History of Fermented Tofu - Page 2

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi

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History of Fermented Tofu in Southeast Asia . As mentioned above, fermented tofu was probably first brought to this region by Chinese traders, travelers, and/or merchants during the Ch'ing dynasty. Unfortunately very little information about its early dissemination is available.

Vietnam. The earliest known reference to fermented tofu in Southeast Asia appeared in 1895?? when Nguyen Hanh Tran wrote an essay on "Fromage de pate de haricots." Beltzer (1911a, 1911c) mentioned that fromage vegetal fermentee ^ ("fermented vegetable cheese") was found in south Vietnam (Annam); the color was gray or yellow and the taste was reminiscent of Roquefort cheese. In 1959 Richard, chief pharmacist at the Pasteur Institute in Saigon, did an excellent study in French on Vietnamese wine fermented tofu ( chao ), although he made no mention of the fermentation process. Commercially, he stated, well pressed tofu was allowed to dry on mats for 20-24 hours. It was then salted and left for 24-48 hours. After the cubes were washed to remove the excess salt, they were put in small glazed stoneware pots with rice wine and left for 20 days. It was widely used in both vegetarian and regular diets. In the former it was generally used in place of fish-based sauces; mixed with pimiento, vinegar, sugar, and oil, it made a tasty condiment, chao toi ot . A nutritional analysis of five samples showed them to contain, on average, 11% salt and 5% alcohol. Another variety of fermented tofu, dau-phu nhu , is said to have a milder flavor than chao.

Philippines. In 1912, in an article on tofu, Gibbs and Agcaoili mentioned that a food product "known locally under the name tahuri or tahuli is imported from southern China in large stone jars. It is preserved by covering the cakes with a strong salt solution. An analysis showed that the tofu portion contained 12.7% salt, 14.6% protein, and 55.8% water. The brine contained 16.4% salt. In 1932 Orosa reported that Chinese tahuri or tahuli was now imported in both large stone jars and small tin cans, and that there were some tofu manufacturers in Manila that made tahuri for local consumption. She also noted that pressed tofu sheets were sometimes allowed to stand and mold, which gave it a meatlike flavor. It was then fried in sesame oil and served in place of meat. This process and product may be unique to the Philippines. Concepcion (1943) stated that by 1939 tahuri was being provided by several tofu shops in Manila for local consumption. Tofu in 5 by 4 by 2.5-inch cakes was packed in crude salt in empty gas cans and allowed to cure for several months, during which time it changed from white to brownish yellow and developed a peculiar salty flavor.

Malaysia. Ng (1979) discussed tau ju which can be either brine-fermented tofu with chilies or spices, or red-fermented tofu, with red rice added.

Indonesia. Taokoan or takoa is fermented tofu which is sometimes colored with turmeric, steamed, and pressed into thin slices before fermentation (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1979).

History of Fermented Tofu in Europe . The first country in Europe to take a serious interest in fermented tofu was France, which was already famous for mold-ripened dairy cheeses such as Roquefort and Camembert. The earliest known reference to fermented tofu was in 1855 in a report to the Society for Acclimatization in France from Baron M. de Montigny, the French Consul in Shanghai. He noted that regular tofu served more as a food for the poor, while fermented tofu was "a seasoning highly regarded by the rich and prepared with more care and culinary talent. Tofu is seasoned with pepper, salt, powdered bay leaves, powdered thyme, and other aromatics, then fermented. During the fermentation, the producer bastes the tofu with soy oil. After a few days of fermentation, the preparation arrives at the desired point. This cheese becomes a very powerful digestive (aid to digestion) and an aperitif or appetizer, which is hard to resist" (Montgaudry 1855, p. 21; Paillieux 1880). In the session of March 30 that year the president informed that Society that Montigny had made them a gift of a "pot of tofu, Chinese cheese made with soybeans" ( pot de Teou-fou, fromage chinois fait avec le Pois oleagineux ; Saint-Hillaire 1855, p. 239).

By 1880 the Horticultural Society of Marseilles was actually making two types of fermented tofu, red and white, which they called "fromage blanc" and "fromage rouge." They made their own firm tofu, cut it into small pieces, placed these in a jar or bottle, then added 4 grams of salt per 100 grams of tofu, and covered the tofu with "Chinese brandy" (distilled rice wine; san-cho ). The tofu for the red cheese was rolled in a powder of red sandalwood plus a little cinnamon and mace before being immersed in the brining liquor. Then each container was sealed hermetically. Note that no molding of the tofu was done prior to ripening in the brining liquor. The vice president of the Society noted that at the end of 3 1/2 months the cheese was good but not yet ripe enough. At the end of 4 1/2 months he tried kneading the cheese gently; this gave it a bluish marbling and a subtle taste of Roquefort. The Marseilles Society also received terrines of good quality red and white fermented tofu from China, on which they did taste tests: "We have asked a large number of people to taste this white cheese, without telling them of the source; the great majority liked it, so I have no doubt that it will be accepted by the public. Opinions are divided as to whether people prefer the red or the white cheese. Some prefer the white to the red, which has, at first, a flavor of distilled spirits. In fact the two cannot be compared. The results of these taste tests on more than 100 people of all ages and conditions indicate that these cheeses will be acceptable to French tastes when they are widely available" (Paillieux 1880, 1881; Paillieux and Bois 1884, 1885).

In 1910 Li Yu-ying and in 1911 and 1912 Li and Grandvoinnet in Paris discussed fermented tofu in their writings on soybeans and soyfoods. By 1911 Li was making French-style tofu cheeses, as discussed later. This was probably the first fermented tofu sold commercially in Europe. It was definitely the first made there, and perhaps the last.

Dyson (1928) in London discussed American research on the molding process. Concerning red fermented tofu, he noted that "the molded chunks of tofu are immersed in brine and the maturing finished by a particular mold, Monascus purpureus (Went), which imparts to the finished product a red color." In 1936 Gray, also an Englishman, who lived in China, mentioned tofu fermented in chiang and added that the "stinking curd rivals a ripe Gorgonzola or Stilton cheese in odor."

Richard (1959), a Frenchman, who described chao , a Vietnamese fermented tofu. Shurtleff and Aoyagi's Das Tofu Buch (1981) contained detailed information and recipes on Chinese fermented tofu. Hermann (1983a,b) gave breif reviews. We know of no companies making fermented tofu in Europe today.

History of Fermented Tofu in the United States. In 1906 Quong Hop & Co. in San Francisco began to manufacture fermented tofu for the local Chinese population. The label bore the Cantonese characters pronounced "fuyu," as well as the English term "Bean Cake." Stanley Lee, son of the company's founder, thinks that the company his father worked for on Jackson Street in San Francisco before he founded Quong Hop may have been making fermented tofu since 1904. He also thinks that even at that time some fermented tofu was probably being imported from Hong Kong and China. Quong Hop & Co. initially coined the term "Bean Cake" to help health inspectors understand what type of product they were inspecting; during the Prohibition era (1919-1933) and thereafter, the term aided government inspectors from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to understand what they were taxing. Quong Hop & Co. has continued to make fermented tofu without interruption to this day, but has never tried to market it to Caucasian Americans.

In 1912 W.V. Linder, working in the Laboratory of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, investigated two samples of tofu (probably fermented tofu) sent to him from a Western State; they were suspected of being "filled cheese." In an article titled "Soybean Cheese" in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry he wrote that they resembled in appearance and taste a very soft cream cheese, and were a "very good substitute." These samples may well have been made by Quong Hop.

In May 1916 Frank N. Meyer, a USDA plant explorer in China, was asked by William Morse of the USDA to try to learn more about "Chinese bean cheese" and to send back some samples. On November 21 Meyer wrote to David Fairchild, head of the USDA Office of Seed and Plant Introduction in Washington, DC: "Parcel No.125c contains first quality Chinese soybean cheese; please taste a little on the point of a knife; it is extremely appetising. . . I wonder whether the fermenting organism is a new one possibly, that can be made to work in other substances than beancurd." During 1917 Meyer collected information in southeast China on how "bean cheese" was made (he found that molds caused the fermentation and tha star anise seed was used as a seasoning), took numerous photographs of products and manufacturers (two of which were published in the USDA Yearbook of Agriculture that year), and sent the USDA many more samples, including red and white varieties in small jars, and "fermented rice used in coloring bean cheese red." He often noted which samples he liked best and observed: "My interpreter informs me that in summertime one has to keep this cheese perpetually under a layer of sesame oil, otherwise maggots get in and eat it all up." At the USDA in Washington, DC, these unusual fermented soyfoods were very well received. Morse, Fairchild, and almost everyone else who sampled them enjoyed the "tasty appetizers." In fact, because of this strong interest in making a cheese from soybeans, by July 1917 Dr. Yamei Kin (a Chinese scientist?? living in the US) had been given a commission by the USDA Bureau of Chemistry to travel to China in order to investigate the "bean cheese" industry there. Meyer, delighted to hear this good news, remarked: "A subject like this is too fascinating to leave it alone" (Meyer 1902-18).

In 1917, shortly before her departure for China, Dr. Yamei Kin was interviewed by The New York Times Magazine . Discussing the versatility of the soybean, she noted: "A salad of bean sprouts, accompanied by cheese--the cheese, a cross between Camembert and Roquefort, and made from the soy bean--is very nutritious and palatable."

Shih (1918), writing about fermented tofu from China in English (as discussed earlier), gave Westerners the most detailed information to date on the different varieties and how each was made. Palen (1919), having learned about fermented tofu from Dr. Yamei Kin and from Li Yu-ying in Paris, mentioned it in an article on "The Romance of the Soya Bean, " observing that "The Chinese resident in America regularly import a certain highly flavored red bean cheese for thie own use. . ."

In 1920 Margaret Church of the USDA Bureau of Chemistry referred briefly to "Chinese cheese," in a paper on the red rice ( ang-khak ), used to color red fermented tofu. This tofu had been brought to her from China by Dr. Yamei Kin. Church discovered that the characteristics of red rice were caused by a mold, which she identified as Monascus purpureus (Went). She isolated one strain of this from fermented tofu. In 1923 she discussed the production of fermented tofu in China in considerable detail and added that both the canned red and white types were being imported to the US.

Also in 1923 Piper and Morse, in their classic The Soybean , ran two photographs showing the molding and brine fermentation steps in making "Foo-yu." The photos, taken in China by Frank N. Meyer in about 1917, were revealing, showing cakes of very firm tofu each lined upright like toy soldiers on slatted trays on a layer of rice straw, then the tofu being fermented in large (about 80-gallon) earthenware vats with spiced brine and soy sauce. Surprisingly, Piper and Morse did not discuss fermented tofu in their text, except very briefly in the captions to the two photographs.

In 1929 an English-language summary of Wai's important report on fermented tofu was published in Science magazine and in the same issue Coville, an American, wrote a second article on "Soybean Cheese." He noted that it was available in most Chinese restaurants in America and that it was "excellent when served with salad, meats, vegetables, or bread." He then discussed Wai's investigations.

In 1928 Wo Chong, a tofu manufacturing company, was founded in San Francisco. From about that time (or perhaps starting in the early 1930s, according to the recollection of Walter Louie, the present owner) they made fermented tofu (called fuyu ) in a warm, wood-slatted downstairs room. They had to stop in 1941, when World War II started, for lack of manpower. They never resumed. By the 1940s John Chen of China Pacific Co. on Sacramento St. in San Francisco was also making fermented tofu.

During his trip to China, William Morse of the USDA collected numerous samples of fermented tofu, and included three photographs in his log (Dorsett and Morse 1928-31; p. 6270-72). Two photos, taken in Beijing, showed the product aging in 5-inch deep cylindrical crocks, which were much smaller than usual. Chinese varietal names he mentioned were toyu , red and white chiang tofu , tuju , and lao tofu .

In the summer of 1948 Dr. A.K. Smith of the USDA Northern Regional Research Center (NRRC) in Peoria, Illinois, visited East Asia to study soyfoods. In his 40-page "Oriental Methods of Using Soybeans as Food with Special Attention to Fermented Products," published by the USDA in 1949, he described three types of fermented tofu, which he called "soybean cheese;" these were called chee-fan , tsue-fan , and hon-fan , each apparently made in Hangchow, capital of Chekiang province just south of Shanghai. Additional information was published by Lockwood and Smith in 1952. Also in 1952 the first PhD thesis on fermented tofu was written by Arthur M. Stern at the University of Illinois. It was entitled Studies on the Physiology of Mucor mucedo and its Role in the Fermentation of Soybean Curds.

The next Western researchers and microbiologists to take a serious interest in fermented tofu were Dr. Clifford W. Hesseltine and Dr. Hwa L. Wang, from the fermentation laboratory of the USDA Northern Regional Research Center in Peoria. Hesseltine became interested in the product in about 1960 through his work with Dr. Wai and Dr. Smith. From 1965 he wrote and lectured extensively about it and ang-kak (red rice or red koji). Wang (1967) discovered the reason for the brining step in fermented tofu production: the protease bound in the mold mycelium was released only in the presence of a salt solution. Wai's final PL 480 report appeared in 1968 and a summary was published that year by Agricultural Research . Then in 1970 Wang and Hesseltine published "Sufu and Lao-Chao," which contained new research on the fermentation and a good review of earlier work. Hesseltine and Wang (1972) gave a summary of all work to date in Smith and Circle's popular Soybeans: Chemistry and Technology. There, the authors concluded, in East Asia, "sufu adds a zest to the bland taste of a rice-vegetable diet. Because sufu is a cream cheese-type product and has a mild flavor, it would be suitable to use in Western countries as a cracker spread or as an ingredient of dips and dressings." Wang et al. (1977) described for the first time Chinese fermented pressed tofu sheets ( mei chien chang ) and a tofu fermented in a special vegetable stalk solution.

In The Book of Tofu (1975) Shurtleff and Aoyagi published new information about fermented tofu based on their field research in Taiwan, plus 15 Eastern and Western-style recipes for using this product and its brining liquor in dressings, dips, spreads, sauces, and the like. These were the first recipes published in the West and the first popular book to discuss fermented tofu. In 1979 in Tofu & Soymilk Production , they gave instructions for the commercial production of fermented tofu. In 1976 or 1977 Farm Food Company served a popular wine-fermented tofu dressing at their soy deli in California. It was the first known fermented tofu recipe ever to appear in a Western-style restaurant. Ford (1978) found fermented tofu to have an image problem: "Picture grayish chunks of some odd-looking material floating in a murky fluid, like biology specimens in a bottle, and you have a typical bottle of sufu. Sufu looks so bad that my husband, who has faithfully eaten a number of odd-looking sourtces of protein I have purchased over the years, refused it." Yet when she got up the courage to taste it: "To my surprise it was good, rather like a tangy dairy cheese but with a distinctive, nonbeany flavor of its own." Simonds (1979) was the first to write about fermented tofu in a gourmet food magazine, as discussed earlier.

Many impartial observers, from the researchers in France in the 1880s to Dr. Hesseltine in the USA in the 1980s, have expressed the belief that fermented tofu has real potential to be accepted as a food in the West. We heartily agree. Already its popularity is growing as a vegetarian cheese with a unique Camembert-like flavor among those interested in vegetarian, dairyless, or cholesterol-free diets, Oriental foods, and soyfoods. The product is highly versatile since virtually any flavor can be imparted to the tofu via the brining liquor or dressing. New flavors, popular in the West, such as garlic or coriander, should be developed and test marketed. Tempeh shops might consider making fermented tofu; the mold is a soil microorganism native to North America, whereas Rhizopus , the tempeh mold, is native to tropical areas.

From 1906 Quong Hop & Co. had contined to make fermented tofu in San Francisco. During World War II, they had to discontinue their canned product, since steel was rationed. In about 1948 a Caucasian chef at a major Boston hotel (probably the Statler) began using their fermented tofu to make acclaimed spaghetti sauces. By the late 1970s Quong Hop's products were sold in the Oriental Foods section of some supermarkets. By 1982 they were still the only manufacturer of fermented tofu in the Western world; the made two varieties, a wine-fermented tofu, labeled "BeanCake (Fu-Yu)" and a wine-fermented with red chilies, labeled "Pepper Bean Cake." Both were sold in pint jars, and the latter type also had a French title on the label ( le gateau du graines de soja poivre ) since it was exported to Quebec and France. The company was seriously considering marketing its wine fermented tofu to the Caucasian and natural food trades. However a 1983 ruling by the California State Board of Health that all the company's fermented tofu must be refrigerated because of a possibility of botulism hurt business and raised prices (to $1.75 a pint retail vs. $1.30 for imports). Imported products were not subject ot this restriction.

In about 1982 the first Western-style prepared food using fermented tofu as a primary ingredient was introduced. Called "Maggy Jinn's Bean Cake Dressing" it was a Roquefort-style salad dressing sold in a bottle as part of a six-pack of bottled dressings and sauces. The fermented tofu was imported from Hong Kong.

Except during World War II, fairly large amounts of fermented tofu had been imported to the US, mainly from Hong Kong, China, and (after World War II) Taiwan, in that order. Bottled and canned red and white fermented tofu, were widely sold in Chinese food stores. A survey of such stores in San Francisco indicated that roughly 90% of the products were imported (due mainly to their lower cost), and only 10% made domestically (by Quong Hop). Total imports were estimated in 1984 to be 500,000 pounds a year (Jim Miller, pers. comm.) Many of the imported products contained no alcohol; salt was the preservative and seasoning. The red fermented tofu was reported to be used mostly by restaurants.

?? Give three quotes. Chron sequence: Integrate?? Dr. Eugene N. Anderson, Jr. (1982, personal communication), a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, and a specialist on Chinese and Southeast Asian foods, fell in love with a Taiwanese fermented tofu imported to the US and labeled "Bean Curd Preserve with Rice Sauce" ( mi-jiang furu ). "It is emphatically my favorite of all strongly fermented soy products and one of the best soyfoods I've ever tasted. Absolutely incredibly fantastic. It is China's answer (superior, as usual) to Stilton in wine."


These products, developed relatively recently, are fundamentally different from Chinese-style fermented tofu in that they are made by fermenting tofu with the microorganisms used to make Western-style cheeses in order to obtain similar soy-based products. We know of none of these products which have ever been produced commercially, except by Li Yu-ying in Paris in 1911 (Li and Grandvoinnet 1911, 1912).

The earliest known attempt to make a Western-style fermented cheese from tofu were both undertaken in Japan, a country where fermented tofu was largely unknown. In 1895 Inouye, in what was also one of the earliest scientific studies of tofu, wrote:

In order to see whether a product similar to Swiss cheese could be obtained from the crude soya casein or tofu, I infected 50 grm. of fresh tofu with a small dose of pulverized Swiss cheese, and added 10% of common salt to the mixture, pressed it in cloth, and allowed it to stand in a moist beaker glass for several months. The product resembled, only to a limited extent, the cheese from milk, but further experiments with additional small quantities of milk sugar are intended.

In 1906 Katayama in Tokyo did a similar experiment, as he reported in "On the Preparation of a Vegetable Cheese from the Protein of the Soy Bean." He made the first good quality fermented tofu Swiss cheese by mixing 450 gm of pressed tofu with 60 gm of common salt, 50 gm of pressed milk curds, and 2 gm each of finely ground Swiss cheese and milk sugar (lactose). He wrapped the mass in a linen cloth saturated with salt and left it to ripen for 5 months at 15°C (59°F); the cloth was moistened from time to time. A rind formed on the surface, and although no eyes formed and the odor and taste differed from that of Swiss cheese, the taste was reported to be good, with no putrefaction.

The first and only commercial fermented tofu cheeses were made in Paris by the Chinese soyfoods pioneer Li Yu-ying, starting in about 1910 or 1911. In their classic Le Soja (1912), Li and Grandvoinnet wrote: "Finally, from tofu, we have been able to duplicate many European cheeses using selected cultures of cheese microorganisms. The fermented tofus ( fromages fermentes ) were of the Gruyere type, the Roquefort type, and the Camembert type." It is unfortunate that Li did not write down his secrets for making these products, for future food scientists have not been able to get good results in their attempts to make them.

In the early 1940s Dr. Harry Miller became the first Westerner to do research on fermented tofu cheeses. Working at Ohio State University, he pressed tofu (made in his own tofu plant) until it was as hard as possible, then inoculated it with Cheddar cheese microorganisms and allowed it to ripen. The product was fairly good, but often excess moisture led to the growth of undesirable bacteria. Starting in about 1973 Dr. Miller, now working as a researcher at Loma Linda Foods in California, resumed his experiments on tofu-based cheeses and cheese spreads. The results of his work, though unpublished, were communicated to Shurtleff and Aoyagi when they visited him at work in 1976. Miller made a good tofu-based Cheddar cheese but could not make it melt. In the basic process oil and butterfat were homogenized into thick soymilk to reduce the moisture content to 40%; then the soymilk was coagulated with magnesium chloride to make curds, which were pressed, steamed, then blended while hot with hard hot coconut oil. The mixture was cooled to 54°C (130°F) and inoculated by mixing in a Western-style Swiss cheese or Cheddar cheese starter, (a bacterial culture), rennet extract, and casein, plus lactose or maltose to support the culture's growth. In some cases a cheese flavoring was added. The mixture was then pressed in a cheese press until the moisture content was reduced to no more than 65%. After placing the "wheel" in a salt bath at 10°C (50°F) for 24 hours, it was ripened at 16°C (63°F) for 21 days. The product worked best as a cheese spread (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1979, p. 253).

The Japanese interest in making Western-style fermented cheese from tofu experience a rebirth starting in the late 1950s (ask Hesseltine??) after almost half a century of dormancy. At that time Dr. Tetsujiro Obara, a 5 foot 1 inch-tall, long-haired professor at Tokyo University of Education was given a USDA P.L. 480 grant to develop soy cheese. Though one of his cheeses, called "hakko tofu" and inoculated with Streptococcus cremoris and S. lactis organisms, tasted and looked like Velveta, it took too long to make (18 months). Obara was the first to report that a good quality soy cheese could not be made using conventional dairy cheesemaking processes. His work was not published until the late 1960s (1968; Soybean Digest 1969, Nov.).

Ebine, Nakano, and Kosaka (1965; often miscited as Kenkyusho) of the Japanese National Food Research Institute patented a Western-style tofu cheese; an English-language description of the process was given by Shurtleff and Aoyagi (1979) in Tofu & Soymilk Production . Other Japanese researchers studying or patenting similar soy cheeses included Fukushima (1965, assigned to Kikkoman), Sugano (1968, using Neurospora molds), and Nakanishi (1973, using Aspergillus oryzae ).

Lundstedt and Lo (1973a,b) patented a blue cheese made from tofu. Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Co. Ltd. in Hong Kong (makers of Vitasoy soymilk) made and marketed the product briefly but, although its quality was good, it was not successful.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts (Herrick and Rosenau 1980; Rosenau and Herrick 1981) found that tofu, added to cheese at the 27% level, made an excellent processed Cheddar-tofu cheese product, that reduced production costs by 23% but did not melt.


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