Fermented soybean paste

Doenjang 된장

Hello everybody! I know some of you have been waiting for my doenjang and ganjang recipes for a long time! Today I feel a real sense of achievement to release this recipe here. It’s one of the recipes in my cookbook, and whether you have my book or not, this video and recipe should still be useful to you.

Korean fermented soybean paste, called doenjang (된장), is more than just a seasoning or an essential ingredient in many iconic Korean dishes. It’s part of who we are as Koreans and how we see ourselves. A meal of rice, kimchi, doenjang-soup (or doenjang-stew), and  a few side dishes is for many Koreans, the definition of a meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s impossible for us to imagine life without doenjang.

Salty, earthy, hearty, incredibly savory and delicious, it adds flavor to many dishes and makes them distinctively Korean. Making doenjang at home takes a long time, you have to be ready to commit to it for one year! It’s not hard to make, but takes patience and some hard work, and some special equipment. But as a bonus, Korean soup soy sauce (guk-ganjang:국간장) is a byproduct of making doenjang, so you get that delicious soy sauce for free!

Of course, you can always buy doenjang and guk-ganjang in a Korean grocery store, which is what most Koreans do. But the taste of store-bought can’t be compared to homemade doenjang and guk-ganjang, you will be knocked out over how delicious they are! And I’ve never found a brand of soup soy sauce in the store that satisfied me, which is why I always use fish sauce in my recipes as a substitute.

Besides the taste, making your own is fun and satisfying to eat. Over years of making, tasting, and fermenting these iconic Korean sauces, you’ll develop experience and sophistication in fermenting and eventually become a Korean food expert.

This video was a lot of fun to make. The recipe took me 2 years to develop, and the video took another year to film. It’s finally finished and I couldn’t be happier to share my recipe with you! Koreans traditionally start the process in the winter because the weather is good for drying soybean blocks. But I discovered that indoors, in my apartment in New York, any time is a good time to start making doenjang.

I hope you try it! Enjoy the recipe!

Special equipment

  • An electric mat or blanket, or ondol-style heating in your house
  • Cotton flour sacking or cheesecloth
  • Cotton butcher’s twine
  • A large shallow bamboo basket about 17 inches in diameter, or a large baking pan lined with waxed paper
  • Dried rice straw or hay that’s been well washed and dried (optional)
  • A cardboard box (an 18-x-10-x-7-inch box will hold 3 bean blocks)
  • A 4- to 5-gallon Korean earthenware crock (hangari) with a lid
  • A 5-quart Korean earthenware crock (hangari) with a lid
  • 3-5 dried jujubes (daechu)
  • 3-5 large dried hot chili red peppers (any variety; about 4 inches long)
  • 3 (4-x-1½-x-1-inch) pieces hardwood charcoal

Ingredients (for 10 pounds of doenjang)

  • 5 pounds dried yellow soybeans (meju-kong), picked over, rinsed, and soaked in cold water for 24 hours
  • 3½ gallons water
  • 5 quarts plus ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey

How to make doenjang

Make meju blocks from soybeans
Blocks of crushed soybeans are called meju (메주) in Korean, and they’re the foundation of doenjang-making.

  1. Drain the beans and put them in a large heavy pot. Add water that is three times as deep as the beans, cover, and cook over medium-high heat for 1 hour.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking until the beans are soft enough mash easily, 4½ to 5 hours, checking to make sure the beans remain covered with water, and replenishing as necessary. Drain the beans in a colander.boiled soybeans
  3. Mash the drained beans to a paste in batches with a large mortar and pestle or in a food processor. Don’t finely grind them, leave some beans half-crushed.mashed soybeans
  4. Divide the mashed beans into 3 portions. Knead each portion with both hands and shape into a firm rectangular block measuring 6 x 3 x 4 inches.form meju meju

Ferment the meju

  1. Traditionally Koreans dry meju on the heated ondol floors of their homes, and if you live in Korea or have that kind of heating in your house, you can do that too. But in my NYC apartment I simulate ondol by putting an electric blanket on the floor. Line the blanket with a clean cotton cloth or waxed paper and set the blocks on top, or put them in an open basket. Set the heat to low. Dry the blocks, rotating them occasionally, until they are solid enough to hang, 3 to 4 days.meju
  2. Tie each block up in cotton twine and hang them. You can hang them outside but be sure to keep them covered and out of the rain, and if it’s too hot out they may rot. Inside, you can hang them from the ceiling with hooks. Wherever they hang, the spot should be cool and well-ventilated and all sides of the blocks should be exposed to air and not touching each other. Let the blocks hang for 6 weeks, until they are well dried out and smell a little pungent when you get your nose close to them.hanging meju
  3. Now it’s time to ferment the bean blocks. Place a layer of dried rice straw or hay in the bottom of a cardboard box that’s just big enough to hold the blocks with a little space between them; the straw will insulate the blocks and attract good bacteria like Bacillus subtilis in the air. (Don’t worry if you can’t find straw or hay; the blocks will still attract good bacteria.)
    meju
  4. Cover the box and put it on the electric blanket. Set the heat to low and let the bean blocks ferment for 2 weeks. At this point, the well-fermented bean blocks will smell a little earthy and pungent and will be covered with white, brownish-yellow, or sometimes greenish fungi. (These fungi change the bean proteins to peptides and amino acids, which will give the bean paste its delicious nutty flavor.)
  5. Tie the fermented bean blocks up in cotton twine and hang from the ceiling, as before, for 1 month.meju (fermented soy bean paste block: 메주)meju-fungus

Soak the meju in brine

  1. Wash the blocks in cold water and to remove the fungi. Place the blocks in a shallow basket or on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and let them dry in the sunlight for 1 day, turning them until every side of each block is dried.meju drying in the sun
  2. Combine the 3½ gallons water (56 cups) and 5 quarts of the kosher salt (20 cups) in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Set out a 4- to 5-gallon earthenware crock. Put 2 pieces of the charcoal on a gas burner; turn on the flame, and heat until they are glowing red. (If you don’t have a gas burner, use the broiler: Put the charcoal pieces under the broiler and turn it on; remove the charcoal when it is red.) Use tongs to transfer the charcoal to the earthenware crock. Drizzle the honey over the burning charcoal. Cover the crock and wait for 5 minutes.heating charcoal
  4. Remove the lid. You will see lots of smoke and smell a good caramel aroma. This process sterilizes the inside of the crock and will give the sauce good flavor.
  5. Remove the charcoal and wipe the inside of the crock with paper towels. Add the bean blocks and salted water to the crock. Add the remaining piece of charcoal, the jujubes, and dried hot peppers; they will float on the surface of the water. (The charcoal will attract and absorb any dust. The jujubes add sweetness and the dried red peppers help prevent the blocks from going bad.)meju soaking
  6. Cover the crock with flour sacking or cheesecloth and put on the lid. Let the blocks soak in the salty water until well fermented, 2 to 3 months. On clear days remove the lid and let the crock sit in the sunlight. Close it at night and be sure to keep the crock covered with the cloth so bugs and dust can’t get in. As time passes, the salty water will turn brown and smell like deeply fermented soy sauce.meju in sunlight

Separate the doenjang from the soy sauce

  1. Discard the charcoal, jujubes, and peppers. Transfer the soaked bean blocks to a large bowl. The blocks may have broken up during the soak, so use a bowl to scoop the soy sauce out of the crock and into a strainer set over another large bowl. Add any pieces of bean block to the bean block bowl. Save the soy sauce for making Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang) later.
  2. Mix the doenjang with both hands, breaking it up into a paste, and transfer it to a 5-quart earthenware crock. Pack it down and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup salt. Cover with the cotton cloth, secure it with a rubber band, and put on the lid.
  3. Put the doenjang crock in a sunny spot for its final fermentation. About twice a week on sunny days, remove the lid and let the sunlight shine into the crock through the cotton cloth. When it’s well fermented, the doenjang will smell sweet and taste salty and earthy, with a deep flavor. This will take 5 to 6 months. If it ever looks a little too dry on top, pour some of the separated soy sauce on top to make it moist again. You don’t need to stir it in.
    doenjang

Serving and storage

  1. Store the doenjang in the crock outside the house or at room temperature. Whenever you take some out, press the rest down with a spoon to keep out the air. Once in a while, take the lid off, cover with a cotton cloth, and let the sun hit it again.

Doenjang-making diary

Here’s a schedule of dates from a year of my doenjang-making. You might need to deviate from this timeline depending on how your project is going, but you get the idea of how long it takes and where you should be every month.

January 4 — Soaked the beans.
January 5 — Made the meju.
January 9 — Hung the meju up.
February 24 — Put the meju in a box with hay.
March 10 — Took the meju out of the box and hung them up.
April 10 — Washed the meju and let them dry in the sunlight.
April 11 — Soaked the meju in salty water.
June 11 — Separated doenjang and guk-ganjang.
June 22 — Made guk-ganjang.
December 1st — Doenjang was ready.

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35 Comments:

  1. lookit uppsala, sweden My profile page joined 2/16
    Posted February 14th, 2016 at 6:22 am | # |

    Hi Maangchi! Thank you so much for your videos, they’re great! You’ve made me and my girlfriend eat lots of korean food.

    We’ve started making doenjang, and our meju are currently drying on a heated blanket (day 4 since making). We’ve noticed lots of things starting to grow on and in them. Some white fungus, some orange/pinkish and even one tiiiny little green mold spot. Is that a problem? Help! Should we start over?

    • Oxide California My profile page joined 2/15
      Posted February 18th, 2016 at 1:41 pm | # |

      Today I officially abandoned the doenjang project. Big problem … bugs! I think if you live in an apartment high above the ground you may not have bug problems. I am on the ground floor where bugs live. After a week hanging I noticed some very very small flies on my meju. Not house flies, something much smaller. Much to my dismay I noticed 2 of the tiny flies were on a date engaged in a happy ending. I wrapped the meju in fine mesh cloth and hoped I got there before they laid eggs.. But luck was not with me … today I found small maggots throughout all three meju. I will try again in the fall when jujubes are back in season.

      I recommend wrapping your meju to protect it from insects.

      Good luck!


      See full size image

      • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
        Posted February 20th, 2016 at 3:49 pm | # |

        Hi Oxide,
        I’m very sorry to hear that your meju didn’t go well. I read your comment a few days ago and it has kept bothering me because I can imagine how frustrated you were when you had to throw away your meju! All your effort to put into cooking the beans, making blocks, drying on an electric mat were useless.

        Yeah, make it when it gets cooler. It looks like you wrapped the meju too much. It looks like a sock! It should be ventilated well, so the meju will be dried and fermented at the same time.

        “Much to my dismay I noticed 2 of the tiny flies were on a date engaged in a happy ending.” I’m very impressed by your joke even though you would be frustrated!
        BTW, I ordered yuja tree by your direction, it will be delivered when it gets warm in New York. I can’t wait to get yuja tree in my house.

        Cheer up, Oxide!

        • Oxide California My profile page joined 2/15
          Posted February 26th, 2016 at 2:21 pm | # |

          Thanks for the kind words. I was disappointed but glad the failure happened at the beginning. If it happened after months and months into the recipe I would have been really depressed.

          Also, I was wondering what I was going to do about the jujube. It is an autumn fruit that is not available to me in the spring when I would have needed it.

          Citrus grows very well in pots. Every couple of years replace the soil. Yuja trees produce a lot of fruit. A small tree is enough for a family and more. I still have a couple yuja in the fridge. Occasionally I will take one out and scratch it just to enjoy the smell, then put it back.

          • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
            Posted February 29th, 2016 at 12:50 pm | # |

            My yuja tree has not arrived yet because the company said that it may not be able to survive during the delivery due to cold weather. I’m looking forward to have my yuja tree at home. Thank you for the tip about changing soil every other year. I’m ready to be a good mom for the yuja tree.: )

            I started making my meju again yesterday. It’s a little late to make meju but my apartment’s temperature is controlled all year around and I have a nice spot with lots of sunlight. My 7 blocks of meju are being dried on my electric mat now. I keep turning them over to dry them. This time I am making with 12 pounds of dried soy beans.

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted February 20th, 2016 at 3:35 pm | # |

      Hi lookit,
      “Some white fungus, some orange/pinkish and even one tiiiny little green mold spot.” It sounds like your meju is well being fermented. Great!

  2. murraymeehan Vancouver, BC, Canada My profile page joined 2/16
    Posted February 13th, 2016 at 6:53 pm | # |

    Hi Maangchi, thank you for the inspiring recipe!

    I started cooking 5 days ago, and now I have hung my Meju in my bedroom but I think the smell (like prawn paste, almost) is a bit too strong for me so I am considering hanging them outside.

    My question is do you think insects or animals will be attracted to the Meju? Should I find some kind of mesh to put over the Meju? For now I’m just going to hang them up on a hook on my covered deck and hope for the best.

    Thanks!

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted February 13th, 2016 at 8:00 pm | # |

      Wow, I got more messages than I expected from people starting their own doenjang and ganjang projects! Great to see yours, too! If you hang your meju blocks outside, they may attract bugs, so as you say, putting mesh over your meju is a good idea.
      “I think the smell (like prawn paste, almost) is a bit too strong for me” haha, understood! But I really enjoy the smell. I sometimes forgot about my meju, so I was surprised at the smell. Once I recognized the smell coming from my precious meju, I was all the time smiling. “Yes, meju, please ferment nicely! I love you guys!”

    • Oxide California My profile page joined 2/15
      Posted February 18th, 2016 at 1:44 pm | # |

      Yes, insects can be a problem. Absolutely, cover your meju with a fine mesh to keep the bugs out, whether you hang your meju inside or outside.

  3. Oxide California My profile page joined 2/15
    Posted February 1st, 2016 at 3:37 pm | # |

    Maangchi, I have a “bean” smell growing ever more pungent in my living room. Actually, it is not a bad smell … I kind of like it.

    There are 3 soybean-bricks sitting on a heating pad drying out. I put the pad and bean-bricks on top of an ironing board to get them up off the floor.

    Question about the salt – I am presuming you use Diamond Crystal brand of Kosher Salt. How many 3-lb boxes of Diamond Crystal salt will I need to equal 5-qts of salt I need for this doenjang recipe?

    A couple of notes for anyone else wanting to make doenjang.

    It takes a minimum of an 8-qt pot to soak 5-lbs of dried soybeans. Put the dried beans in it and fill it to the top with water. During the 24-hrs the beans will soak they will be absorbing the water so occasional check the water level to be sure the beans are fully covered. Once fully re-hydrated, the beans will fill the entire 8-qt pot. I opted to use a larger 20-qt canning pot, filled it with water and walked away for a day. I used a 12-qt pot to boil the beans for about 5-hrs.

    Use a food processor to munch-up the cooked beans. I have an 11-cup food processor, it took 12 passes to process all of the cooked beans. Then smash the beans in a bowl. I used a 1-1/2 inch diameter rolling pin wrapped in food plastic wrap so the wood did not absorb any bean oil or juices. It worked perfectly. You can also use a bar muddler if you have one. The beans squish easily.

    They are heavier than you think. Each bean-brick weights about 1850 grams (4-lbs).


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    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted February 2nd, 2016 at 2:56 pm | # |

      You are making doenjang and ganjang! These are good looking meju!
      Regarding your question, you will need 2 three-pound boxes of Diamond Crystal brand Kosher salt. Good luck!

    • Oxide California My profile page joined 2/15
      Posted February 4th, 2016 at 7:52 pm | # |

      Maangchi, thanks for the info on the salt.

      The meju are hanging in the window in a cool room with plenty of circulation.

      Notes for others making doenjang and ganjang:

      Over the 4 days the meju were on the heating pad they each lost an average of 500g (1.1 lbs) of water.

      I was going to use wax paper under the meju but at the last minute changed my mind and used parchment paper instead. My thinking was that the idea was to remove moisture from the meju and wax paper is water-proof … will help keep moisture in. The parchment paper was a good choice as it absorbed water and allowed it to evaporate.


      See full size image

  4. charliesommers Nashville, Tn. My profile page joined 4/10
    Posted January 30th, 2016 at 4:32 pm | # |

    What a wonderful video! I thoroughly enjoyed it although I will probably never make it. I use either Japanese miso or Korean doenjang often in soup or vegetable pickling but will probably just continue buying it at my local Asian Market. I can’t admit it to my Japanese wife but I prefer the taste of the Korean product. It seems to be earthier with a richer taste. I am giving my daughter and son-in-law a link to this and they may just try it. He is a kimchi addict who loves your kimchi recipe. Thanks for all your great videos Maangchi.

  5. Aznslaya7 USA My profile page joined 1/13
    Posted January 22nd, 2016 at 4:05 pm | # |

    I don’t remember the details, but I used to help my grandma make doenjang at home! It was a similar procedure, but she used moldy bread for the fermentation process. I’m not sure how she did it…I wish I could remember! :(

  6. Oxide California My profile page joined 2/15
    Posted January 22nd, 2016 at 10:15 am | # |

    Wow! This video is so good! This is one of the best of your video’s I’ve seen here.

    My favorite part: “The strong sunlight is a natural disinfectant … disinfectant … disinfectant.”

    Please tell us again, how many of those big Modelo beers did you have?
    (*^_^*)

  7. Cutemom Indonesia My profile page joined 3/13
    Posted January 22nd, 2016 at 6:26 am | # |

    Hi, Maangchi!
    Can I dry my meju in a dehydrator overnight before hanging it up to ferment?
    Thanks,
    Ima

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted January 27th, 2016 at 10:53 am | # |

      Ima, I don’t know the answer because I have never thought about using a dehydrator.
      It may be a good idea, but I wouldn’t risk breaking my meju blocks. The blocks may be split. When I make meju, I follow old fashioned methods because if any little experiment doesn’t work, it may cause the whole project to fail or change the taste of my doenjang and ganjang. It’s such a long project, it pays to follow time-honored methods.

  8. bobbot Idaho My profile page joined 1/16
    Posted January 21st, 2016 at 5:58 pm | # |

    My girlfriend has many food allergies, such as gluten, corn, milk, eggs, and yeast. She is also allergic to soy. I was going to try to make a soybean paste from scratch using other kinds of beans. Do you have any advice on any other kinds of beans (or bean combinations) to try, or have you heard of Koreans making non-soybean substitutes before?

    I was going to start an experiment making a batch each of garbanzo bean, navy bean, black bean, and soybean (to test how the others compare).

  9. FeyDee The Netherlands My profile page joined 2/15
    Posted January 21st, 2016 at 6:20 am | # |

    Hi Maanchi,
    Thank you for the recipe! I really like recipes like this. I make my own miso as well. Would love to try this one.

    I was wondering, can you use beans other than soy beans, for example garbanzo beans? Thanks!

  10. lsqtan singapore My profile page joined 7/14
    Posted January 20th, 2016 at 12:29 am | # |

    Hi Maangchi

    I have been looking forward to this recipe. I live in Singapore and the average temperature is 28 Celsius. It is a big disappointment for me not to be able to try this recipe.
    Anyway thank you very much for sharing all your wonderful recipes. My family enjoy many of the recipes.

    • sanne Munich My profile page joined 8/14
      Posted January 20th, 2016 at 7:57 am | # |

      Why not? The catch is the part of drying the blocks when the humidity is too high, not the temperature per se (which would be perfect in your case)! Try a ventilator.
      Bye, Sanne.

  11. medusagurlyeah Adelaide My profile page joined 1/14
    Posted January 19th, 2016 at 12:46 pm | # |

    Thank you for your hard work! I was wondering about the hay – Did you wash it to make it clean before you laid the meju on it? If i cannot find rice stalks or hay (i don’t trust the cleanliness of the stalks) can i just use a wire rack instead? Thank you again!

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted January 19th, 2016 at 4:27 pm | # |

      Yes, of course I washed it and dried before using it. I should add the line in the recipe.

  12. Andrea Italy My profile page joined 1/09
    Posted January 17th, 2016 at 4:36 pm | # |

    Sorry, I meant work, not word :D

  13. Andrea Italy My profile page joined 1/09
    Posted January 17th, 2016 at 4:35 pm | # |

    Wow Maangchi, almost half an hour of video, taking us through your year long journey step by step. Thank you so much! We learn a lot from you, especially for me as an Italian, Korean cuisine is a whole other world, which I appreciate and like a lot. Keep up the excellent word, madam! ;)

  14. aj10tamic Canada My profile page joined 1/16
    Posted January 17th, 2016 at 12:54 am | # |

    Hi Maangchi can you please make a video on how to make a Hwang teh soup. and also how to cook a Jo gae goh yeeh… Thanks a lot…

  15. Sadiqah My profile page joined 12/15
    Posted January 16th, 2016 at 3:19 pm | # |

    Hi Maangchi! Wow, what a journey for this recipe. Thanks for spending the time to make it and post the video. I have a new appreciation for what it takes to make it. I do have a question though….I bought fermented shrimp, red pepper paste and soybean paste. How long do these keep in the refrigerator once they are opened?

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted January 19th, 2016 at 4:02 pm | # |

      Fermented shrimp won’t go bad until it runs out. Red pepper paste and soybean paste will last for a long time, too as long as you keep them in the fridge.

  16. Cutemom Indonesia My profile page joined 3/13
    Posted January 16th, 2016 at 9:56 am | # |

    Hi, Maangchi ssi!
    I live in Indonesia and it’s quite hot & sunny where I live. Can I still try to make doenjang? can I dry my menu in the sun?

    Thanks,

    Ima

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted January 19th, 2016 at 4:00 pm | # |

      Hi Ima,
      I’m not sure if it will work or not but if you make it indoors and control your room temperature to 20 celsius it should be fine.

  17. Kandracar Mesa, Arizona My profile page joined 1/15
    Posted January 16th, 2016 at 1:05 am | # |

    Carlos: hi Maangchi, i admire you so much, you are a hard worker and loving person. I bought your book from the moment you posted on your blog and i have learned a lot of korean cuisine. thank very much for your hard work. i definitely going to make it.wish me good luck :)

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