How Hairy Chinese Tofu Gets That Infamous Furry Coating

Hairy tofu is exactly what it sounds like. Imagine bite-sized, rectangular pieces of bright white tofu covered in layers of what looks like very white Troll hair, or those faux sheepskin rugs you can find at IKEA. It's fuzzy, completely edible, and revered, especially in the eastern Chinese province Anhui, its place of origin. Hairy tofu, or mao doufu, as it's called in China, begins just like any other type of tofu, with soybeans going through several processing stages before the formed bricks of tofu are set aside to ferment, at which time, that silky crown of fur begins to appear.


Considered a delicacy, this unique type of tofu is dipped into a brine containing mucor powder (a fungal product which creates the hairy mold) and is then placed on straw or in wooden racks, which allows air to circulate around it. The tofu must be kept in an area that maintains a temperature of 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit for about a week, so that the mold can flourish. At this point, the tofu is ready to be eaten or sold, and both locals and tourists flock to get their hands on some.

How mao doufu is made

Mao doufu has been produced in Anhui since the Han dynasty, or over 2,000 years ago. It's believed that the province's subtropical climate plays a key role in being able to produce such a different type of tofu. There are several producers of hairy tofu in China, but many will tell you that the best come from those who make the dish by hand and not by modern machinery. Soybeans are first mashed into small bits, then steamed, and finally boiled in water. While the mixture boils, it separates into soft curds and soy milk.


The curds are strained, formed, and squeezed of excess moisture until they resemble one giant brick of tofu. At this point, the tofu is cut into smaller pieces and dipped or coated in a fermenting liquid that contains the aforementioned mucor powder. As it sits on its wooden racks, the tofu slowly begins to sprout its identifiable fuzzy mold, which should always be white in color. If it appears yellow, brown, green, or black, you don't want to eat it. If the thought of eating mold at all makes you squeamish, just remember all the other foods that contain some sort of fungus, like cheeses (blue, Brie, and Camembert, for example) and even some salamis.

What does hairy tofu taste like?

While kids in America often head straight for a plate of pizza rolls or a bag of pretzels for an after-school snack, many kiddos in China stop at street food vendors for some hairy tofu when school lets out for the day. It's safe to say that the flavor of this special food appeals to all ages, though. Some have described hairy tofu as almost cheese-like in taste, or containing tangy and earthy essences. It's naturally salty because of the fermentation process, so it's pleasant to eat on its own. However, it's also delicious prepared in several different ways.


Who can argue with the fact that most food gets better once it's deep-fried? Hairy tofu is no different, and this is the preferred way to eat it for many. Even the fuzz gets crisped up and is positively scrumptious. You can also find mao doufu served with chili sauce and vegetables, pickled, or with plain congee. If you ever get the chance to sample hairy tofu, you don't want to pass up the opportunity. It might be the one time you don't mind a little bit of hair in your food.