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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88 Comments:

  1. DG kim Mexico joined 7/17
    Posted September 17th, 2017 at 2:23 pm | # |

    dear Maangchi
    I need your help, a month ago I put the meju in salt water and these days grew a white layer above the meju and charcoal. Is this bad? or do I have to start over?
    I hope you are well, greetings from Mexico.


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  2. DG kim Mexico joined 7/17
    Posted July 20th, 2017 at 1:16 pm | # |

    Hello dear Maangchi, I write from Mexico to join you for sharing your recipes with people who love the culture and gastronomy of Korea. I started this project in a little 20 days, and I’m worried about my meju, every day I take it in the sun because I do not have an electric blanket, and at night I put it behind the refrigerator, but this morning turning the meju I realized that Have mushrooms, do not know if they are good or bad, breaking a piece has a strong smell and more fungi of color between green and black. As you see, is it a problem? is on a good path? Or do I have to start over?

      Thanks for all the wonderful videos, I will continue to support you in the distance, a strong hug, blessings always !!!


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    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
      Posted July 20th, 2017 at 1:46 pm | # |

      Your meju looks awesome! Before soaking them in salty water, clean the fungi. Use a soft brush and wash them. I’m sure your ganjang and doenjang will turn out very delicious! Let me know.

  3. Ardenda Minneapolis, MN joined 1/17
    Posted May 31st, 2017 at 1:00 pm | # |

    Maangchi – I separated out my doenjang from guk ganjang about two months ago. My doenjang looks like there’s fungus growing on the surface of it. Is this ok?


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  4. jhj8864 NC joined 5/17
    Posted May 29th, 2017 at 4:54 pm | # |

    Love your site! I am always looking for a new cooking adventure and your site has been an amazing introduction into Korean cooking. I am proud to say that my marriage survived the hanging and storing of my meju blocks (just barely though!). I am a former Marine – but that tested even my tolerance levels. Today, I separated my soybeans and soup soy sauce. I disregarded your advice since my wife is out of town, and boiled my soup soy inside. I can say I got the ‘full experience’ – wow, that’s a strong smell – not bad, just strong. I will tend to my doenjang for another 5 months and look forward to tasting the final product. I’d drink a Modelo with you anytime! Love the videos <3

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
      Posted May 29th, 2017 at 7:10 pm | # |

      Thank you for sharing your amazing story with me and my other readers! “I am proud to say that my marriage survived the hanging and storing of my meju block.” You must have enjoyed the journey from the beginning to now!
      “I disregarded your advice since my wife is out of town, and boiled my soup soy sauce inside.”
      oops! Are you living in middle of nowhere? Nobody gave you hard time for the smell? : )

      Congratulations! 5 to 6 months later, you will make the most delicious Korean doenjang soup or stew!

  5. kfoodconvert nyc joined 1/17
    Posted May 16th, 2017 at 3:38 pm | # |

    Hello! First I love all your recipes, I am slowly cooking every one from your book!

    My blocks look ok and I was about to move to the step of putting the blocks in salt water, and as i was washing them I though I need to break them and check the insides because how can the inside get cleaned?

    I think one block is ok and the other has black mold? I will move forward with just the non black block. The other one looks scary!


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    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
      Posted May 16th, 2017 at 4:24 pm | # |

      Black fungi is not a good sign because it’s made from bad and harmful bacteria. It should be brown, orange, white, or a little bit green. Remove the black part with a knife and wash it with brush nicely and dry it sunny day. After that make doenjang with it.

  6. plenilunio Germany joined 3/17
    Posted March 23rd, 2017 at 7:31 am | # |

    Hi Maangchi,

    first of all thank you so much for your amazing recipe(s)! As soon as I watched it, I instantly had to try it, though I already expected it to be a tough task.

    It’s been about 2 weeks now that I hung up my two meju blocks (each about 300g) and they pretty much look exactly like yours (which makes me kind of happy).
    The only thing is, they smell EXTREMELY. Since I never made this before I have no idea what they’re supposed to smell like, but my kitchen has meanwhile turned into a cowshed and I seriously wonder if that’s what you mean by “pungent”? It doesn’t bother me much but I’m really afraid something went wrong and my meju turned out bad…The smell makes me keep the window open most of the time which also results in a temperature of about 15 degrees (celsius) in my kitchen – is that too cold? Or do you even think I might hang them outside for drying though it’s only about 10 degrees (celsius)?
    I’m also afraid to kinda “overdry” them, so do you think 2-3 weeks of drying and 1 week of fermentation inside the cardboardbox will be enough for my small meju blocks?
    There’s also hardly any mold (neither black nor white nor green) on my meju blocks yet – is that fine? Will the mold grow during the time inside the cardboard bow?

    I’m so sorry for my novel of questions but I enjoy all of your recipes so much and I really try to make everything come out as perfect as possible.
    So if you’d find the time to reply shortly and give me some advice I’d be incredibly happy! You’re my kitchen idol.

    Thanks for everything and all the best!

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
      Posted March 23rd, 2017 at 4:57 pm | # |

      It sounds like your meju is fermenting well! I totally understand how nervous you are because you are making doenjang for the first time in your life.

      Yes, it smells. They are supposed to give off a pungent smell. I don’t want to say it smells bad because they will turn into delicious and precious doenjang soon. If you succeed in making delicious homemade doenjang once, you will love the smell that comes from them.

      Hanging meju at 10 to 15 degrees (celsius) will be ok. Don’t worry much about fungi as long as the meju have a strong smell. Only if the meju has a sour smell and slimy stuff inside, it means it’s rotten and you have to throw them away.

      “Will the mold grow during the time inside the cardboard box?” yes, I think so.
      Be sure to set them out where flies are not around though.

      Good luck!

  7. Rigoletto Chicago joined 9/16
    Posted February 18th, 2017 at 3:25 pm | # |

    Hi Maangchi,
    I started the step today: Separate the doenjang from the soy sauce
    But the bean blocks are still hard. When I try to break them, I saw some black and white inside the blocks. Is it normal? Should I continue the steps or throw them away?
    Pls give me your advise! Thank you!


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    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
      Posted March 1st, 2017 at 9:23 am | # |

      Yes, I love the color of the fungi in your meju. Wash the fungi with a brush and dry it out.

      • Rigoletto Chicago joined 9/16
        Posted March 8th, 2017 at 7:41 pm | # |

        Hi Maangchi
        I already processed the step: separate the doenjang from the soy sauce. in your diary, it should be :June 11 — Separated doenjang and guk-ganjang.
        I saw your video you mentioned no water in this steps. are you sure i can wash the fungi?

  8. Shan1990 Malaysia joined 2/17
    Posted February 9th, 2017 at 11:56 am | # |

    I read everyone comment, most people can get wood charcoal but because i cant find a reliable food grade wood charcoal, i m thinking to replace with activated carbon. Dear Maangchi, is it ok to get clay type ware for fermentation, seller said it was use for wine making, breathable. Thank you

    • Shan1990 Malaysia joined 2/17
      Posted February 12th, 2017 at 2:35 am | # |

      I have four block, after 36 hours, two blocks showed white spot on it and another two not yet


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      • Shan1990 Malaysia joined 2/17
        Posted February 13th, 2017 at 9:03 am | # |

        Oh no, the third day of fermentation, i observed some black mold on the block, white one more than black one but i am too worried so i cut off the black mold and hope that the white one can outgrow black mold.

        • Shan1990 Malaysia joined 2/17
          Posted February 13th, 2017 at 9:10 am | # |

          The day 3 photo


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        • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
          Posted February 13th, 2017 at 10:47 am | # |

          You did a great job cutting off the black mold! Good lucK!

          • Shan1990 Malaysia joined 2/17
            Posted February 14th, 2017 at 12:23 am | # |

            Dear Maangchi, thank you for your encouraging, this project just started three days, i am so worried my baby meju everyday. Still a long way to worry, but i will do ny best

          • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08
            Posted February 16th, 2017 at 12:20 pm | # |

            As long as you give them good care like that, I’m sure the meju blocks will turn out good! When I ferment my meju, I’m always excited to see them and even the stinky smell makes me happy. “uh? where is this smell coming from?” Then I realize it’s coming from my meju hung on the wall, then I smile. It’s so fun doing a long time project.

          • Shan1990 Malaysia joined 2/17
            Posted February 16th, 2017 at 7:14 pm | # |

            Oh found orange colour mold on block. I removed orange mold. I still pick out black mold Everyday but now the block is getting dry so less black mold spot on block. The soybean block now have ammonia smell and kind of stinky but me and my mom love the smell


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  9. MelissaH Vermont, USA joined 1/17
    Posted January 30th, 2017 at 8:13 am | # |

    Thank you so very much for posting this recipe! I can’t wait to try it. I have two questions to start with: do you know if this method has been used with other legumes? and 2) do you have a source for ceramic onggi–or another type of breathable pot? I have tried to find large enough ones online to no avial. Thanks again. Melissa

  10. yovitaadj Bandung, West Java, Indonesia joined 12/16
    Posted December 10th, 2016 at 2:55 am | # |

    Hello Maangchi!
    I’ve been making doenjang and already soaked my doenjang in brine inside an earthernware pot.
    After several days, I found a growing white fungus on top of the brine, I took a picture of it.
    Is it okay or should I change the brine?

    Usually I put it outside and sunbathe it on sunny days, but I never let water goes inside.
    Thank you for your help! I look forward to eat a very delicious earthy doenjang based on your recipe^^


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  11. Adri France joined 12/16
    Posted December 2nd, 2016 at 2:58 am | # |

    I would like to have your thinking about these one, i am not really sure about black/dark blue fungus, my first try.. thanks a loooooot for all your yummy videos! hug from France see youuuu!


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  12. Ncoron Phoenix joined 11/16
    Posted November 19th, 2016 at 5:39 pm | # |

    Maangchi, you are so awesome. I was one of the people begging you to post this, probably 10 years back! I just happened upon it here today. Thank you so much, and thanks also for helping people through the process. Time for me to get on it! I will definitely be buying your book.

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