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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72 Responses to Fermented Chili Tofu (Chao)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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! 🙂

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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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