History of Fermented Tofu - A Healthy Nondairy / Vegan Cheese (1610-2011)
William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-40-2
Publication Date: 2011 Nov. 13
Number of References in Bibliography: 763
Earliest Reference: 1610
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What is fermented tofu? It is a soft (like soft cream cheese), smooth, somewhat salty non-dairy (vegan) cheese that originated either in China or the islands around Okinawa in about the 1500s. It has a rather strong aroma, reminiscent of European mold-ripened cheeses such as Roquefort, Camembert, Blue / Bleu, Brie, Neufchatel, Stilton, Gorgonzola, etc. Many Westerners consider it an acquired taste, but those who try it often grow to love it - or even crave it. It does not melt but it is cut or spreads easily, and is generally used as a condiment, as with rice or rice porridge, or as a spread for crackers. There are many different types made in many different ways – just as there are with dairy cheeses, but all can be divided into two basic types: (1) Tofu molded before pickling. (2) Tofu not molded before pickling. It is typically made using a two-part fermentation. For type No. 1: First, 1-inch cubes of firm tofu are inoculated with spores of a special species of mold. These are kept in a warm place (or incubated) for several days until each cube is overgrown with a fragrant white mycelium. Second, these mold-covered cubes are immersed in a brining liquor (often in individual jars) consisting of a mixture of rice wine, water, and salt. There the tofu ages and ripens. It will keep for years unrefrigerated – or even longer refrigerated.
Brief Chronology of Fermented Tofu.
1596 – Fermented tofu (furu) may be mentioned in the Becao Gangmu [The Great Pharmacopea] by Li Shizhen. Scholars disagree.
1610 – Earliest known reference to fermented tofu in China appears in Penglong Yehua [Peng Long Ye Hua; Night Discourses by the Penglong Mountain], by Li Rihua. The fermented tofu is named hai fu [hai tofu fu] (Huang 2000, p. 325-26). The next few earliest Chinese documents that mention fermented tofu are from 1680, about 1750, and 1790.
1783 – Fermented tofu is first mentioned in Japan in the Tôfu Hyakuchin Zokuhen [One Hundred Rare and Favorite Tofu Recipes: Sequel], by Ka Hitsujun of Osaka. Two types of fermented tofu were mentioned, both red. However this fermented tofu subsequently disappeared and can no longer be found in mainland Japan.
1818 – Basil Hall, an Englishman, describing a feast by the king of Loochoo (in today’s Okinawa province) says: "There was something like cheese given us after the cakes, but we cannot form a probable conjecture of what it was made." It was probably tofuyo.
1855 Jan. – Fermented tofu is next mentioned in the Western world by Baron de Montgaudry, the French Consul at Shanghai and Ning-po, China. Writing in French in the Bulletin de la Societe d’Acclimatation he says (after describing regular tofu): For the rich, a seasoning (assaisonnement) is prepared which requires more care and culinary talent. The soybean paté (La pâte de Pois) [tofu] is fermented after having been seasoned with pepper, salt, powdered bay/laurel leaves, powdered thyme, and other aromatics. During the fermentation, the producer bastes the paté with soybean oil (l'huile de Pois). After several days of fermentation, the preparation is ready. This paté or cheese (fermented tofu) becomes a very powerful digestive (aid to digestion) and an aperitif, which no one can resist because it is extremely tasty.
1858 April – Fermented tofu first arrives in the Western world in Australia (Melbourne). Called “Pickle beans curd” [sic], it is part of a shipment of Chinese foods sent to Chinese in Australia because of the Gold Rush (1851-1861). Unlike regular fresh tofu, fermented tofu is not perishable and can be shipped long distances (Towns 1858).
1878 – Doufu-ru (Fermented tofu) is first made in the Western world in San Francisco by Wo Sing & Co., which also makes regular tofu (Wells Fargo & Co.).
1879 June 4 – Fermented tofu is first mentioned in a U.S. newspaper, in the Hartford Daily Courant (Connecticut) in an article titled “A Hartford lady at a Chinese dinner.” The wife of an American official in China, she calls it “salt bean curd.”
1882 – Doufu-ru (fermented tofu) in now being made by a second tofu company in San Francisco, Sam Sing.
1882 – In France, fermented tofu is first given a real name – “fromage de soja” (Figuier 1882).
1883 – Fermented tofu (“10 boxes of bean cake”) is again imported to Australia from Hongkong, again as part of a shipment of Chinese foods (Brisbane Courier, Queensland, Australia). Another shipment with the same name arrives in June 1885.
1887 – In A Primer in the Mandarin Dialect, published by the China Inland Mission in Shanghai, fermented tofu is described on page 197 as “teo-fu-ru, bean curd;” The three Chinese characters are given.
1888 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “Beancurd, preserved” (Alabaster 1888).
1892 – Stinky tofu (a malodorous type of fermented tofu, loved or craved by many) is first mentioned in English in a dictionary by H.A. Giles under the character Ch’ou (p. 259. No. 2521). The entry reads: “Chou fu - stinking bean curd, noxious.”
1902 Oct. 15 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “Fermented bean-curd” (New York Tribune, Oct. 15).
1904 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “bean curd cheese” (Geil 1904). This is the first of many names containing the word “cheese.” Indeed fermented tofu is one of the most delicious non-dairy (vegan) cheeses.
1906 (or 1951) – Quong Hop & Co. of San Francisco is said to have started making fermented tofu. As recently as 1984, the company was making two popular types, sold in glass jars – “Bean Cake (Fu-Yu)” and Pepper Bean Cake (with flakes of hot chili peppers in the brining liquor). Note: Neither we nor the owners of Quong Hop & Co. have been able to find any proof that the company even existed in 1906. The earliest record we have found that they existed is from a 1930 San Francisco City Directory; they are listed as a grocery store at 135 Waverly Place. The earliest records we have found that they made fermented tofu are from two sources: (1) A listing and ad in a 1951 Yearbook; they were at 133 Waverly Place. (2) A listing in the 1951 San Francisco City Directory; their occupation is described simply as “bean cakes.”
1909 Oct. 4 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “soy bean cheese” (United States Land and Irrigation Exposition).
1919 Dec. – Fermented tofu is first referred to as “fermented cheese” in a British patent by Li Yu-ying of France. From this “fermented cheese” he has invented a way to make Western-style cheeses such a Roquefort, Parmesan, or Gruyere. It is interesting to note that all of these Western-style cheeses are traditional mold-ripened cheeses.
1912 – Tahuli or tahuri, fermented tofu made in the Philippines, is first described by Gibbs and Agcaoili.
1916 – Frank N. Meyer, USDA agricultural explorer in China, first encounters fermented tofu in China. He sends samples back to Washington, DC. His first description reads: “Parcel No. 125c, contains first quality Chinese soybean cheese; please taste a little on the point of a knife; it is extremely appetising.” In this future letters he also refers to it as “Chinese bean cheese,” or “bean cheese” He notes that there are several kinds of this soft cheese in China.
1917 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “foo-yue” (Chan 1917). This is the first of many names with this sound; others are fuyu, fu-yu, foo-yu, etc.
1918 – C.Y. Shih, writing in English from the Biology Dept., Soochow Univ., China, describes various types of fermented tofu: ju fu, tsao ju fu, chiang ju fu, ham ju fu, and ch’ing hsien ju fu.
1920 – Red fermented tofu is first mentioned in English by Margaret B. Church of the Bureau of Chemistry, USDA. She refers to it as “Chinese red cheese.” It is made red by the use of red fermented rice or ang-kak. Church is also the first to use the terms “Chinese cheese,” “soy cheese,” or “Chinese soy cheese” to refer to fermented tofu.
1929 Sept. 27 – The first scientific studies on fermented tofu are published in a famous article titled “A new species of mono-mucor, Mucor sufu, on Chinese soybean cheese,” by Nganshou Wai in the prestigious journal Science. Fermented tofu is referred to here (in English) as “sufu” or “tosufu” The writer is from the National Hygienic Laboratory, Shanghai, China. The name, which soon starts to be widely used in Western scientific publications, causes considerable confusion because (1) it is largely unknown by Chinese outside of the Shanghai area, and (2) it is not used on commercial products. Wai isolated the main microorganism thought to be responsible for the fermentation and identified it as an new species of Mucor; he proposed the name Mucor sufu.
1944 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “preserved tofu cheese” by De Gouy.
1946 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “fermented tofu” by Arnold Marquis in a broadcast on NBC radio.
1948 – Fermented tofu is first referred to in English as “fermented soybean curd” by Manuel E. Arsenio in the Philippines
1949 March – A.K. Smith, of the USDA Northern Regional Research Lab. (Peoria, Illinois), after a trip to East Asia to study soyfoods, publishes a long and detailed article in Soybean Digest titled “Oriental use of soybeans as food,” part of which concerns fermented tofu. He introduces three new varieties and describes how each is made: chee-fan, tsue-fan (“drunken cheese”), and hon-fan (a red cheese).
1968 – N.S. Wai, now living in Taiwan, publishes a final synopsis of his studies in a major report funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
1970s – Many types of fermented tofu begin to be imported into the United States, especially from countries based on Chinese culture (China, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.).
1983-1984 – Four articles about delicious tofuyo, made with red koji (beni-koji) are published in Japanese, in leading Japan scientific journals, by Dr. Masaaki Yasuda and colleagues at the Dep. of Agricultural Chemistry, University of the Ryukyus (Ryukyu Islands), Okinawa. These included a detailed and carefully documented history (with 37 references) and precise description of the process by which tofuyo is made. With these articles Dr. Yasuda and colleagues introduce tofuyo to the world.
1985 March 9 – NHK TV, Japan’s largest and most respected television station, does a 30-minute documentary titled “Tofuyo” as part of its series “Today’s Food.” It is filmed in Okinawa.
1990-2010 – Dr. Masaaki Yasuda and colleagues in Okinawa publish seven more scientific articles about tofuyo. This time all but the first have a good English-language summary.
2010 Sept. 22 – Quong Hop & Co. files voluntarily for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The last U.S. maker of wine fermented tofu no longer exists – opening up a business opportunity!
2011 July 21 – CNN names “stinky tofu, a type of fermented tofu, as one of the “World’s 50 most delicious foods” (No. 41 out of 50).
2011 – “Fermented tofu, tofuyo,” by Dr. Masaaki Yasuda of Okinawa is published in English as a chapter in a free online book by InTech (Croatia). An excellent summary of his work, with 54 references, it contains good histories of both fermented tofu and of tofuyo.
2011 – Popular vegan cheeses in the United States are made by Daiya, Galalaxy Nutritional Foods, and Chicago Soydairy (Teese); each has a website. Most melt, some stretch, The last two are soy-based. But whereas most Chinese love and use fermented tofu, very few vegans or vegetarians are even aware of it or even think of it.
Alphabetical list of names of fermented tofu (useful for searching digital / electronic text):
Bean cheese or bean-cheese
Bean curd cheese
Chiang ju fu
Chinese bean cheese
Chinese red cheese
Chinese soybean cheese
Chinese soy cheese
Ch’ing Hsien ju fu
Ch’ou toufu or ch’ou tou-fu or ch’ou tou fu
Doufu-ru or or doufu ru or dou-fu-ru or dou-fu ru
Fermented bean curd or fermented bean-curd
Fermented nam yu
Fermented rice sufu (a type of tsao sufu)
Fermented soybean curd
Fetid bean curd
Fu Yu or Fu-Yu
Fu-Yue or Fu Yue
Ham Ju Fu
Pehtze (molded tofu cubes)
Pickled bean curd or pickled beancurd
Pickle beans curd
Preserved tofu cheese
Red bean-curd cheese
Red fermented tofu
Redolent fermented tofu
Red preserved bean curd
Red soya cheese
Red sufu cheese
Smelly bean curd or smelly tofu
Soya bean cheese
Soy bean cheese or soy-bean cheese
Soy bean curds
Soybean fermented curd
Soy cheese or soy-cheese
Stinking bean curd
Stinky bean curd
Tofu-yo or tofuyo
Tou fu lu
Toufu-ju or Tou-fu-ju
Toufu-ru or tou fu ru
Tsao Ju Fu
Tsue-fan or tsüe-fan
White bean-curd cheese
White fermented tofu
Yellow bean-curd cheese
Search engine keywords:
History of sufu
History of bean cheese
History of Chinese cheese
History of soybean cheese
History of soy cheese
History of bean-curd cheese
History of fermented soybean curd
History of tofu-yo
History of tofuyo
History of bean cake
History of Fu-Yu
History of nondairy cheeses
History of healthy nondairy cheeses
History of vegan cheeses
Bibliography of sufu
Bibliography of bean cheese
Bibliography of Chinese cheese
Bibliography of soybean cheese
Bibliography of soy cheese
Bibliography of bean-curd cheese
Bibliography of fermented soybean curd
Bibliography of tofu-yo
Bibliography of tofuyo
Bibliography of bean cake
Bibliography of Fu-Yu
Bibliography of nondairy cheeses
Bibliography of vegan cheeses
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