The Fermented Tofu Every Home Cook Needs In Their Kitchen

Fermented tofu is a condiment commonly found in many Chinese kitchens. It has a long history in Chinese cuisine and can be traced as far back as the Wei dynasty. 

In northern China, the condiment is more fragrant and savory, whereas its sweeter counterpart is enjoyed in southern China. Its umami-packed taste makes it a dark horse that every home cook should have in their kitchen. It makes for a great snack when spread on freshly steamed buns (man tou). Think of it like vegemite or marmite on toast — a little bit goes a long way.

In Chinese, the condiment is called dou fu ru, or simply fu ru. It comes in two types, red and white, per The Woks of Life. The red hue of the tofu comes from fermenting it with red yeast rice, according to The Spruce Eats. The main ingredients of fu ru are soybeans, salt, and rice wine. The process of making fermented tofu is simple and can be made at home. It starts with dried cubed tofu that is placed in jars of water with salt, spices, and rice wine. Store it in a cool place, and it will become fermented in one to two months. Omnivore's Cookbook wrote that refrigerating it in an airtight jar will keep it good for up to six months.

How is it used?

How do you eat fermented tofu? You can use it straight out of the jar as a spread on bread or add it to stews and stir-fried vegetables for that umami flavor. Cooking blog The Woks of Life wrote that leafy vegetables like watercress, spinach, and water spinach, are particularly good for cooking with fermented tofu. And Food & Wine calls it "a stealthy magic weapon that goes a long way." The outlet suggests adding it to Chinese red meat stews or serving it with a bowl of congee.

Fermented tofu is an underrated condiment, and it's not commonly found in mainstream supermarket chains. You'll have more luck finding it at a Chinese supermarket, such as 99 Ranch. Chinese supermarkets are often stocked with fermented tofu of many varieties including spicy, plum, sweet wine, and even taro. 

Try incorporating fermented tofu into your cooking, and you'll soon have friends asking you for your secret ingredient.