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Doenjang – What it is and How You Make It

If you want to know about Korean food, you need to know about Doenjang.

First up: it’s not Miso.

What Miso and Doenjang do have in common, is that they are both made with soybeans.

Soybeans first appeared in 2,000 B. C. in southern Manchuria (which – fun fact – used to be part of Korea). They were later introduced to China in 7th century B.C., and Japan in the 8th century A.D.

While based on the same ingredient, Miso and Doenjang are prepared very differently.

What makes Korean Doenjang Korean

Korean doenjang is made with 100% pure soybean. In both the Chinese and Japanese versions, wheat or rice is added.

Doenjang stew (jjigye) is one of the most popular doenjang-based dishes. It is prepared with fermented soybean paste, together with mushrooms, tofu, and various vegetables.

It is not only delicious, and rich in nutrition: it can prevent diseases and even slow the ageing process (more about that in future posts!).

From Soybean to Meju

Traditionally, one purchases Doenjang at markets in the form of Meju – which is a block of fermented soybean.

Meju is a basic ingredient for soy sauce, soybean paste, and chili paste.

How are Meju made?

If you do it right, you need to start with a fresh crop of soybeans in early winter. Then follow these simple steps.

1: Soak the soybeans in water for about a day.

2: Boil thoroughly in water.

3: Crushed the boiled soybeans with a mortar.

4: Shape them into blocks.

Et voila!

Actually, not. Nothing has fermented yet!

Okay, so what next?

5: Bind the blocks with rice straw. Which I am sure you have.

6: Hang them beneath the eaves of a house. This will have the added effect of really setting yourself apart in a non-Korean neighborhood.

Now the process of fermentation is good to begin.

You don’t have to do anything, just leave them there, looking all authentic and traditional. Meanwhile, beneficial fungi will begin to grow, and the fermentation process can continue over the winter.

When that’s done:

meju and salt water in earthenware jar

7: Put the Meju into an earthen jar, and soak them salty water.

8: Placed them in an area with plenty of sunshine.

9: Wait another 30 to 40 days – more fermentation, just for good measure.

And by the end, you not only have fermented bean paste; you also have as a bi-product a bunch of soy sauce that’s been created naturally as part of the fermentation process!


In the next post, we’ll look into the story of how doenjang was made. It’s a good one! See you soon!

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