The first time I tried it seriously was when I was volunteering at a hostel in a remote village in eastern China’s Anhui province. The owner brought out a jar of homemade tofu during the staff’s breakfast and dared to try it. He placed his thimble-sized soft tofu on my plate and instructed me to spread it over the plain manju. “Just have a drink,” he said. “It’s really strong.”
A pungent, creamy, salty, very soft brie cheese-like flu was a sudden savory punch that struck me as if I had bitten into a spoonful of miso straight from the jar. It started to smell milky, and I realized I was drinking a little more. , I continue to eat it as a staple in the morning with plenty of steamed bread.
What is furuto?
In Mandarin, the word fu fu milk is a combination of two letters, fu fu, an abbreviation for tofu, and ru milk, which means cream. Paoyu Liu, a London-based Taiwanese-born fermenter who runs workshops on “Cream cheese is fermented dairy products. Furu is fermented tofu.”
The process begins by inoculating small, bite-sized cubes of tofu with mold. This triggers an enzymatic process that breaks down the tofu until it is soft, seasoned and creamy. “The enzymes in the mold help break down the tofu into all these different flavors and significantly alter its texture. says Mara Jane King, co-founder of Ozuké, a fermented food business with nationwide distribution, and author of a book on Chinese fermentation.
Hulu, a shelf-stable pantry item found in East and Southeast Asia, can be made in a number of ways. In China, airborne wild mold spores lodge on small, hard cubes of tofu. It is then left in a warm, dark place at about 30°C for several days. At that point, the white hairs will begin to fluff. After the hair is wiped off, the tofu is soaked in salted and seasoned brine for months for a second fermentation. “Enzymes break down proteins into amino acids, starches into sugars, and fats into fatty acids,” says Liu.
The basic process is largely the same, with some regional variations. In Japan, where flu is called tofu yo, koji, the same mold used to make soy sauce, is used instead of the airborne mold that much of China relies on. It omits fermentation entirely and instead uses salted, sun-dried cubes of tofu that are soaked in sake with red or rice malt to break it down all at once.
There are countless variations of seasonings to add to the brine. I like the chili powder flavored flu, which is very common in southwestern China and has a spicy kick. and often with a subtle sourness added. In Japan and parts of southeastern China, flu is flavored with large amounts of red yeast rice (the same variety often used in Taiwanese versions), which gives it a distinctive sour taste and bright red hue.
How to buy tofu
Unless you’re an experienced fermenter like Liu or King, making old koji at home isn’t very practical. Sourcing koji can be difficult, and working with wild spores must be done carefully and under the careful guidance of an expert. Thankfully, full is available in nearly every Chinese and Taiwanese grocery store around the world, and is often sold in small jars in the pickles section. You can also easily find it online at
Flu comes in a variety of flavors, so read the label carefully. Seasoning with chili powder makes it spicier. If it’s a bright racecar red, it’s fermented with red yeast rice for extra sweetness. However, they all have the same base flavor and can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Important disclaimer: Furu is not the same thing as stinky tofu. Stinky tofu is made by soaking fresh tofu in aged brine for several days. Tofu itself is not fermented. Furu, on the other hand, is fermented tofu and does not have the smell of stinky tofu.
Full is sold in jars, a shelf-stable commodity typically found in the non-refrigerated section of the market, but like many shelf-stable packaged products, it is subject to cross-contamination when first opened. As such, full is less perishable and can technically be kept for years, but is best refrigerated after opening and eaten within three months.
how to use it
Unlike cream cheese, which can be generously spread on bagels or bread, full is very salty, has a similar intensity to anchovies and fish sauce, and should be used sparingly. Therefore, it must be used with balance and moderation.
The easiest way to use ful is to spread a small amount on plain steamed buns or add it to porridge for flavor. is often Rice wine and garlic are usually mixed to add flavor to the crunchy spinach sprigs.
However, the possibilities are endless. When we were filming a Shanghainese food video in China, one of her sources added Shanghainese food to the drunken marinated shrimp. He soaked raw, fresh shrimp in a concoction of aged Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar, and red yeast-flavored flu. Sweet, salty, and incredibly umami, this dish is like Chinese ceviche, and even today, many years later, I’m still salivating thinking about it.
According to King, it’s a versatile flavor enhancer for marinades and braises. It is tossed. This combination is very popular at many late-night beer restaurants and pairs surprisingly well with ice-cold lagers.
It also makes a great dressing. “I love making salads with it,” says Liu. “Add some vinegar, garlic, chili and sesame oil.”
Full is very readily available all over the world, but what you can buy in the West just skims the surface. Most East Asian flus are homemade, using natural airborne microbes to inoculate the tofu. Just like artisanal cheeses, all flues are a little different depending on the terroir and who makes it. I have. “Everyone has their own way of making it,” he says, Liu.
The full realm has endless possibilities. Once you’ve got your hands on a jar, start with some advice from your Chinese hostel host. Take a little and spread it on steamed buns. A little is enough for Furu.