Fermented bean curd, also called fermented tofu, bean cheese, or tofu cheese, comes in both a white variety and a red variety, and it’s pretty foreign to the average American home cook. Other names include preserved bean curd or wet bean curd.
So what is this ingredient?
To be upfront, this is one of those foods that could have been featured on Fear Factor, as its appearance and consistency can be a little off-putting at first glance. Fermented foods tend to have that effect. But in all honesty, it really is delicious and lends an amazing umami flavor to anything you add it to.
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about this ingredient, how it’s made, how we cook with it, and where to buy it.
What Is Fermented Bean Curd?
Fermented bean curd (fǔrǔ, 腐乳) is a type of preserved tofu made with fresh bean curd (tofu), salt, rice wine, and other flavorings. For people of Cantonese origin, the pronunciation is “foo yee.”
In China, you can buy pieces fresh from markets, but here in the U.S, it is sold as small cubes in jars of brine.
Fermented bean curd is not used as a main protein, but as a flavor agent or seasoning. The flavor is salty, subtly sweet, and many say, faintly cheesy. It also has a texture similar to a creamy cheese.
There is a regular white fermented bean curd, as well as a red version (hóngfǔrǔ, 紅腐乳) which is made with red yeast rice (we’ve talked about red yeast rice before, in relation to Chinese red vinegar), a type of fermented rice that has a red/purple color from being cultivated with monascus purpureus mold. This rice is added to brine to make red fermented tofu.
Wine and spirits are used to make fermented bean curds, and while we don’t know exactly what different producers use, white bean curd has a more distinct taste of bai jiu, a sorghum grain liquor. The red stuff tastes more of yellow rice wine (huang jiu) which is in the same family of wine as Shaoxing wine.
The flavor of red fermented bean curd is stronger (with more umami) than that of white, with a more pronounced taste of rice wine, making it more well-suited to braised meat dishes and sauces.
How Is Fermented Bean Curd Used?
We grew up eating this stuff (also called lom yee in Cantonese) and love cooking with it.
Fermented bean curd can be used as a condiment, as an ingredient for dipping sauces, or just a hit of salt and flavor to eat with a simple rice/water “pao fan” or porridge, congee, or mantou (plain steamed buns).
While both red and white fermented bean curd can be eaten this way, we prefer white fermented bean curd with congee, and take out a small chunk of it to break off in tiny pieces and eat with each mouthful.
It can also be a great ingredient in cooked dishes. The white version is often used to cook stir-fried leafy greens. In Cantonese restaurants, you can generally order vegetables cooked in three ways: plain with salt, with garlic, or with white fermented bean curd. Certain leafy green vegetables are particularly good when cooked with white fermented bean curd, including watercress, spinach, and water spinach.
We also use it to boost the umami in our completely vegan Asian vegetable stock!
When cooking with red fermented tofu, we mostly use it for marinades, sauces, and braised meat dishes. It offers an amazing unique flavor to our Fried Chinese Spareribs that always has everyone curious about what “secret ingredient” you’ve added.
We also found out recently that it is used to make a type of stuffed biscuit in the Chaoshan region of China’s Guangdong Province, where it’s often served with tea (if you’re interested in Chaoshan cuisine, check out the show, “Flavorful Origins” on Netflix). We also use it in our ham chim peng Cantonese fried dough recipe.
Buying & Storing
This ingredient is best purchased in a local Asian grocery store since there is not much variety online, and buying online can be very expensive. The Wangzhihe brand is the one we buy most often at our local Chinese grocery. Here are a couple pictures for reference.
There are various other brands available, so try a few and see what you prefer.
Store in the refrigerator after it has been opened, and always use clean utensils to prevent contamination. If continuously refrigerated and handled in a sterile manner, it can last for a year (or even longer––some sources say that it can last for years, and that the flavor actually improves over time).
Our Favorite Recipes That Use This Ingredient
- Stir-fried Water Spinach with Fermented Tofu
- Chinese Ribs with a Sesame Crust
- Fried Chinese Spareribs
- Buddha’s Delight (Lo Han Jai)
- Cantonese Style Braised Pork Belly with Arrowhead Root
- Hong Kong Style Braised Lamb Casserole
- Ham Chim Peng (Cantonese Fried Dough)
If you have further questions, let us know in the comments––we try to answer every single one.