It’s commonly said of “stinky tofu,” a fermented tofu in China with a strong odor, that “the taste is delicious despite the smell.” But the scandalous news associated with the production of stinky tofu in China has caused many to have second thoughts about even the taste.
In 2012, for example, Sina News ran an article with the confession of a stinky tofu maker:
“Every time nature calls, I put my excrement in plastic buckets instead of the toilet—it’s like treasure. After adding water, I put the tofu in it for two or three days. This tofu smells like nothing else. If I don’t do it this way, it’ll take too long for the tofu to ferment naturally—how am I going to make money that way? But all the same, lots of people likes the stinky tofu I made, saying it’s plenty stinky and has a strong taste. It’s definitely weird.”
Experts say that to produce authentic stinky tofu, the selection of materials is key: fresh ingredients, temperature and humidity just right. The entire fermentation process can take months.
But in China, media reports since 2005 have shown scandal after scandal, in which stinky tofu producers sought to shortcut the process: using mouldy soybeans soaked in ferrous sulfate (a nutritional supplement), or dipped in brine laced with poppy shells.
Unlucky customers might even come across tofu like the above, soaked in the feces of the producer.
Guobiao Stinky Tofu is a famous brand of tofu in China, and also produces large quantities of stinky tofu. In 2012 it was exposed to have used brine with poppy shells, after a surprise inspection by the food authorities in Hunan Province, according to China Quality News.
The brine that used for fermenting that tofu was a filthy jet black, with blue bubbles, emitting a suffocating smell. Bugs were crawling across the top of the fetid solution.
A large bag of ferrous sulfate was also found.
Guobiao was able to produce 40,000 to 50,000 pieces of stinky tofu daily, with cost as low as $0.02 a piece, reports said. Nearly half of the local product was supplied by him, and exported to seven provinces around China.
In 2011, a stinky tofu workshop in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, was also investigated producing stinky tofu illegally—yet its products also sold well.