Doenjang, also spelled as Doenzang, is a fermented soybean paste, traditionally used in Korean cooking. Doenzang literally means a ‘thick paste’ in Korean dialect.
It is considered one of the highly popular condiments of Korean cuisine and rumored to extend life. The condiment has not been known in cuisines other than Korean cuisine; however, the recent world recognition of Doenjang has been reported after the Chinese media published about the benefits of the condiment.
History of Fermented Doenjang
The 2007 article published by South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo in China illustrated the origin of Doenjang in Sunchang County, a South Korean province. The fact related to increased longevity, is exemplified in this article, as many people in Sunchang County are above the age of 90 and 1-2 people are over the age of 100.
Fermented Doenjang: Preparation Overview
Dried soybeans are the main ingredient of the Doenjang that are first boiled and grounded with stone in coarse bits. This soybean paste is used to form ‘meju’ -a block of soybean paste.
Several blocks are prepared in this fashion and then the fermentation process begins. This process involves keeping the paste blocks in sunlight for drying. While exposing blocks to sunlight, the dried rice plants that are readily accessible in Korea, are tied to them. These rice plants contain bacteria called ‘Bacillus subtilis’ that helps fermenting the paste blocks by consuming moisture and protein from the soybean. An ammonia-like smell is emanated while fermnetation which usually lasts for 2-3 months depending upon the size of the block. Following this process, an opaque pottery container filled with brine is used to store the meju. During this brining period, the bacteria further ferments the meju and transforms it into a vitamin-enriched product. The solid substance and the fluid are separated after brining and the resultant liquid is the famous ‘soy sauce’ and the solid is Doenzang. This solid substance is extremely salty and thick in texture with the presence of some uncrushed and whole soybeans.
Homemade Doenzang is pure and contains only soybeans and brine, whereas commercial products often contain wheat flour for extra thickness. However, modern Doenjang makers accentuate its flavor by adding fermented anchovies.
Serving and Eating of Fermented Doenjang
Doenzang is considered an essential condiment in all Korean meals and it is most commonly eaten as a raw-paste along with different vegetables. It is also used as a flavor enhancer in most of the Korean dishes as well as a dipping condiment.
A dish called ‘ssambp’ includes Doenzang mixed with sesame oil and garlic. This dish is a leaf vegetable wrap that is often prepared with or without rice. Popular Korean stews and meat dishes such as bulgogi and Doenjang jjigae also make extensive use of Doenzang.
Variation of Doenzang
‘Daijang’, a fermented soybean paste that is extremely popular in China, has taste and texture similar to Doenjang. Machu people in Northeastern Chinese province had started the tradition of consuming ‘daijang’ as summer salad dressing.