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Is 'Stinky Tofu' Vegan?

by Fabian Jackson

3min read

This pungent, fermented street food that’s full of live bacteria is one of the most popular dishes throughout China, Hong Kong and Taiwan – but what exactly is it and is it vegan?

What is ‘stinky tofu’? 

Making tofu in an ancient Chinese tradition dating back some two thousand years. It’s made by curdling, setting, cooling and then pressing soya milk. Stinky tofu, or chòu dòufu, is made by fermenting the soybean curd in brine with vegetables and sometimes meat or fish. 

stinky tofu in oil

Photo credits: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy via BBC source

It can range from golden colours to dark green and black (the darker the colour the stronger the smell) and is usually grilled, braised, steamed, or skewered and fried into chips that are served with pickled vegetables.

The legend goes that it was invented by a scholar-turned tofu salesman in Huang Shan during the Qing dynasty after he’d left large volumes of unsold tofu in a ceramic pot for days that turned green and gained a very strong smell. It quickly gained cult-like popularity and was later served in the imperial Qing Dynasty palace.

Is stinky tofu healthy?

According to the BBC, recent studies have shown that ‘eating stinky tofu can also help prevent osteoporosis, lower the risk of prostate and breast cancer, and reduce cholesterol.’ 

steaming street food

One market stall owner in Taipai who specialises in stinky tofu, says he sees people travel from all over the world to see if eating the dish will cure their illnesses. 

Is stinky tofu vegan?

Whilst this dish might sound like vegan territory (we do love getting behind fermented foods) stinky tofu isn’t always vegan. As the brine often contains ingredients like shrimp or beef, the food isn’t even always vegetarian. 

If you’re hungry to try stinky tofu, then here’s a vegan recipe from Full of Plants that’s worth giving a go!

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Fabian Jackson
by Fabian Jackson

Fabian is one of our lovely Content Marketing Assistants who loves writing almost as much as he loves coffee, old episodes of Escape to the Country (no judgement here), and cooking up a storm in his kitchen.

Read more from Fabian


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