Doenjang containing whole soybeans
Korean name
Hangul 된장
Revised Romanization doenjang
McCune–Reischauer toenjang

Doenjang ([twendʑaŋ]), or bean paste (HS code: 2103.90.1010), literally means "thick sauce" in Korean.


Meju, soybean malt

To produce doenjang, dried soybeans are boiled and stone-ground into coarse bits. This paste is then formed into blocks, which are called meju (메주). The blocks are then exposed to sunlight or warmth. When so exposed, dried rice plants are attached to the surface of the soybean blocks. Dried rice plants are readily available in Korea and are a rich source of bacteria (Bacillus subtilis). The fermentation process begins at this stage. The Bacillus subtilis bacteria reproduce, consuming soybean protein and water in the meju. The unique smell of the meju is mainly the ammonia produced by the bacteria. One to three months later, depending on the block size, the meju are put into large, opaque pottery jars with brine and left to further ferment, during which time various beneficial bacteria transform the mixture into a further vitamin-enriched substance (similar to the way milk ferments to become yogurt). Liquids and solids are separated after the fermentation process, and the liquid becomes Korean soy sauce (Joseon ganjang; 조선간장). The solid, which is doenjang, is very salty and quite thick, often containing (unlike most miso) some whole, uncrushed soybeans.

While traditional homemade doenjang is made with soybeans and brine only, many factory-made variants of doenjang contain a fair amount of wheat flour just like most factory-made soy sauce does. Some current makers also add fermented, dried, and ground anchovies to accentuate the doenjang's savory flavor.


A bowl of homemade doenjang jjigae

Doenjang can be eaten as a condiment in raw-paste form with vegetables, as flavored seasoning or even as a dipping condiment. However, it is more commonly mixed with garlic, sesame oil, and sometimes gochujang to produce ssamjang, which is then traditionally eaten with or without rice wrapped in leaf vegetables such as red leaf lettuce. This dish is called ssambap. This combination of leaf vegetable and doenjang (or ssamjang) often complements popular Korean meat dishes, for example samgyeopsal, bulgogi, bibimbap and bossam.

It can also be used as a component of soup broth, for example in a popular stew (jjigae) called doenjang jjigae which usually includes tofu, various vegetables such as chile peppers, zucchini, and scallion, and (optionally) mushrooms, red meat, or scallops.

Nutrition and health

Doenjang is rich in flavonoids and beneficial vitamins, minerals, and plant hormones (phytoestrogens) which are sometimes claimed to possess anticarcinogenic properties.[1] In Korean traditional meals, the menu has concentrated on vegetables and rice, but doenjang, which is made of soybeans, has a great deal of lysine, an essential amino acid that rice lacks. Linoleic acid (53% of the fatty acids) and linolenic acid (8% of the fatty acids) have an important role in normal growth of blood vessels and prevention of blood vessel-related illness. Doenjang's efficacy still exists after boiling, in dishes such as doenjang jjigae.[2]

Knowledge and use of doenjang outside Korea

Doenjang is considered one of the essential sauces of authentic Korean cuisine. However, the condiment has historically been unknown outside of Korea, although recent international articles have resulted in an increase in its popularity. A 2007 Chinese article on the "Sauces of Korea" listed doenjang and gochujang as essential flavorings, and explored the origins of the condiments, particularly focusing on Sunchang County, where most Korean soy sauce is produced. The article pointed out that doenjang does not contain any artificial additives and in fact has healthy amounts of essential vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin B12. The health benefits of doenjang are rumored to extend longevity, and this is illustrated by the fact that out of the 32,000 people in Sunchung County, eight are over 100 years old, and many are over 90. The article was influential throughout China, resulting in many Chinese restaurants adding doenjang stew, modified slightly to Chinese tastes, to their menus shortly after publication. South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo covered this story in China on December 13, 2007.[3]

Claims are being explored about the role of doenjang in reducing visceral fat, though most studies have only been done on rodents.[4] However, one study on humans does exist, which suggests that its visceral fat reduction properties are also present in humans.[5]

Dajiang, a type of fermented soybean paste popular in northeast China, bears a great similarity in texture and taste to Korean doenjang. The tradition of eating dajiang is said to have been started by the Manchu people, who originally occupied China's northeastern provinces. Northeastern Chinese people enjoy eating raw vegetables in the summer, and dajiang is used like a salad dressing to add flavor.

Doenjang also bears similarities to Japanese miso.[6]

Popular culture

Doenjang jjigae was the basis of a Korean movie called The Recipe, released in 2010. It was about a death-row inmate who makes his last wish for a bowl of the stew.

"Doenjang girl" is a popular term for women who indulge in luxurious products to show off, despite not being able to afford them.[7]

See also


  1. Prof. Kun-Young Park, Pusan National University (2005-10-26). "Korean food for defeating cancer" (in Korean). Hankook Ilbo. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
  2. Prof. Suk Ja, Yoon Baewha Women's College (2004-04-16). "Efficacy and Nutrition of Doenjang" (in Korean). Public website. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  3. JOINS | 아시아 첫 인터넷 신문
  4. Shil Kwak, Chung; Chul Park, Sang; Yong Song, Kye (2012). "Doenjang , a Fermented Soybean Paste, Decreased Visceral Fat Accumulation and Adipocyte Size in Rats Fed with High Fat Diet More Effectively Than Nonfermented Soybeans". Journal of Medicinal Food. 15 (1): 1–9. doi:10.1089/jmf.2010.1224.
  5. Cha, YS; Yang, JA; Back, HI; Kim, SR; Kim, MG; Jung, SJ; Song, WO; Chae, SW (2012). "Visceral fat and body weight are reduced in overweight adults by the supplementation of Doenjang, a fermented soybean paste". Nutr Res Pract. 6: 520–6. doi:10.4162/nrp.2012.6.6.520. PMC 3542442Freely accessible. PMID 23346302.
  6. Yiu Hin Hui; E. Özgül Evranuz; Ase Slovejg Hansen, eds. (2012). Handbook of Plant-Based Fermented Food and Beverage Technology, Second Edition. CRC Press. p. 66. ISBN 9781439849040.
  7. 실사로 보는… '이것이 된장녀의 하루!' The Hanguk 2007/02/13

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