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 kosher 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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257 Comments:

  1. Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 63 comments

    Maangchi, The second year I am making doenjang and the hanging meju smell much stronger. Very yummy, but too strong now. can I put them in the box for longer instead? I want to reduce hanging time and increase closed box time. Anything I should think about?

    Thank you so much!

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 129 comments

      I think you are a master of doenjang making! You’re even replying to some of my other readers’ questions. I really appreciate it. I’m very happy to see all of us help each other for better cooking.

      “I want to reduce hanging time and increase closed box time.” As long as your meju is dried well, go ahead. I think it will be ok or maybe better. Good luck!

  2. JoeMroz St. John's NL Canada joined 4/20 & has 3 comments

    I have tried a few of your recipes; all delicious! I followed this one exactly (except I didn’t have a crock) and after a year it is inedibly salty. I will try again with half the salt you say.

  3. Pickle Australia joined 3/20 & has 4 comments

    Hi Maangchi,

    If I make a smaller Meju block do I still need need the same amount of time to dry and ferment? Reason being I don’t have the Korean Onggi, so I’m using a taller and smaller opening crock pot.

    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 63 comments

      It just needs to be dry all the way through and fermented well enough. Smaller meju will probably dry faster but ferment the same rate. Longer wouldn’t hurt though, unless you want it faster, so following her schedule will be fine. It will also line up with the seasons the same

  4. DanielleD Canada joined 11/20 & has 4 comments

    I’ve tried to make it twice and both times flies lay eggs in my meju. ㅠㅠ
    The first time in Nov I didn’t wrap them for the first couple weeks because the recipe didn’t call for it. Then I wrapped the three in 1 net that ended up tearing and had a whole in it so all the meju were invaded by flies.
    The second time in Dec, I gave each a soup bag as they hung. But apparently as they were drying before hanging, the flies laid their eggs. ㅠㅠ
    So 2/3 were unusable because of the eggs.
    Attached is a picture of one of them that was cracked open by some squirrels.
    I had hung it outside to try to salvage some part of it but it’s a lost cause. ㅎㅎ
    It looks like a bee hive of eggs.

    Does anyone have some advice about how to dry them well while protecting them from the flies?
    They are fragile when they are freshly formed and they need to be turned over too.
    When they were hanging, the smell was so nice so I really want to make nice 된장. ㅠㅠ


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    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 129 comments

      Oh, you must be so frustrated, I’m sorry to read this.
      Koreans usually make and ferment meju blocks during the cold winter time when flies don’t exist in Korea. When I make meju here in my New York apartment I am very careful not to let any flies into my house while make and hang my meju. I don’t know where you live but if you have a season with no flies, that’s a good time to start. And if not, you need to be super-careful to keep your meju from flies.

      • DanielleD Canada joined 11/20 & has 4 comments

        Thank you for the reply! Yes, I started in winter where I live which starts late November usually. My attempts were in late November and December.
        I also used some soup bags on each but I should have put them on as soon as the blocks were not too sticky. ㅠㅠ

        My third attempt was in early February. I used the soup bags again but this time the mould is different.
        It’s like a fluffy grey, brown, green, and some white dots.
        I think I should garbage it again. ㅠㅠ
        Attached is the worst of the 3. Only this one has the dots but the other 2 have the fluffy grey and brown mould with a little bit of green mould.

        It’s still a cold these days so maybe I can try one more time before the weather becomes warmer again.

        Anyway, thank you for the recipe~
        Even if it didn’t work out for me, it looks like a lot of people made some lovely 된장. c:


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        • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 63 comments

          The white kind of looks fine, but the black especially may not be good. Are you sterilizing all your utensils and washing hands well when working? Also dry hands on clean paper towels because you don’t want to touch them with moisture.

          What is the humidity like in your region? It looks like the strings are cutting into the bean blocks, but they should have been dried enough before hanging so that probably shouldn’t be happening. overall your block looks very moist but should be a lighter brown and dry looking, even at the beginning when you hang it. Check your house humidity where you’re trying to hang them. It should be ~30-40 maybe.

          Are you sure to drain the beans fully before forming blocks? Only beans, no water go into the menu blocks.

          • DanielleD Canada joined 11/20 & has 4 comments

            Oh thanks for the reply! I think I just didn’t dry them enough but they’re okay now. I didn’t have to throw them away.

            I dried them longer and when they were dried enough, left them to sit on a wire rack over hay. They’re looking much better. The black mould kind of died off as it dried more and the hay really helped develop the white mould better. The only thing is that the colour of the blocks is darker than the ones in the pictures but I think it should still be ok.

            They’re fermenting in the box with the hay and blanket now and I’ll hang them up again in a week or so. I’m hoping all goes well the rest of the way~!


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  5. DanielleD Canada joined 11/20 & has 4 comments

    Hello!
    My meju has been hanging for one week and has lots of white and green fungi growing.
    But I noticed after day two, some fruit flies were around so I put it by an open window on a cold day to force the flies out and then covered it in cheesecloth and folded and clipped the ends with bulldog clips so the flies can’t enter.
    But the last two times I opened the cheesecloth to check the blocks, a fly flew out. ㅠㅠ
    I guess they hid very well. ㅠㅠ
    Should I just toss it and start over?
    I’m worried they’re laying eggs and pooping in my meju. ㅠㅠ
    Thank you for your time!


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 63 comments

      Flys and fleas can easily make it through cheesecloth, especially if it touches the block, then even a big one can land and touch it too.

      Technically it’s only a problem once it’s a problem, but it matters how long you want to keep going before the problem might become apparent (noticable larvae, etc.) and you toss it. Their lifespan is very short though, so you should see fleas or flys hatching very fast.

  6. Renu Maryland joined 10/20 & has 1 comment

    Hi Maangchi. I am from India and am a vegetarian.
    After seeing your videos i got interested in Korean food. So as my first try I had made vegetarian kimchi and it turned out good. And I want to try more vegetarian dishes from your vegetarian list of videos. So I bought a soya bean paste from Asian store. But I couldn’t know the ingredients list as it is in korean script. So can you pls check this and please let me know whether it has any fish sauce or anchovies sauce in it? Thank you in advance..


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  7. ErinE Minneapolis Minnesota joined 7/20 & has 1 comment

    Hi! I’ve been working my way through the process and am fermenting.

    White mold is growing but I’m not sure if this is the kind you said was ok flowers.

    Should I add more salt or salt water?


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  8. Nerimaro Charlotte, NC joined 7/20 & has 2 comments

    Hello Maangchi! I was so excited to see your Dwenjang making recipe and followed it. All seemed well until the fermentation stage. My meju has been in the hangari for about a month and now has thick white covering on the surface. Is this ok?


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    • Nerimaro Charlotte, NC joined 7/20 & has 2 comments

      Sorry, I don’t know why my photo is upside down. Should I remove the white “scum” or leave it be?

      • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 129 comments

        It’s not scum but good mold that gives your soy sauce deep pungent flavor. Just remove it. I made my own soy sauce and soybean paste this year. Now the soybean paste has been fermented in an earthenware jar for several months and the soy sauce is in another earthenware jar. All turned out very delicious. How do you like your ganjang (soy sauce) and doenjang (soybean paste)?

  9. Moon Netherlands joined 6/20 & has 2 comments

    Sorry here’s the extra photo of the orange spots (see previous message)


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  10. Moon Netherlands joined 6/20 & has 2 comments

    Hello Maangchi! I’m from the Netherlands and loving your recipes! I’ve made meju blocks but they smell very strong, they are attrackting flies also. Is this bad? I’ve put nets around them but I’m still afraid the flies will put eggs on them. When I made the meju blocks, first 2 days I put them in a container which I thought was well ventilated (because I have a cat and I didn’t want him to come near the blocks) but I found out it wasn’t. So they started sweating a little and develop slightly orange spots (see picture). After this I put them in my air dryer at 40 degrees Celcius so they’re much more dry now but still very smelly and no mold yet after a week. Do you think they’ll still develop well or could the smell mean they are rotting?


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 63 comments

      How did they turn out? If the blocks touch the bags, then insects can still touch them too. Needs some space all around.

      Smells will be strong, but the first week might be a bit early, not sure. Putting them in the box to start is definitely not a good way to start. They need exceedingly good ventilation and sunlight.

      I’m curious to know if the orange stuff spread and how your meju progressed, so please share!

      Eggs aren’t a problem I think unless you start to see things buzzing around from hatching inside.

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