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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74 Responses to Fermented Chili Tofu (Chao)

  1. 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:)

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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?

  8. 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! 🙂

  9. 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

  10. 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.

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