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)

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.)
  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.

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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  1. Oxide California joined 2/15 & has 47 comments

    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).

    See full size image

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 12,047 comments

      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 joined 2/15 & has 47 comments

      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

  2. charliesommers Nashville, Tn. joined 4/10 & has 12 comments

    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.

  3. Aznslaya7 USA joined 1/13 & has 3 comments

    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! :(

  4. Oxide California joined 2/15 & has 47 comments

    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?

  5. Cutemom Indonesia joined 3/13 & has 82 comments

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

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 12,047 comments

      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.

  6. bobbot Idaho joined 1/16 & has 1 comment

    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).

  7. FeyDee The Netherlands joined 2/15 & has 3 comments

    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!

  8. lsqtan singapore joined 7/14 & has 1 comment

    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.

  9. medusagurlyeah Adelaide joined 1/14 & has 32 comments

    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!

  10. Andrea Italy joined 1/09 & has 19 comments

    Sorry, I meant work, not word :D

  11. Andrea Italy joined 1/09 & has 19 comments

    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! ;)

  12. aj10tamic Canada joined 1/16 & has 1 comment

    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…

  13. Sadiqah joined 12/15 & has 2 comments

    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?

  14. Cutemom Indonesia joined 3/13 & has 82 comments

    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?



  15. Kandracar Mesa, Arizona joined 1/15 & has 4 comments

    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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