Cooking with: Dofu ru

So what can I tell you about dofu ru? How about, don’t forget to refrigerate it after you open the jar? This would seem to be common sense to someone that knows what it is. I do know what it is, however – I just forgot to put it away. For a week. Now my kitchen is awash in a miasma of oily, yeasty funk.

What is it?

Dofu ru is often referred to as “pickled” tofu . It is NOT, as many sources will tell you, the same as chou dofu ru, or “stinky” tofu. After my anti-refrigeration incident, you may not necessarily believe that, but I unfortunately have firsthand experience with chou dofu which is an entirely different beast, and which will not be covered here (count your blessings – seriously. I’ll wait).

Dofu ru, in various forms, is spread all over Asia, with lots of variations on the name:

  • Dofu ru (豆腐乳) (Mandarin name) (dofu is actually the proper pronunciation of tofu)
  • Sufu (Shanghainese)
  • Fuyu (Cantonese)
  • Chao (Vietnamese)
  • Furu (Japanese)

(As always, correct me if I’m wrong or leave anything out)

The nomenclature around this still baffles me. I’ve asked for dofu ru in Mandarin-speaking restaurants and gotten blank stares, but asking for furu (Japanese) in those same restaurants has gotten me results. Go figure…

OK, so it’s pickled tofu that smells funny. What is it, again? Wikipedia (the definitive source of all things true in the world) probably has the most straightforward description of just what dofu ru is:

“Cubes of dried tofu are allowed to fully air-dry under hay and slowly ferment from aerial bacteria and fungal spores. Commercially available pickled tofu is made by using dry firm tofu that has been inoculated with the fungal spores of Actinomucor elegans, Mucor racemosus, or Rhizopus spp.. The dry fermented tofu is then soaked in brine, typically enhanced with Chinese rice wine, vinegar, chili peppers or sesame oil, or a paste made of rice and soybeans.”

What does it taste/smell like?

This is a hard one. When it’s fairly young (the liquid will be relatively clear and the cubes of dofu will be pretty well defined), it has a light, cheese-like smell. As it ages (sometimes for years) it becomes progressively softer and riper, the liquid cloudier, and the nicest way I can say it: more snot-like – leading it to be known as “Chinese cheese”. As for taste – I think it adds a salty sweetness – it’s really it’s own beast.

As with the names there are multiple varieties, the differences mainly in the soaking liquid and other ingredients added to that liquid (wine, chili, red yeast rice, etc.).

What can I do with it?

Dofu ru is surprisingly versatile. Some people just eat it directly from the jar, or add it to congee or rice. When stir frying green, leafy vegetables (anything ending with tsai/choy) with garlic, I like to add a small amount to finish (a little goes a long way). Like here.

It can be used with meat dishes as well:

Sticky Soy Beef in Dofu Ru with Garlic Mushrooms

Image credit: Nat @ Something To Tide Me Over

How do I store it?

As far as I know, as long as the jar remains sealed, the shelf life is indefinite. After opening, and when refrigerated (doh!), it can be kept for several years, during which time its flavor is believed to improve.


  1. Ha! never knew what it was called. I just called it fermented bean curd. My brother loved the stuff when I tossed it with some noodles (a recipe from Dunlop’s Land of Plenty).

    I can say it won everyone over at the table, but it’s definitely something unique that I’m glad I tried. I have a few jars of the spicy version left that I’m not exactly sure what to do with. Everyone is scared!

  2. Some Chinese restaurants will not add it to dishes even upon request because the smell can offend some customers! I like to add it to many Asian dishes and some non-asian dishes too…just a little…because it adds so much to the taste….almost pure umami! Start using just a quarter of a cube and adjust up or down according to your individual preferences.

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