440,000 Pounds of Poisoned Blood Tofu Made in Henan

By Shannon Liao
Shannon Liao
Shannon Liao
Shannon Liao is a native New Yorker who attended Vassar College and the Bronx High School of Science. She writes business and tech news and is an aspiring novelist.
August 16, 2013 Updated: August 18, 2013

Over 440,000 pounds of blood tofu, a Chinese delicacy, have been mixed with toxic formaldehyde in the past four months in Henan Province and sold for $76,891 (470,000 yuan) in agricultural markets.

The name “tofu” is a misnomer — the dish is actually blocks of animal blood, commonly that of pigs or ducks, congealed by heating it with salt and sugar. It is often cooked in hot pot and sauteed vegetable dishes, and is valued for its nutritious iron. 

But when formaldehyde, a chemical used in nail polish, carpeting, and embalming, is mixed with blood tofu, it can damage the liver, kidneys, fertility, and sexual functions for men; it can also cause deformities or even death for the babies of pregnant women.

Cao and his wife were initially soybean product merchants before Cao bought a cattle blood factory for $818 (5,000 yuan) from an owner from Jiangxi Province, according to Zhengzhou Evening Daily, a state-run media in Henan, and began producing an average of 1,000 pounds of poisoned blood tofu a day.

The factory was actually an unlicensed farmhouse with two pots for cooking blood and three pools for cooling the blood blocks. Cao bought fresh cattle blood for 0.2 yuan (about three cents) a pound from a Muslim foodstuffs company in Henan. Cao added formaldehyde to preserve and improve the appearance of the blood. In hot weather, more formaldehyde would be used to keep the blood from clotting too quickly.

Cao told the media that he knew formaldehyde is inedible and harmful to the human body so when he prepared blood tofu for his family, he leaves out the chemical.

Cao said that poisoned blood tofu is a lighter shade of red and is more tender with a longer shelf-life. Normal blood tofu is also more likely to stick to one’s teeth, while poisoned blood tofu doesn’t. Poisoned tofu also has less fibers; when squeezed, it stains one’s hands entirely red, while normal tofu would only leave a little red pigment behind.

Four businessmen including Cao have been sentenced to three to seven years in jail and fined $4,908 to $16,354 (30,000 to 100,000 yuan) for dealing transactions with poisoned blood tofu.

According to the Zhengzhou report, similarly poisoned blood tofu products are still available in local Henan markets.

Translation contributed by Frank Fang and Billy Xu.

Shannon Liao
Shannon Liao
Shannon Liao is a native New Yorker who attended Vassar College and the Bronx High School of Science. She writes business and tech news and is an aspiring novelist.