What Is Chinese Red Bean Curd?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Chinese Fermented Bean Curd in a bowl against a white background.
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Red bean curd is used in Chinese cooking as a flavor enhancer. It is a type of preserved bean curd (also called fermented bean curd) that consists of cubes of soybean curd that have been preserved in rice wine, fermented red rice, and other seasonings. In addition to the red, there are several varieties of preserved bean curd, from white (which is plain fermented bean curd) to stinky, which is fermented over six months, to Chiang fermented bean curd that is soaked in miso.

Fast Facts

  • Most Common Use: as a flavoring in braised dishes
  • Cuisine It's Used In: Chinese
  • Storage: in the refrigerator for at least one year

What Is Red Bean Curd?

Red bean curd is the basic white bean curd with added ingredients that turn the mixture red. Like all bean curds, the soybean curd is first dried (air-dried or by a chemical process) and then added to a brine of rice wine and other seasonings. To make red bean curd, fermented rice that is a bright red-purple in color (called red yeast rice) is combined with the brining liquid creating not only the red color but also a distinct aroma and flavor. Some recipes will contain chili, adding to the red hue and offering some spice. 

Sometimes called "Chinese cheese," fermented bean curd has a similar mouthfeel to certain dairy products. The fermentation breaks down the proteins giving the bean curd a texture like a smooth paste. The red bean curd is simply taken from the jar and added to recipes. It is expensive, priced around four times the cost of regular tofu.

Red Bean Curd Uses

In Chinese cooking, a small amount of fermented bean curd is used to add flavor to a variety of dishes. Because of the fermentation, red bean curd is also often used to marinate beef and poultry as the alcohol quality will help tenderize the meat before it is slow-cooked or deep-fried. Cubes of red bean curd are packaged in jars along with a thick sauce; the cubes can simply be added to recipes where they will melt into the rest of the ingredients as they cook. If making a marinade, the cubes are usually mashed prior to adding to the recipe.

How to Cook With Red Bean Curd

Fermented bean curd is incorporated into everything from rice and congee to vegetable stir-fries and braised dishes. It is also combined into sauces that go alongside a hot pot. When eaten with a dish like porridge, it is not directly mixed in; instead, a chunk of the brick is broken off and then eaten along with a spoonful of the rice dish.

Red bean curd actually has a more subtle flavor than the plain white—which can be very salty with a more pronounced flavor—and therefore is added to many dishes without drastically changing the flavor.

What Does It Taste Like?

Because the soybean curd is very mild on its own, it takes on the flavors that are used during the fermentation—or brining—process. The result is mellow and sweet but will also often have a strong smell and taste of alcohol.

Red Bean Curd Recipes

Red bean curd is used in recipes for its flavor as well as its deep red color. It can be found as an ingredient in braised meat dishes and stews, as well as vegetarian stir-fries. It is also often in Chinese spareribs recipes.

Where to Buy Red Bean Curd

Fresh bean curd can be purchased in the mainland of China, but elsewhere it is sold as small blocks in commercially packaged jars. In the U.S., the jars are sold in Chinese markets; a popular brand is Fu-Chung, which contains quite a bit of sauce in the jar along with the cubes.

Read the labels carefully as there is a version of red bean curd that is similar but has other ingredients added. It looks like ketchup and contains sugar, rosé wine, and caramel.

Storage

Red bean curd should be stored in the refrigerator in the jar where it can be kept for at least a year if not more.

Nutrition and Benefits

Soybeans are healthy as they are filled with various vitamins and minerals, and fermenting the soybeans gives those minerals a boost. The fermentation makes minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and zinc more soluble so our bodies absorb them better and get more of the nutrients. Red bean curd is also easier to digest than unfermented bean curd and has been shown to help with hot flashes.