Korean Food Journey: Doenjang
In a previous Korean food journey article I talked about gochujang, but that isn’t the only fermented bean paste Korea has to offer. There is another, equally important bean paste in every Korean household pantry. That paste is called doenjang (된장). Time to see what makes this fermented paste so beloved.
Fermenting the Soybean
Whereas gochujang is red, doenjang is a a brown paste with a taste that can be compared to Japanese miso. It is the result of a long fermentation period where meju blocks (메주) is placed in an Onggi (옹기) along with brine. After this fermentation process, the soaked meju blocks are pounded into a thick paste, doenjang. The process from soybean to doenjang takes about an entire year. Doenjang, like all Korean jangs, is an art of patience. Afterwards you will not only be rewarded with the brown paste, but also another important Korean ingredients: gukganjang (국간장).
Doenjang is beloved so today it is produced on an industrial scale. To produce enough to satiate the Koreans, however, Korean manufacturers add wheat grains into their mixture with the soybeans like what is done to make soy sauce. Dried anchovy is sometimes even added to accentuate the savory taste of the brown paste. To help Koreans, and others, differentiate between the various styles, there are three categories depending the ingredients.
- Hansik doenjang (한식 된장) is the paste made according to the traditional method of meju and brine.
- Doenjang (된장) is the paste made with non-traditional meju (meju containing grain) and brine.
- Seasoned Doenjang (조미된장) is a variation of either two earlier mentioned paste, but with added seasoning.
The categories are commonly quite visible on the packaging so you will always know what you are buying.
Paste of many uses
Doenjang, like gochujang, has a lot of uses in the Korean kitchen. You can also use it as a condiment when eating raw vegetables. However, it is more commonly mixed with gochujang, garlic and sesame oil to make ssamjang (쌈장) to make a more savory condiment.
One of the most common dish made with doenjang is doenjang jjigae (된장찌개). This stew is so common and popular, Koreans often have it with many of their meals. The stew is made with tofu, chili peppers, zucchini and other ingredients. It isn’t a personal favorite, but you should definitely give it a try. Plus making it is quite is so you have no excuses.