What is Stinky Tofu?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

As its name implies, stinky tofu is a type of tofu with a strong odor. The bean curd is prepared in several different ways, depending upon the region of Asia where it is prepared. The food is considered a popular treat in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. In Mandarin, the dish is known as chou doufu.

Stinky tofu is a popular food found in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
Stinky tofu is a popular food found in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

Rotting garbage is the typical description attributed to the smell of stinky tofu, though people are known to come up with other colorful descriptions for the unpleasant odor. The food was once considered a staple for Asian soldiers. The tofu's flavor is typically much milder than its scent.

As its name implies, stinky tofu is known for creating an unpleasant odor.
As its name implies, stinky tofu is known for creating an unpleasant odor.

A popular way of preparing stinky tofu involves soaking the tofu in a brine of rotted vegetables and shrimp, providing it with its trademark scent. This starter bacteria, however, can also be made from fermented milk, various meats, and Chinese herbs. The fermented tofu is then usually deep fried or boiled and served with chili sauce.

Fermented milk is sometimes used when making stinky tofu.
Fermented milk is sometimes used when making stinky tofu.

Street vendors in Asia, such as those who operate roadside stands, often sell stinky tofu. Though its scent can be very off-putting, the flavor of the food is popular. In addition to being fried and boiled, the tofu may also be steamed or stewed. Like other types of tofu, it can also be eaten plain and cold, if desired.

Stinky tofu is traditionally soaked in brine for a number of days. The process can take several months, depending upon the recipe and flavor desired. In order to quicken the process, however, most street vendors only soak the tofu for just a day. Depending on its treatment, and the cooking methods used to prepare it, the tofu can be a wide variety of colors, from black to golden.

The production methods of stinky tofu make it potentially harmful if not prepared correctly. It is possible to acquire food poisoning from improperly handled fermented tofu. The bean curd should only be purchased from a trusted source. One reason that the food is a popular street item, however, is that its preparation in the home is considered an unwanted task, due to the impact of the smell indoors.

Cooked stinky tofu typically is accompanied by many other flavors. Like typical tofu, it can be treated with many different herbs and spices, such as garlic or soy sauce. It is also typically served alongside, or as a garnish, of many other typical Asian dishes, such as Sichuan mala soup, fish balls, or Congree rice soup. When eaten alone, sweet sauce or other garnishes may also be served with the tofu.

It is possible to acquire food poisoning from improperly handled fermented tofu.
It is possible to acquire food poisoning from improperly handled fermented tofu.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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