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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75 Responses to Fermented Chili Tofu (Chao)

  1. Melissa January 17, 2023 at 12:47 pm #

    I did not dry out the tofu first. Is this a necessary step? I just cut it into cubes out of the package and put it in the jar. Thank you

  2. Claudia August 29, 2022 at 6:23 am #

    Hi. I made chao and the brine water is slimy. Is it safe to eat? There was some white mold floating on the top of the water and I scraped it off. The taste is like chao.

    • Trang August 31, 2022 at 8:18 am #

      Hi Claudia,
      I believe it’s safe. The fermentation process creates a somewhat slimy–slippery and gelatinous coating. As long as there are no visible signs of mold (either black or green), you’re ok.

  3. Tina May 26, 2021 at 4:35 am #

    Hi Trang,

    Thank you for this recipe, quite excited to try it. I have been trying some other recipes that call for the first fermentation(before brine is added) to be around 3-4 days at 20-25 degrees Celsius and I had to throw two batches as both got hairy with black spots in them.

    Your recipe is definitely easier and I’m going to try it soon. Two questions first
    – what temperature is ideal for the first fermentation of 24 hours?
    – is there no need for sugar in the brine?

    Thank you

  4. Kalissha October 3, 2019 at 2:52 pm #

    Hey I haven’t tried it yet but I definitely will . Thanks for creating the site and posting this popular recipe. Shalom

    • Trang October 9, 2019 at 3:42 pm #

      Hi Kalissha,
      Thanks for stopping by! I hope you give this recipe a try and stop back to share your results. Much love and Happy Cooking! 🙂

  5. Sarah September 28, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi Trang, I started a batch, but my tofu cubes started turning pink while they were sitting on the paper towels – is this normal?

    • Trang September 30, 2019 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi Sarah,
      That’s odd, so the cubes turned pink before you even started fermenting? Please check the expiration of the tofu and see if the tofu is still fresh. This isn’t normal.

  6. Robin Lee May 21, 2019 at 5:14 pm #

    Hi! Used to hate the smell of fermemted tofu. Now I feel a weird craving everytime I see it.
    I was wondering if
    1. the alcohol is necessary?
    2. I could just use water, salt and sesame oil?
    3. I could use a Rye or Bourbon instead of the vodka?
    4. Do I need to boild the block of tofu?

    So excited!!!
    Thank you

    • Trang May 22, 2019 at 6:42 am #

      Hi Robin,
      Fermented Tofu is definitely a food which becomes addicting once you develop the taste for it. The alcohol is not absolutely necessary and is used to preserve the tofu. You can use just water, salt and sesame oil. Rye or bourbon is fine if you like the flavor. You do not need to boil the tofu. Good Luck and please stop back to share your results.

  7. Kim February 4, 2019 at 10:26 am #

    Hi Trang, I see your recipe calls for regular chili flakes that I have in hand, but I’ve seen some recipes that recommend the Korean one. Have you made a batch using the Korean one before? Is there a difference in taste? I have been fermenting mine for more than 48 hours (since it’s cold here) in the oven and I have chili flakes in hand but haven’t ran to the oriental store to get some Korean chili flakes. You think it will be OK to use the western one? That looks like it can be topped on a pizza? lol

    • Trang February 4, 2019 at 3:24 pm #

      Hi Kim,
      Use any chili flake available. The Korean one works great–it typically has less seeds and a bit spicier. I’ve used it in the past and like it. Save yourself a trip to the store and use the pizza topping one. Good Luck and let me know how it turns out for you! 🙂

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

        • Jason September 1, 2019 at 5:26 pm #

          If you reuse the brine more than once, I would go with about 50/50 old brine fresh vodka. The vodka acts both as a fermenting agent inciting a chemical reaction in the tofu, and as a preservative preventing unwanted bacteria from growing. As it reacts with the tofu, the alcohol breaks down and will no longer inhibit bacterial growth.
          Having said that, I can’t wait to try this. If I like it the first time, I will definitely use the brine as a starter for the next round.

  10. 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!

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