What Is Doubanjiang? And What to Use If You Can’t Find Any
Doubanjiang is a Chinese bean paste with savory and sometimes spicy accents. It’s used in many popular Chinese stir-fry recipes such as Mapo Tofu and Hunan Chicken. Learn about the different types of Doubanjiang, how to use it, recommended brands, substitutes and more!
What is Doubanjiang?
Also called Tobanjiang (豆瓣酱) in Chinese or bean paste in English, Doubanjiang is the soul of Szechuan cooking. It’s also used in other regions of China including Hunan province. This salty paste is made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, rice, salt, and other spices. It has a uniquely deep and complex umami profile that brings flavor and complexity to dishes.
There are two types: spicy and non-spicy. I’ve noticed that recipes often refer to them interchangeably, but they taste quite different and it’s important to find the right one for your recipe. Let’s first get to know the difference and I’ll share tips for finding the right one for your recipe.
Spicy doubanjiang is called La Doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱) in Chinese and chili bean paste or chili bean sauce in English. It’s a fermented bean paste mixed with red chili peppers. The storebought varieties used for spicy dishes have either a red color or a dark brown color (see the comparison photos below):
Non-spicy doubanjiang (豆瓣酱) is sometimes called fermented black bean paste. It has a dark, near-black color without any signs of red chili.
It can be confusing when shopping for doubanjiang, as some brands are spicy and some are not. The trick is to know whether or not the recipe you’re making is supposed to be spicy! If you are expecting hot and spicy flavors, look for chili in the ingredient list and the character “辣” on the label.
What is Doubanjiang sauce made of?
Broad beans and soybeans lead the ingredient list and contribute to the unique taste of the sauce. Different brands use slightly different ingredients, and here are the most common ones:
- Dried broad beans
- Fermented sticky rice
- Spices such as red chili peppers, anise, bay leaves, Szechuan peppercorn, etc.
What does it taste like?
Plain or non-spicy doubanjiang tastes very salty and savory with an earthy flavor from the lengthy fermentation process. It’s especially valued for its umami flavor. The spicy variety adds heat to the sauce, creating a balance between saltiness and spiciness.
There are several brands available, and you can buy them in local Asian grocery stores or online from Amazon. Here are some of the most commonly available brands:
Pixian Doubanjiang: A popular brand in China, Pixian doubanjiang has dark brown beans mixed with red chili.
Yuki Szechuan Doubanjiang: A popular brand in Japan.
Spicy Doubanjiang Substitute
For an easier substitute, mix together regular black bean paste (or oyster sauce if you are in a pinch) and red chili flakes. Adjust the amount of dried chili flakes to your own liking.
Doubanjiang stir fry: how to use it?
Doubanjiang is most often added when stir-frying proteins and vegetables to add salty (and sometimes spicy) flavors to food. Many people also mix it with noodles during serving. It’s usually not served as a stand-alone dipping sauce or condiment on the table.
Some popular recipes using Doubanjiang:
How long does it last?
Doubanjiang has a long shelf life due to the salt content. Use the “best before date” as guidance before you open it. Once opened, store it in the refrigerator for up to one year.
Spicy Doubanjiang Substitute
- 3 tablespoons Chinese bean paste, or soybean paste or oyster sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes
- In a small bowl, add dried chili flakes to the Chinese bean paste.
- Test and taste, adding more chili flakes gradually until you reach the desired spiciness.
- Stir to mix.
- Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge.
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