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.

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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

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Ingredients (for 10 pounds of doenjang)

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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58 Comments:

  1. sirajisjoy Syria My profile page joined 9/16
    Posted September 24th, 2016 at 11:29 am | # |

    Hello from Syria :-)
    My name is Siraj
    I’m so intrested in slow food, especially soy products, I tried making Miso many times, but never succeeded cause we need Kuji, that’s why I loved doenjang cause it ferments natuarlly, these in the photo are my meju blocks, two batches, the first (three blocks) is very good, well dried and smell delicious, but the second I threw away cause they rot and a ton of worms came out of it, plus many neighbors ended up in the emergency room hhhhh (kidding)… anyways my question is ; can I use glass jars instead of hangari? We don’t have any in Syria and no high quality pottery in here especially during this massive war….
    Thank you, and wish me to still being alive to see my deonjang :-D so please be grateful that you live in (peacful) places :-*


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  2. Rigoletto Chicago My profile page joined 9/16
    Posted September 13th, 2016 at 10:32 am | # |

    I started make this from last week. I hang the blocks yesterday but I already find some black fungi inside one of the blocks. Should I throw this block away? Or it is normal? Thank you!


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    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted September 13th, 2016 at 11:13 am | # |

      It’s not exactly black fungi. Black means real black. Yours looks dark brown and also white fungi is growing inside and outside the meju. Don’t throw it away. Later when you make doenjang and ganjang, wash it with a kitchen brush to remove any fungi and dry it before soaking it in salty water. Your meju is being well fermented! Congratulations!
      I have been soaking my meju in salty water for 2 months now. Soon I have to separate them. I’m very excited to see my project! Now your meju photo is adding to my excitement.

    • DeeVonZee Edmonton, AB My profile page joined 2/15
      Posted September 15th, 2016 at 1:06 pm | # |

      A few of mine are starting to do this as well. This is my second attempt, (my first time I did two batches as well, one survived and is in the salt water now) I had started some about two weeks ago, and they did that as well. I threw them out because I was worried. So Sunday I made a new lot. I’m glad I’m not the only one with these issues.


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  3. DeeVonZee Edmonton, AB My profile page joined 2/15
    Posted September 4th, 2016 at 11:10 pm | # |

    Can’t wait until June!


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    • DeeVonZee Edmonton, AB My profile page joined 2/15
      Posted September 4th, 2016 at 11:39 pm | # |

      (I mean December, it will be ready in June, oops! ;))

  4. rami chan AMERICA My profile page joined 6/16
    Posted August 16th, 2016 at 12:27 pm | # |

    Maangchi can I use something to dry it not the electric mat I don’t wanna use it what should I use ?

  5. TcSinCA California My profile page joined 8/16
    Posted August 8th, 2016 at 5:46 pm | # |

    Hello, Maangchi! I have developed a fascination with Korean cuisine and cooking thanks to your videos. I decided to try my hand at doenjang. The saleslady at the Korean store was very excited to hear that I was going to attempt it. Everything with the soaking and cooking of the beans went beautifully. My meju blocks were gorgeous! I set my heating mat up on a low table, placed a cotton towel on top and then my blocks on top of that.

    I was so excited to wake up and turn them this morning! Imagine how crushed I was to see that my little dog had pulled the cotton cloth to the edge of the table, and then eaten chunks out of all three meju blocks! It’s a relatively small amount gone, but I do have some concerns around fermenting the blocks with dog germs on them, so I’m going to start another round of beans soaking tomorrow.

    I am, however, going to keep the dog-eaten blocks so that I can see how they behave as I go through the process. So, I guess this isn’t so much a question as a cautionary tale to others who might think that their dogs won’t be interested soybean blocks.

    Thanks so much for the work that you do! Millions of lives are all the more delicious because of it. I’ll attach a picture of my pre-dog bite meju blocks.


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    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted August 10th, 2016 at 12:14 am | # |

      Thank you for sharing your cute meju story with us!
      Your new 3 meju blocks placed on electric mat nicely right next to window look so beautiful. I can see your good care. You will check out the meju all the time and you will feel excited. I’m sure they will ferment nicely and you will make delicious ganjang and doenjang later.

      Yes, don’t throw away the dog-eaten blocks. You still can use them. Before adding them to salty water later, you will wash them and dry again, so you don’t have to worry much.
      I didn’t know a dog is interested in eating meju but why not? When the meju is still moist, it could be good snack. : )

  6. Mi Heui Iran - Tehran My profile page joined 5/16
    Posted August 5th, 2016 at 3:28 pm | # |

    Hi dear
    now past 2month and havent any fungi on top of my 국간장
    I should wait until comming fungi on top of my 국간장?? or no now is ready???
    thanks my dear


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    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted August 9th, 2016 at 11:55 pm | # |

      Your soy sauce looks dark brown which means it’s well fermented! Congratulations! Well done!

  7. Janviervendred23 Philippines My profile page joined 7/16
    Posted July 25th, 2016 at 3:55 am | # |

    Hi Maangchi, I was glad I found this recipe in your website. At first I was hesitant to try this out since it will take a long time for this recipe but I still gave in (hahaha). A week ago I started making my own meju blocks. I made 2 mini meju blocks about a size of a tofu. Since we don’t have ondol and also don’t have a heating mat I decided to use the oven to dry up my mini blocks. I left the blocks inside my oven a day after I dried them up since I was busy and have forgotten to take them out of the oven. The next day i took them out of the oven and found some white and black fungi on it. So i decided to hang them out and cover it with my cheese cloth to prevent some fruit flies going in my blocks. After 3 days more black and white fungi is building up. Now I feel terrified. I saw your meju blocks and I did not find any black fungi in it. My question is, Is the black fungi good or bad? Do I have to throw away these ones and make a new set of meju blocks? Thanks alot for the help. I’ve been worried because I tried searching the net and found out in a blog that a Meju that has black fungi is rotten and have to throw it away. But I found some white fungi also in my blocks so I’m confused on what to do with my mini blocks. I would really appreciate any help with this matter. thanks. Here is a picture of my 2 mini meju blocks.


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    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted July 25th, 2016 at 11:38 am | # |

      Black fungi is a bad sign. Throw them away and make new meju follow my directions tightly.

  8. murraymeehan Vancouver, BC, Canada My profile page joined 2/16
    Posted July 24th, 2016 at 1:15 pm | # |

    I’ve got some mold growing on the charcoal, pepper and bean bricks. Can I just submerge the moldy bits and keep going? Or is this game over? Thanks!

    • Maangchi New York City My profile page joined 8/08
      Posted July 25th, 2016 at 12:20 pm | # |

      No problem! Take out the moldy charcoal from the onggi and clean off the mold with paper towel. Then put it back in the onggi. Throw away the moldy peppers and add some new dried red peppers. While you’re doing all of this, be careful not to get anything wet with water, keep it dry. Next time, push around the floating things like meju, charcoal, and peppers occasionally. You can also sprinkle some salt on top of floating meju blocks and charcoal to help prevent them from getting moldy.

  9. KuyaDan Norwich, United Kingdom My profile page joined 7/16
    Posted July 6th, 2016 at 7:00 pm | # |

    Hello Maangchi :),
    I started the project about 3 days ago and I only made enough meju for perhaps 1 gallon of soy sauce :D. I don’t have an electric mat or ondol heating so I decided to dry the meju on my boiler cupboard XD. Now, it’s smelly enough that my family notices its existance and I think I over dried it since it looks browner than your picture :/. So is the meju ok? I posted a photo below:


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    • KuyaDan Norwich, United Kingdom My profile page joined 7/16
      Posted July 6th, 2016 at 7:11 pm | # |

      I decided to hang it anyway with the notion that it’ll be fine :P So I’m hanging it outside in our little shed thing that has plenty of windows and a transparent roof so there’s also plenty of sunlight. I read from other comments that I should put a mesh around it to stop bugs from going in. So, I thought these laundry bags should do the trick :D I’m not sure if they’re going to be too fine though :/ There’s a picture below too:


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