What Is Doenjang? Korean SoyBean Paste

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.

Doenjang-Korean Fermented Soybean Paste

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.

Meju-Doenjang-Korean Fermented Soybean Paste

– 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.

Meju-Doenjang-Korean Fermented Soybean Paste

Drying Meju - Makin Korean fermented soybean paste Doenjang

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.

Doenjang, Meju - making Korean fermented soybean paste Doenjang
-Well-dryed Meju

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.

Meju - Making Korean fermented soybean paste Doenjang

17. Put some hardwood charcoal. Now it’s being fermented more.

Making Korean fermented soybean paste Doenjang

Doenjang Korean fermented soybean paste Doenjang
- 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!

Doenjang JJigae Korean fermented soybean paste
- The most popular dish from doenjang - Doenjang JJigae

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4 Responses to “What Is Doenjang? Korean SoyBean Paste”

  1. Sugee Says:

    Hi, this is about your great post on how to make doenjang. I found this to be extremely helpful. I am Korean and born in L.A., and I live in Arizona now. I am 26 years old. My extended family in Korea visited me when I was younger and they would make DoenJang, and it was so delicious. So different from the store bought ones. I want to attempt to make this during the summer here. I have some questions about the process, I hope you can help me. =o)

    Okay so here goes!

    On Step 4, when you boil the beans, do you need to add salt or is it just boiled plain? Is tap water fine or should I use bottled water?

    On Step 5, how much of the boiled water that was boiled with the soy beans is kept when you crush the beans? I surely don’t think you would use all of the water that you boiled the soy beans in because then it wouldn’t be thick enough to form the meju.

    On Step 6, when you form the crushed beans into meju, do you pack it really tight in order to form the meju? How tight? As tight as possible?

    On Step 8, when you hang the meju from the haystrings, won’t the meju fall apart
    because how can it become so hard and formed just by drying in one day?

    On Step 11, the cotton blankets you use to cover the meju… how thick are the cotton blankets? Are they cotton blankets that we use to sleep in or are they something else?

    On Step 13, when you clean the meju blocks with water, how is this done? Is it run under tap water briefly? Is it patted with a damp wash cloth? It seems if it got too wet, it will fall apart.

    On Step 16, you say to add more salts as well as from the salt water from step 15. Do you mean sea salt? How much more salt do I add?

    After Step 17, how long do you keep the mixture in the pots to ferment?
    Do you keep this mixture outside in the sun? I live in Arizona where it is very hot and very sunny during the summertime. Should I leave it in the shade but outside where it is still hot?
    At what point do you know when it is done fermenting and when you are ready to remove the top/soy sauce from the mixture?
    At the point when you remove the soy sauce that is made, do you also remove the red peppers and charcoal?

    Also, how long can doen jang last once it is made? Is it kept outside? Is it kept somewhere cold?

    Thank you so much for posting the recipe on your blog! =o)

  2. mykoreandiet Says:

    Thanks for visiting! I’ve never made doenjang myself - I only helped my mom - so my answers may not be the best answers you’re looking for.

    On Step 4: you don’t need to add salt. I think plain water is fine, but bottled /purified water would be better.

    On Step 5: I don’t think you need any water there when you crush beans.

    On Step 6: When you form meju, it should be tight.

    On Step 8: I’ve never seen any meju my mom made falling from the wall. It should stay there without falling.

    On Step 11: By “cotton blanket”, I meant “som-ibul” in Korean. Som-ibul is (or used to be) a common winter blanket in Korea. It’s thick and padded with cotton inside. If you don’t have som-ibul, I think you can use thick winter blanket.

    On Step 13: Meju shouldn’t fall apart when you wash it. It should be hard and dry that point. The reason that it should be cleaned is that it’s been exposed to dust and dirt while drying. I think my mom rinsed in water, but some people wipe it with a damp wash cloth.

    On Step 16: Yeah, they use sea salt. But this adding-salt-part can be tricky. They say the salt shouldn’t have ‘gansu’. It might sell as in ready-to-use condition in Korea or even here in some market, but I’m not sure. Also, the salinity is important.

    You need the salt water as much as you can soak the meju blocks. (Please refer to the photo.)

    How long do we ferment it? Actually, you can ferment as long as you want. They say the long it’s fermented, the better. You can tell it’s fermented when all meju blocks are broken down and become thick bean paste.

    Sorry, this is as much as I can answer. I’m not sure it will work in Arizona because it’s very hot and dry there as I far as I know. I definitely recommend that you try this with a Korean who has some experience at least first few times. I hope this helps! Thanks again!

  3. FanOfKoreans Says:

    This is so interesting! My DH is 1/2 Korean, but sadly his family is no longer around so I cannot go to them for advice. One of my kids is really in to Korean food. We bought some soybean paste today but I’m not sure how to use it. Is it only used in soups, or in other dishes as well? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  4. mykoreandiet Says:

    Doenjang Jjigae is the most popular dish using doenjang as its main ingredients. Doenjang is also used for sauce for ssam (wrapping) or other vegetable dishes. I’ll try to add more recipes with doenjang!


    Thanks for visiting and enjoy doenjang!

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