Stinky tofu is a Chinese form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. It is usually sold at night markets or roadside stands as a snack, or in lunch bars as a side dish, rather than in restaurants.
Unlike cheese, stinky tofu fermentation does not have a fixed formula for starter bacteria; wide regional and individual variations exist in manufacturing and preparation.
The traditional method of producing stinky tofu is to prepare a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat; the brine can also include dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs. The brine fermentation can take as long as several months.
Modern factories often use quicker methods to mass-produce stinky tofu. Fresh tofu is marinated in prepared brine for only a day or two, especially for fried or boiled cooking purposes. The process only adds odor to the marinated tofu instead of letting it ferment completely.
Stinky tofu can be eaten cold, steamed, stewed, or, most commonly, deep-fried, and it is often accompanied by chili sauce or soy sauce. The color varies from the golden, fried Zhejiang-style to the black, typical of Hunan-style stinky tofu.
A 2012 chemical analysis found 39 volatile organic compounds that contributed to the unique smell and taste of fermented stinky tofu. The main volatile compound was indole, followed by dimethyl trisulfide, phenol, dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl tetrasulfide.
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