What is Stinky Tofu: Comprehensive Guide for the Curious Foodie

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Are you curious about the infamous “stinky tofu” dish that has taken the world by storm? In this article, we’ll explore the origins and unique qualities of this pungent delicacy, as well as its cultural significance and growing popularity in various parts of the world.

what is stinky tofu

What is Stinky Tofu?

Stinky tofu, a popular food item in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan, is a type of fermented tofu known for its strong odor. Traditionally, nighttime markets and roadside stands sell it as a snack or side dish, while it isn’t as common in restaurants (source).

This unique tofu variation goes through a fermentation process involving a brine made from a variety of ingredients such as rotted vegetables, shrimp, fermented milk, various meats, and Chinese herbs (source). To create stinky tofu, the tofu is marinated in a fermented broth, usually for 4-6 hours. During this time, enzymes present in the broth break down the proteins in the tofu, releasing compounds like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, which contribute to its characteristic smell (source).

The fermentation broth used for stinky tofu can take months to develop, but the resulting stinky tofu can vary in flavor and stinkiness depending on the geographical location and local preferences in China as well as other parts of the world (source). A simpler method of making stinky tofu involves mixing mashed stinky tofu with cold water, adding a small amount of white wine vinegar or baijiu spirit, and marinating regular tofu cubes in the mixture for 24 hours or more (source).

Despite its pungent odor, stinky tofu has many fans who enjoy the taste and unique experience it offers. The burst of flavors and the contrast between its crispy exterior and soft interior make it a sought-after delicacy. Keep in mind that stinky tofu, like other fermented bean curd dishes, can be an acquired taste, and newcomers may need some time to adjust to its distinct smell and flavor.

History and Origin

Stinky tofu, a traditional Chinese delicacy, has its roots in the southeastern maritime areas of China. Its origin can be traced back to the Qing dynasty, when a tofu vendor named Wang Zhi He is said to have accidentally invented this unique dish. He had a surplus of unsold tofu, so he decided to cut it into small cubes and stored it in a jar for several days. To his surprise, the tofu fermented and turned a greenish color, resulting in the creation of stinky tofu1.

While there is another version of the story claiming that a monk named Zhu Yuanzhang first tasted stinky tofu in a moment of intense hunger, it is more widely accepted that the dish has its origins in China during the Qing dynasty2. From China, stinky tofu spread across the region and gained popularity in several East and Southeast Asian countries, including Taiwan, where it became a popular street food item.

The key element in making stinky tofu is the fermented brine in which the tofu is soaked3. Traditionally, this brine is made from a combination of fermented milk, vegetables, and meat. Other ingredients that might be added to the mix include dried shrimp and amaranth3. Fermented bean curd, another essential component, is made from soybeans that are soaked and turned into a soft, flavorful food product4.

In the preparation of stinky tofu, the tofu is first marinated in the fermented brine, absorbing the flavors and taking on its characteristic pungent aroma3. The tofu is then usually deep-fried, grilled, or steamed, and served with accompaniments such as garlic, chili sauce, or soy sauce. The dish is known for its strong smell, which has been described as similar to rotten garbage or smelly feet. Despite the off-putting scent, stinky tofu is enjoyed by many for its unique taste and texture.

Stinky tofu can be found in various forms in different countries:

  • In Taiwan, you may find it served as a snack in night markets, often deep-fried and accompanied by pickled cabbage and chili sauce3.
  • In mainland China, it is common to encounter stinky tofu sold by street vendors, who sometimes offer it in steamed, braised, or boiled form1.
  • In Hong Kong, stinky tofu is typically served in small pieces, deep-fried and topped with sweet sauce, chili, and garlic.

In closing, stinky tofu is a popular and widely enjoyed dish with a rich history dating back to the Qing dynasty of China. Its unique flavor and aroma are the result of the fermented brine, fermented bean curd, and various ingredients, such as dried shrimp and garlic, that contribute to its unmistakable character34.


  1. Stinky tofu – Wikipedia 2
  2. Stinky Tofu – The Healthy And Easy Way – Yum Of China
  3. Stinky Tofu – Gastro Obscura 2 3 4 5
  4. Tofu | Definition, Ingredients, & How It Is Made | Britannica 2

Ingredients and Preparation

Basic Ingredients

Stinky tofu, a popular Chinese snack known for its strong odor, starts with a simple base: firm tofu. The tofu undergoes a fermentation process that accounts for its distinctive smell and taste. A crucial component of this process is the brine, which usually consists of fermented milk, vegetables, meat, and fish. Some variations may include shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, or Chinese herbs. The duration of fermentation varies, ranging from a few weeks to several months, depending on personal preference for potency12.

Flavoring and Spices

Once the tofu has been prepared and fermented, it is typically cooked and served with a variety of flavorings and spices. Some popular additions include:

  • Soy sauce
  • Sweet sauce
  • Chili sauce
  • Dried shrimp
  • Parsley
  • Sugar13

These ingredients can either be incorporated into the brine or added during the cooking process to enhance the stinky tofu’s taste. Additionally, the dish is often custom-made for a preferred level of spiciness or sweetness.

Fermentation Process

The fermentation process is what gives stinky tofu its unique, pungent aroma. Starter bacteria play a vital role in initiating the fermentation2. Enzymes present in the broth break down the proteins in the tofu, releasing compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, responsible for the stinky smell4. The tofu is typically marinated in the fermentation broth for 4-6 hours before serving.

The flavor and potency of stinky tofu may vary, depending on the ingredients used in the fermentation process or the brine’s specific recipe. This distinctive snack, rich in taste and history, is a unique culinary experience and, for many, an acquired taste.


  1. <a href=”https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/stinky-tofu”>Fine Dining Lovers</a> 2
  2. <a href=”https://tinyurbankitchen.com/stinky-tofu/”>Tiny Urban Kitchen</a> 2
  3. <a href=”https://www.tofutoday.com/how-to-make-stinky-tofu/”>Tofu Today</a>
  4. <a href=”https://earthtoveg.com/stinky-tofu-soup-recipe/”>Earth to Veg</a>

Cooking Techniques

Deep Frying

Stinky tofu, known as chou doufu, is a popular food mainly found in China, Taiwan, and Indonesia. It gets its name from the unique fermentation process that gives it its strong smell, often compared to blue cheese or rotting garbage (source). A favorite technique for preparing stinky tofu is deep frying. To prepare, the tofu should first be marinated in a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, meats, or shrimp for a minimum of 24 hours to attain the desired level of stinkiness (source).

When deep frying, it is essential to ensure the oil reaches an appropriate temperature, usually around 350°F (175°C). This allows the tofu to develop a crispy exterior while maintaining its signature soft texture inside. The process of frying releases additional aroma compounds, which further enhances the distinct smell of stinky tofu. It is typically served with dipping sauces such as soy sauce or chili paste to complement the strong flavors.


Another method of cooking stinky tofu involves boiling or steaming it. This technique is often used in soups and hot pot dishes, where the tofu absorbs the flavors from the broth while maintaining its signature scent and taste (source).

When boiling, the key is to place the marinated stinky tofu in simmering water or broth for a few minutes, just long enough for the tofu to heat through without becoming too soft or losing its distinct taste. This method often results in a more delicate texture compared to deep frying, as it gently cooks the tofu without the addition of excess oil.

In conclusion, stinky tofu can be enjoyed through various cooking techniques such as deep frying and boiling. Both methods showcase the unique and robust flavors of this dish. It is essential to marinate the tofu properly and consider the desired texture and presentation when choosing the cooking technique.

Aroma and Flavor Profile

Stinky tofu, a form of fermented tofu, is known for its strong and pungent odor. The dish is popular in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan and can be found at night markets, roadside stands, and lunch bars (Delighted Cooking). The fermentation process is often lengthy, involving a brine with vegetables and meat, which can sometimes last for months (Wikipedia). Despite its off-putting smell, stinky tofu has a rather mild flavor profile. Its taste is often described as a combination of earthy, salty, mildly sweet, and tangy undertones, making it comparable to a smooth aged cheese (Tastylicious).

Regarding its aroma, stinky tofu’s unique smell is caused by a mix of volatile compounds produced during fermentation. Some of these compounds include hydrogen sulfide, indole, dimethyl trisulfide, phenol, dimethyl disulfide, and dimethyl tetrasulfide. The presence of these substances gives stinky tofu its characteristic stench, which is both strong and unmistakable.

Hydrogen sulfide creates a sulfuric, rotten egg-like smell, while indole and phenol contribute to its bitter and medicinal odors, respectively. The presence of dimethyl trisulfide, dimethyl disulfide, and dimethyl tetrasulfide intensifies the sulfuric component of the aroma (MDPI).

The key factors contributing to the aroma and flavor profile of stinky tofu are:

  • Mild taste with earthy, salty, sweet, and tangy undertones
  • A powerful aroma caused by a mix of volatile compounds
  • Comparison to the taste of a smooth aged cheese

Despite the strong odor that may deter some diners, the actual flavor of stinky tofu is quite enjoyable for others. Its taste is surprisingly mild in comparison to its powerful scent, making it a culinary experience that many people are drawn to.

In conclusion, stinky tofu’s aroma and flavor profile are both distinctive and intriguing. From the mild yet complex taste to the overpowering odor, it’s a dish that’s sure to leave a lasting impression on those who dare to try it.

Health Benefits and Nutritional Value

Stinky tofu is a popular traditional Chinese dish that has garnered attention for its distinct aroma and health benefits. Known for being prepared through a fermentation process, stinky tofu shares some of its nutritional properties with regular tofu.

As a low-fat food with a substantial amount of protein, stinky tofu contains all the essential amino acids your body needs1. It is made from soybean curds, making it a natural source of iron and calcium2. For those following a vegan diet or looking to reduce their intake of saturated fats, stinky tofu serves as an excellent alternative to animal-based proteins.

The fermentation process responsible for stinky tofu’s unique aroma and flavor also contributes to its health benefits. Fermented foods are known for their probiotic content, which helps maintain a healthy gut and supports digestion. While specific research on stinky tofu’s probiotic content is limited, it can be assumed that it shares some of these positive properties with other fermented foods.

One of the key nutritional aspects of stinky tofu is its high protein content. A half-cup serving (126g) of raw, firm tofu prepared with calcium sulfate has 21.8 grams of protein3. This makes it a valuable protein source for individuals looking to build muscle or maintain a balanced diet. Moreover, stinky tofu is low in carbohydrates, making it a suitable option for those watching their carb intake3.

Key nutrients in stinky tofu include:

  • Calcium: Essential for healthy bones and teeth, as well as muscle function.
  • Manganese: Supports the metabolism and overall nervous system function.
  • Selenium: An antioxidant that plays a crucial role in regulating the immune system.
  • Iron: Helps transport oxygen throughout the body and supports red blood cell production3.

To sum up, stinky tofu is a unique and versatile food option that provides several health benefits. From being a valuable source of protein to harboring essential nutrients, stinky tofu is an excellent addition to a balanced and health-conscious diet.


  1. <a href=”https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-tofu”>Healthline</a>
  2. <a href=”https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278340″>Medical News Today</a>
  3. <a href=”https://www.verywellfit.com/tofu-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4113988″>Verywell Fit</a> 2 3

Popular Dishes and Variations

Stinky tofu is a Chinese fermented tofu dish known for its strong odor. It is traditionally made by fermenting tofu in a brine containing vegetables, meat, and spices [^1^]. Although its distinct smell may intimidate some, stinky tofu is a popular snack enjoyed by many, particularly in night markets and at roadside stands.

One common form of stinky tofu is the deep-fried variation. With a crispy exterior and creamy texture, deep-fried stinky tofu is often served with various dipping sauces to further enhance its flavor [^2^]. Grilled stinky tofu is another well-loved variation, found skewered and cooked over coals to achieve a delicious smoky taste. Those who prefer a healthier alternative might opt for marinated stinky tofu, which is cooked on a grill instead of being deep-fried [^3^].

In addition to its crispy and grilled forms, stinky tofu can be prepared in several other ways:

  • Stir-fried: Stinky tofu is stir-fried with vegetables, garlic, and savory sauces to create a flavorful dish that balances its strong odor.
  • Soup: Stinky tofu can be added to soups for a unique, rich flavor enhancement. Its soft, creamy texture complements the soup base.
  • Steamed: For a lighter variation, stinky tofu can be steamed and served with soy sauce and fresh herbs, making it a simple yet satisfying side dish.

While stinky tofu might not be featured prominently in many restaurants, its enduring popularity at night markets [^4^] and roadside stands is a testament to its unique flavor and versatility. The various preparation methods and dishes make it a snack food that offers something for everyone, whether they prefer the traditional deep-fried version or opt for a healthier grilled option.

Production Method

Stinky tofu, a popular delicacy in some Asian countries, is known for its distinct smell derived from the unique production method it undergoes. The traditional process involves fermentation, utilizing a brine made of various ingredients such as fermented milk, vegetables, and meat (source). This brine may also contain additional elements like dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and an assortment of Chinese herbs for added flavor and complexity.

The process of fermenting stinky tofu begins with preparing the brine mixture. To do this, the ingredients are combined and left to ferment for an extended period, sometimes up to several months (source). During this fermentation period, the brine develops its characteristic odor, which will be absorbed by the tofu.

Once the brine is ready, the tofu is then marinated for a duration ranging from 4-6 hours (source). The enzymes in the brine break down the proteins within the tofu, releasing compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, which contribute to its signature smell.

There are also alternative methods for producing stinky tofu, such as using stinky fermented bean curd mixed with water and white spirit, in which the tofu is placed and left to absorb the flavors (source). It is typically refrigerated for at least 24 hours, but sometimes longer to intensify the flavor.

Another way to make stinky tofu at home is to use a brine made from shrimp paste, soft tofu, salt, and warm water (source). This mixture is stored for two days, stirred occasionally, and used to marinate the tofu for a shorter period.

Regardless of the production method used, stinky tofu is generally prepared by frying it in oil until golden and crispy (source). This cooking technique gives the tofu a pleasant crunch to contrast with its softer interior.

In summary, the production method for stinky tofu revolves around the fermentation stage, which imbues the tofu with its characteristic smell and taste. Once the tofu has absorbed the flavors of the brine, it is then cooked to achieve the desired texture.

Chemical Composition

Stinky tofu, a traditional Chinese dish, owes its unique aroma to a combination of organic compounds produced during its fermentation process. The first step in creating stinky tofu involves preparing a brine typically made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat, and may also include ingredients like dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs1. This brine undergoes fermentation, which can take several months1.

Homemade stinky tofu can be made using simpler ingredients, such as shrimp paste, firm tofu, soft tofu, and salt combined with warm water2. After preparing the brine, the firm tofu is marinated in this mixture for an extended period, commonly around 4-6 hours3. During the marination, enzymes in the broth break down the proteins in the tofu3.

The breakdown of proteins in stinky tofu releases various organic compounds, including some responsible for the dish’s signature odor. Key compounds contributing to the smell include:

  • Hydrogen sulfide: This compound is known for its strong, rotten egg-like smell.
  • Ammonia: A pungent, colorless gas with a distinct odor.
  • Volatile amines: Organic compounds derived from ammonia that may also have a strong odor.

As stinky tofu ferments and the proteins break down, these compounds become more prevalent, intensifying the dish’s characteristic aroma3.

It’s essential to note that the specific chemical composition of stinky tofu may vary due to differences in brine ingredients and fermentation time. The combination of ingredients and fermentation processes used in various regions and recipes can result in a unique flavor profile for each kind of stinky tofu.


  1. <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinky_tofu”>Wikipedia – Stinky tofu</a> 2
  2. <a href=”https://www.yumofchina.com/stinky-tofu/”>Yum Of China – Stinky Tofu – The Healthy And Easy Way</a>
  3. <a href=”https://tinyurbankitchen.com/stinky-tofu/”>Tiny Urban Kitchen – Stinky Tofu</a> 2 3

Side Dishes and Accompaniments

Stinky tofu, a popular fermented tofu dish, pairs well with various side dishes and accompaniments. From pickles to vegetables, the right combination of flavors can make your stinky tofu experience even more enjoyable.

Pickles make a fantastic complementary side dish for stinky tofu. The tangy, sour taste of pickles not only infuses complexity and brightness to the dish but also balances the strong fermented flavor of the tofu. Within the wide range of pickles available in the market, you can choose from cucumber, radish, or cabbage-based pickles to suit your taste preferences.

Another great side for stinky tofu is sautéed or stir-fried vegetables. Vegetables like garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers can enhance the flavor profile of your tofu dish while providing a nutritious and colorful addition to your plate. A light salad also makes a refreshing accompaniment, bringing in some crunch and freshness to counterbalance the pungent smell and dense texture of the tofu.

When it comes to grains and noodles, you can consider serving stinky tofu with steamed rice, fried rice, or even noodles. These options provide a satisfying, filling component to your meal while soaking up the rich flavors of the stinky tofu, essential for an authentic culinary experience.

In summary, here are some popular accompaniments for stinky tofu:

  • Pickles (cucumber, radish, cabbage)
  • Sautéed or stir-fried vegetables (garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers)
  • Light salads
  • Steamed rice, fried rice, or noodles

By incorporating these flavorful accompaniments, you can elevate your stinky tofu dining experience and make it more enjoyable and memorable.

Stinky Tofu in Culture

Stinky tofu is a unique form of fermented tofu originating from China, with a strong, distinctive odor. It has become a popular street food and cultural staple in various East Asian countries, particularly China, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The fermentation process typically includes soaking the tofu in a brine made from rotted vegetables, shrimp, or other ingredients, such as fermented milk, various meats, and Chinese herbs12. The precise recipes for stinky tofu often vary and can be kept secret by those who prepare it.

In Chinese culture, stinky tofu is commonly associated with night markets and roadside stands, where it is sold as a snack or side dish3. In Taiwan, stinky tofu has gained somewhat of a national following and is considered a must-try for both locals and tourists. Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in China, is particularly famous for its stinky tofu varieties, and many vendors proudly serve their unique versions of the dish.

The fermentation process of stinky tofu is an essential part of its preparation. One method involves using koji, a type of mold used in Asian cuisine to ferment soybeans and other ingredients4. Koji helps create the signature pungent aroma and flavor that stinky tofu is known for. Additionally, some stinky tofu recipes may include shiitake mushrooms, which contribute to its distinctive, earthy taste.

Stinky tofu can be found in a variety of forms and cooking styles. Some of the more popular preparations include:

  • Deep-fried stinky tofu: Often served with a spicy dipping sauce, deep-fried stinky tofu is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
  • Grilled stinky tofu: Cooked over an open flame, grilled stinky tofu develops a smoky flavor and slightly charred exterior.
  • Steamed stinky tofu: Steamed stinky tofu is typically milder in flavor compared to its fried or grilled counterparts, and is often served with a savory sauce.
  • Stinky tofu hot pot: Often enjoyed in the colder months, stinky tofu is added to a hot pot of broth and vegetables, absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients.

While stinky tofu may be an acquired taste, it holds great cultural significance in East Asia as a street food and culinary tradition. With its unmistakable aroma and unique flavor, stinky tofu continues to be a beloved delicacy for many food enthusiasts in the region and beyond.


  1. https://www.delightedcooking.com/what-is-stinky-tofu.htm
  2. https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20130123-a-taiwanese-stinky-tofu-tour
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinky_tofu
  4. https://www.yumofchina.com/stinky-tofu/