One day I was talking to my husband about how original my mom was in cooking. Unlike me who buys all basic Korean ingredients from grocery markets, my mom makes everything from scratch, including Korean bean paste, doenjang.
* Doenjang is a Korean fermented soy bean paste. Doeda means ‘to be thick’ and jang means paste in Korean. Its literal meaning is thick paste.
I saw so many times her making bean paste, hot pepper paste, soy sauce, etc from scratch while I grew up. And every single time, I got mesmerized how she could handle such complicated procedures. She’s a wonder woman to me!
I would never dare to make ferment soy bean paste(doenjang) myself. As much as I wish - because I know it’s healthier, I would cherish that memory in mind only and miss it from time to time.
Anyhow, since I surprised my husband by its complication of making soy bean paste in the traditional Korean way, I’d like to share it here.
How to make soybean paste, doenjang:
1. Buy soy beans, if possible in medium size. Beans get bigger and heavier when they are soaked with water. Mothers usually know how much they need it considering what size of crocks they have.
2. Clean the soy beans with water.
3. Soak the beans with water at 1:3 ratio for about 15 or 18 hours. It’s different by temperature and humidity.
4. Boil the beans, approximately an hour with high heat and keep it with low heat for about 2 hours. It can be cooked using pressure cooker. Some people steam the beans although it takes more time and efforts.
5. Crush boiled soy beans into little bits.
6. Form the crushed paste into square blocks, 7″ by 7″. The size can varry. These bean paste blocks are called meju.
7. Dry the paste blocks, meju on the floor for about a day.
– The procedure to dry the blocks vary household by household. The following procedure is more complicated. –
8. Hang them on the wall with hay strings. Dry them about about a week. Fermentation starts with Bacillus subtilis bacteria and some yeasts as the paste blocks are exposed to the air.
9. For the next three weeks, dry them outside with sun light during the day. At night, bring them inside. More fermentation is going on with somewhat unpleasant smell - ammonia.
10. Where it’s hooked with hay strings, there should be some white spores by the bacteria. This means they are being dried (fermented) properly.
11. For about the next two weeks, put them on ondol floor with more hay. Cover them up with cotton blankets. Turn over the sides of meju every three days.
*Ondol is a underfloor heating system shown in traditional Korean architecture.
12. Dry the bean paste blocks outside for about a week again. Bring them inside at night.
13. Clean the blocks with water and dry them again for about a week in the same way.
14. Now it’s ready to put them in a big crock (opaque pottery jar).
15. Melt sea salt that has little bittern in the crock for three days. Proper salinity is about 17%. When you check the salty water three days later, some residue should be all on the bottom of the crock. You just use clean salty water.
16. Put the bean paste blocks in layers in another big crock. Add the salt water from 15, some dates, some hot peppers and more salts.
17. Put some hardwood charcoal. Now it’s being fermented more.
- Well Fermented Soybean Paste - Doenjang
The fermentation process produces many beneficial bacteria. The bean paste becomes rich in mineral vitamin, and essential amino acids. Linoleic acid and linolenic acid in doenjang affect normal growth of blood vessels, which can prevent many blood-vessel-related diseases. Polyphenol contained in Korean bean paste such as isojlavin or melanoidin makes doenjang a good anti-oxidant. Some studies show doenjang is anti-cancer.
During the fermentation in the crock, solids and liquids are separated. The solid portion becomes doenjang, Korean bean paste, and the liquid portion becomes ganjang, Korean soy sauce.
Whenever I read all those weird-sounding ingredients on the label of the factory made doenjang or ganjang from markets, I truly miss my mom’s hand made doenjang and gangjang that only contains natural ingredients. Maybe some day I will try to lean it from her!
- The most popular dish from doenjang - Doenjang JJigae