Extra-strong fermented soybean paste

Cheonggukjang 청국장

How many delicious recipes I have introduced to you that use soybeans? I showed you how to make key Korean ingredients with them like fermented soybean paste and soy sauce, and I also showed you how to make soy milk and ground soybean stew with them, too. Today I add one more thing: extra-strong fermented soybean paste, called cheonggukjang in Korean and one of my favorites

Cheonggukjang is soybean paste that has been fermented for a couple of days, unlike doenjang, which is fermented for a few months or more. Both processes use the bacteria bacillus subtilis found in the the air around us, but there’s no salt involved in the process of making cheonggukjang, it’s made from just soybeans only, and the process is much simpler and less time consuming. Cheonggukjang is similar to Japanese nattō, except nattō uses only bacillus subtilis var. natto that’s injected from a culture or already fermented natto. Cheonggukjang has stronger smell but they taste similar.

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I used to make huge amounts of cheonggukjang when I lived in Korea, at the same time of year that I made winter kimchi. I made enough to last my whole family through the winter. My house in Korea had traditional Korean underfloor heating (ondol) that was powered by charcoal briquettes. The room next to the boiler was consistently warm and toasty and the perfect temperature and condition for fermenting cheonggukjang!

I missed cheonggukjang ever since I left Korea. You can buy it in Korean grocery stores in the West but it can’t be compared to homemade. There’s a restaurant in New York that serves cheonggukjang stew but every time I ordered it there, it made me miss my homemade cheonggukjang even more. So when I was planning my cookbook I decided to definitely include cheonggukjang in the book, which meant I needed to figure out how to make it in a modern American apartment. I needed to recreate the large, consistently warm heated surface of my old Korean underfloor heating. The beans need for 2 days so they can ferment properly. I experimented with an electric mat on the floor, which worked great except the beans on top of the pile would get dried and wrinkly. I tried adding a cup of water to the middle of the mound and it worked perfectly! I cried a single tear in happiness when I first saw those fermented beans! I’ve been making them ever since.

Korean researchers have done many studies on the health benefits of cheonggukjang. They say the fermented beans provide good protein that can be digested easily and are good for controlling blood pressure, fighting cancer, and improving your complexion. For me, I just love the taste and smell. The smell is unique and hard to describe. It’s similar to good, stinky cheese I had in France, but even better! Probably because I was raised on it.

Special equipment

  • A shallow bamboo basket (or plastic basket), about 12 to 14 inches in diameter
  • An electric mat.
  • Cotton cloth (or a few layers of cheesecloth) and blanket
  • An instant-read thermometer (optional)

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Ingredients

Directions

Soaking the beans:

  1. Put the beans into a colander or strainer basket and pick out any broken beans. Wash and scrub them under cold running water and then transfer them into to a large bowl.
  2. Fill the bowl with cold water. The ratio of the beans to water should be 1 to 4.
  3. Let sit at least for 12 hours up to 24 hours. The beans will expand to about 13 cups.
    Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)-2 cups soybeans (left) dried soybeans expand to 13 cups soaked soybeans (right) in 24 hours.

Cooking the beans:

  1. Drain the beans and rinse them in cold water. Transfer them to a large pot. Add 16 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. It will take about 25 to 30 minutes and there will be a lot of foam floating on top.Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)-cooking soybeans
  2. Stir with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and  simmer for 3½ hours until the beans are very soft and crushable.

Fermenting:

  1. Place a thick blanket under the electric mat and a large cotton cloth on top of it.
  2. Drain the hot beans and put them in the basket and reserve the bean water.
  3. Place the basket on a large tray (I used my 14 inch pizza pan). Smooth out the top of the beans evenly.
  4. Set 1 cup of water into the center of the beans to maintain the humidity during fermentation.Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)
  5. Spread about 1 cup bean water over the top of the beans evenly to moisten them. Wet a cotton cloth (or a hemp cloth or a few layers of cheesecloth) in cold water and cover the bean basket with it. And then cover it all with another cotton cloth.
  6. Put the beans on the electric mat. Cover the mat with large blanket.
  7. Set the temperature to low (I used level 2 on my mat) and let the beans ferment for 48 hours between 110°F (43°C) and 130°F (54°C). You can use an instant-read thermometer to check them during fermentation if you want, but if your blanket temperature is set low enough it should be all right. Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)-
  8. After 48 hours, uncover the beans. Remove the cup of water and stir the beans with a wooden spoon. You should see thin, translucent threads when you stir the beans. Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)cheonggukjang threads

Process & pack:

  1. Working in batches, pound the beans using a mortar and pestle or process them for 10 seconds in a food processor until the mixture is partially smooth with a few chunky beans.Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)
  2. Pre-cut 8 pieces of plastic wrap about 9½ inches square.
  3. Divide the paste into 8 portions about 1 cup each.
  4. Put a piece of pre-cut plastic wrap into a 1 cup measuring cup and add sliced chili pepper (if using) into the bottom. Push in a portion of the paste to fill the cup, wrap the edges of the plastic wrap together, pull it out of the cup, twist it, and form it into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the bean paste and pieces of plastic wrap.Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)-pepperMaking Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)
  5. Put the balls in a zipper-lock bag. Use immediately, or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator or a few hours on the kitchen counter before using.Making Cheonggukjang (extra strong fermented soybean paste: 청국장)

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12 Comments:

  1. Mionny Singapore joined 8/19 & has 1 comment

    Hi Maangchi,

    During this long weekend i finally started my Cheonggukjang project! Thanks for your detailed instructions!!
    I tried to make this recipe but my soybeans didn’t turn out so well. Some of them have “threads” but some didn’t. Those towards the center have more threads while those on the sides were normal. Am i doing anything wrongly?

    Love your videos!! Xoxo

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,716 comments

      It happens when the beans are not wet enough, the edges especially will easily dry out. That’s why I add a cup of water to the middle, to moisturize the beans. Next time if you try it again, be sure to wrap it well to prevent the beans from getting dried and add a cup of water.

  2. VeggieTater Florida joined 3/19 & has 1 comment

    I’ve loved your videos on YouTube for a long time and am so happy to find your website and this amazing recipe! I am a huge fan of natto but always have to find or buy the spores to make it. Cheonggukjang sounds similar and maybe even stronger, and with spores from the air sounds like something from heaven! I don’t eat cheese or animal products anymore, but used to love brie and camembert cheese, which natto reminds me of. I also like that cheonggukjang is smashed into a pulpy mass because it made me want to experiment with adding a binder to firm it into an even more cheese-like texture too! (I know it is only cultural, but we all crave what we are familiar with the most.)
    I always make my natto in the Instant Pot on the yogurt setting and it comes out perfect, do you think I could use it also to make cheonggukjang? Thank you for everything!

  3. Kwisin Tampa, Florida joined 2/11 & has 2 comments

    Okay… my first batch was a fail… in typical western male fashion, I applied the theory… “if some is good, more is better…” Too much heat and the bacillus subtilis won’t start but in the meantime the beans sour in a not so good way… bleah… on the other hand my biji was kickin!!! Thanks Maangchi… been following here for awhile…

  4. sonny7 Florida joined 2/19 & has 1 comment

    My parents both love cheonggukjang so I was thrilled when I saw you had shared such an easy recipe with us! I was wondering whether it would be possible to make this in the oven set to 110-130F over 2 days or if that would dry out the beans too much/inhibit fermentation?

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes and videos, as always!

  5. karrotlover joined 5/15 & has 7 comments

    Maangchi! Thank you for this recipe! I didn’t realize it was so simple to make chunggukjang! I haven’t had it since my mom passed many many years ago. I would love to make it this weekend. One problem, I don’t have an electric blanket but I happen to have heated tile floor in my bathroom! Do you know what temperature I should set the floor tile to?

  6. SARANGE VENEZUELA joined 1/19 & has 1 comment

    me encantan todos tus videos
    Me gustaria saber si en paises calidos (calientes) como venezuela se puede hacer esta receta y cual seria la tecnica para hacerla
    soy una novata amante de la comida asiática y sueño con lograr hacer muchas de tus recetas
    te estaria muy agradecida por tu respuesta

  7. plenilunio Germany joined 3/17 & has 2 comments

    I instantly had to make it and it turned out perfectly, it made me so happy! Now I can’t wait for your 청국장찌개 recipe. Thank you so much for sharing, Maangchi!

  8. Oksusu London joined 1/19 & has 4 comments

    Great video and a wonderful recipe love your videos keep on making them for us

  9. Kimball Guntersville, Alabama joined 1/19 & has 2 comments

    You are awesome!
    Love all your recipes and video’s, make cooking Korean so easy!!!

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