiment and taste a bit as I go to see what tastes salty before putting the tofu in? Thanks.

    • Trang March 15, 2017 at 9:08 am #

      Hi Hiroshi,
      Mirin is just fine in place of the vodka. I would add half again more salt, a total of 1 1/2 tsp to start. You can adjust to your taste from there. Good Luck and let me know how the Fermented Chili Tofu turns out for you!

      • Hiroshi April 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

        I actually made it with the ACV since I didn’t have Mirin at the time. Tastes delicious. I’ll have to try again sometime with the Mirin to compare. Thanks for the great recipe 🙂

        • Trang April 10, 2017 at 10:16 am #

          Hi Hiroshi,
          Apple cider vinegar is a great substitute and I am glad you enjoyed the recipe! 🙂

          • Hiroshi June 22, 2017 at 7:54 pm #

            Worked well with the addition of mirin and extra salt just as well. Thanks again. Really enjoying this.

          • Trang July 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

            Thanks for sharing Hiroshi!

  8. Michael March 11, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    Hi Trang,

    Can you explain why you leave the tofu in the oven overnight? What temperature are you looking for, and what happens to the tofu after sitting for 24 hours? Does it become sour? If you’re not turning the oven on, what the difference between that and room temperature?


    • Trang March 12, 2017 at 8:08 pm #

      Hi Michael,
      The 24 hours in the oven is the fermentation period for the tofu. During this time, the tofu develops a thin yellow layer on the surface that gives it a creamy texture and buttery flavor. You can leave the tofu for longer than 24 hours but run the risk of the tofu developing mold. The fermentation process is like aging cheese, the longer you let it rest, the stronger and more pungent the tofu becomes. Once you are familiar with the recipe and your environment, you can experiment and let it ferment for longer if you want a stronger taste. I use the oven to provide a stable, warm environment of about 70-75 degrees (air temperature can change depending on the time of day, heating/cooling, etc.) I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any questions.

      • Michael May 6, 2017 at 9:52 am #

        I hope this works! I ended up leaving my tofu out for two whole days. After the first 24 hours, it still had a completely fresh smell with ho toon. afternoon. Wow two days, I started seeing a bit of that yellow layer you described, but very little.

        Now I’ve left the whole mixture out to ferment for 10 days. Maybe it’s abit colder more am, but the fermentation seems slow. The brine is getting slightly cloudy and the tofu is softening very slightly, but not much. Today I tasted bit and it was still quite hard, and not salty at all! One teaspoon of salt really does not taste salty enough like the store bought kind. I know it still needs time in the fridge but I figured it needed to ferment a bit more. Is the tofu going to get more soft and creamy, or should I have fermented in the oven even longer?

        • Trang May 15, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

          Hi Michael,
          The fermentation may vary depending on the air temperature. For the initial fermentation, you can let the tofu ferment for a few more days to get more of the yellow skin. (This skin helps to make the tofu creamy.) Keep a watch on it and look out for mold developing. The fermentation period and firmness of the tofu affects the creaminess of the Fermented Tofu as well. If you like a really soft and creamy tofu, try a softer tofu (medium firm) next time. Regarding the salt, you can add more salt if it’s not salty enough for you. The store versions are definitely saltier. As it’s been a week or so since your original comment, I’d love to hear about your results now.

  9. Betsee February 12, 2017 at 7:45 pm #

    Hi Trang, i can’t wait to give this a try. If we don’t have a lot of sun here, is it ok to place it close to a fireplace? Thanks so much.

    • Trang March 1, 2017 at 10:33 am #

      Hi Bestsee,
      Yes, when there is very little sun, any place warm like a fireplace or heater works well! Good Luck!

  10. Lindsey September 29, 2016 at 1:44 am #

    So I’m not quite sure mine is going to come out right, I didn’t realize it had to ferment dry first, so my tofu cubes arr sitting in a jar with miso brine, lemon, chilis, garlic, and sake. Hopefully it still ferments and I’d safe to eat. X_x Anyone ever made it with out letting the tofu sit out for a day or two, dry?

    • Trang October 13, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

      Hi Lindsey,
      You made brined tofu instead of fermented tofu. It’s safe to eat but you’ll probably want to refrigerate it now to preserve it further. How does it taste?

  11. Charmaine September 24, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

    Hello, can I ferment using apple cider vinegar? I can’t tolerate liquor. Thank you.

    • Trang October 11, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

      Hi Charmaine,
      Yep, just substitute the vodka with 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar + 3 Tbsp water. Good Luck!

      • Charmaine October 19, 2016 at 5:19 am #

        Thank you Trang 🙂 I’m an Asian vegan and would love to see more AV recipes on your blog. Health and blessings, Charmaine

        • Trang October 19, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

          Hi Charmaine,
          I will continue to share more vegetarian and vegan recipes. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  12. Bruno July 16, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

    Also wondering, is the taste similar to the bottled fermented tofu we can find in asian grocery or will I be blown away by the home-made version ?

    Thanks !

    • Trang July 24, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      Hi Bruno,
      It’s similar to store-bought version but not quite as salty. Personally, I find homemade Fermented Tofu is more aromatic and tastes better–no preservatives. Also, the tofu doesn’t have a strange dark tinge from sitting on the shelves for too long. I hope you give it a try. 🙂

    • Victoria August 20, 2016 at 9:41 pm #

      This is delicious. Thank you so much for sharing. I made a similar version, but your video is so much better to help me make it correctly. I really appreciate it. Victoria

  13. Bruno July 16, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    I’m wondering, are you using roasted or unroasted sesame oil ?

    Thanks !

    • Trang July 24, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

      Hi Bruno, I am using unroasted sesame oil but I think the roasted would be just fine.

  14. Lily Doherty April 13, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

    HI Trang,

    I apologize. I should’ve read your complete How To instructions first. Your video is great. I understand how to press tofu now. Just need to know if Shao Shing Wine would be nice. I would like my tofu to be very similar to chinatown store boat but much much healthier!
    Thanks again.

    • Trang April 17, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

      Hi Lily,
      I am glad to hear you’ll give this recipe a try. If you enjoy Shaoxing rice wine, then use it. It has a stronger flavor and aroma but would be a nice substitute for the vodka. Good Luck with the recipe.

  15. Lily Doherty April 13, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    Hi Trang,

    I am going to give your recipe a Go! Is it okay to use chinese Shao Shing Wine? Do I need to press the ben curd for 2 hrs first, and then dry with towels before cutting? I noticed another recipe asks for that. Not sure how to press the bean curd.
    Many thanks. LOVE fermented tofu but can hardly find any Organic quality locally in California.

  16. Steve December 26, 2015 at 4:14 am #

    Hello, I am very interested in your recipe. Do you know where the mold that is required for fermentation comes from and whether we can ensure it is the “safe” type? Can we add some type of yeast to aid fermentation?

    • Trang December 31, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

      Hi Steve,
      Fermenting is always a bit tricky because you definitely want to make sure it’s safe to eat and that’s why I don’t allow it to ferment for more than two days and always make sure the surrounding area is clean and contamination-free. I don’t know the exact name of the organism and haven’t tried using a yeast additive as I find it pretty simple to ferment without it. I hope you give the recipe a try. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Mirabelle September 6, 2015 at 3:36 am #

    Excusez-moi si je m’exprime en français 😉
    Votre recette est très intéressante, mais veuillez me précisez si il est nécessaire de faire chauffer le four, et à quelle température, avant d’y mettre le plat avec les cubes de tofu. Merci d’avance de votre réponse. Très cordialement.

    • Trang September 14, 2015 at 9:01 pm #

      Excusez-moi, mon français est pas très bon…ce n’est pas nécessaire de chauffer le four

  18. Nhu July 25, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    Hi Trang,
    Thank you for your recipe to make fermented tofu, real simple and easy, but I have a question about one of my last load I just made. After 24hr, some of them had spots that were a slightly greenish-gray color? Not black like you said it’ s molding, but the smell is good like Chao already, and a little bit slimy, not liked the first one I made (which turned out really good 10 days later when we started to eat–it was good but the tofu were still firm and not slimy at all and not smelling like Chao yet, but they were good. Then this load, I don’t know, but I still finished putting them in the jar to stand there, and wait. How do you think? Do you think the spots are mold? Should I throw them away or still wait and keep them for 10 more days to see? The greenish-grey spots were very light and I cut them away, then the inside are still good, hard and white. this load I made with extra firm organic tofu, but the first one, just regular firm #4 tofu. Could you please email me some of your advice, may be 24hrs is too long for this weather, it is hot and humid in CA, should be less than 24hrs? Thank you very much, Trang!

    • Trang July 27, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

      Hi Nhu,

      Slightly greenish-gray is okay. It’s when you see dark green or black spots with fuzz on the tofu, that’s when you need to throw them out. Even in the California hot weather, 24 hours is okay. Depending on the texture you like, you can definitely use a tofu that is less firm than what I’ve recommended. Good Luck and please stop back to share your results! 🙂

  19. Kathleen May 5, 2015 at 7:46 am #

    Hi Trang, can the fermented tofu be used in the same recipes & the same way that you would use non fermented tofu? Is it still firm enough to be baked or grilled (on a grilling pan)? If it is cooked, will it loose any of the benefits of the fermentation?
    I love your site and would like to see more vegan recipes if possible.Thank you so much for the directions on how to do this.

    • Trang May 5, 2015 at 10:08 am #

      Hi Kathleen,

      This fermented tofu is very soft, similar to a cream cheese. It would not hold its shape baking or grilling. Heating the fermented tofu would kill off the good bacteria so it’s best to enjoy it in its current state. I will share more vegetarian recipes in the near future. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  20. Ann March 2, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    Chi oi, is the organic tofu ok to use for this recipe since that’s what I have in the fridge. Thank you!

    • Trang March 2, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

      Hi Ann,

      Organic tofu is the best. Definitely use it for making the Fermented Chili Tofu. Enjoy the recipe!

  21. Meg February 7, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

    Hi Trang, thank you for the recipe. I will try it this weekend and was wondering if I can substitute Grand Marnier for the Vodka since I don’t have it. Thanks.

    • Trang February 8, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

      Hi Meg,
      Grand Marnier is fancy..lol! It will work in this recipe but will definitely change the aroma it being an orange liqueur. Good Luck with the recipe and let me know how it turns out for you.

  22. Việt January 24, 2015 at 11:35 pm #

    Dear Cô Trang,
    Thank you for all of your wonderful recipes, video tips, advice and gift ideas.But can you post more vegetarian recipes? Wish you and your family a joyful, bright, healthy, prosperous and happiest.

    • Trang January 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

      Hi friend,
      I will definitely try to post more vegetarian dishes. If you have a request, please let me know. Thank you for your kind wishes. All the best to you and your loved ones as well. 🙂

  23. Lynn December 7, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Trang, I would like to ask you a question. Some of the recipes they use the cooking wine for cooking, so can I sustitude any kind of white wine instead of cooking wine? and what is your prefer.? some people say the cooking wine is not very good.
    I don’t drink wine so I have no idea.
    Thank you very much and I wish you and your family have a wonderful Holidays.

    • Trang December 7, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

      Hi Lynn,

      In most recipes you can substitute a drinking wine where it calls for a cooking wine. My opinion is if you can’t drink it, don’t put it in your food 🙂 If you’d like to use a wine in this recipe, I would suggest a Sauvignon Blanc or similar white wine. I hope that helps. Wishing you and your family a happy holiday too!

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