Doubanjiang, commonly Chinese chili bean paste, Toban Djan, or simply chili bean sauce. It is, without a doubt, one of the staples of Chinese cuisine.
This popular condiment and ingredient in many dishes is usually a mixture of fermented beans, soybeans, and chilies. This vibrant red sauce and condiment have a very complex flavor profile, it is quite spicy, and it can kick any dish up a notch.
Being that it is so unique, you may wonder is it possible to replace this fermented chili bean paste in your cooking? We’ve discovered the closest alternatives, so keep on reading to learn more!
The best substitutes for doubanjiang
As we’ve already mentioned, doubanjiang is a combination of fermented broad beans as the main ingredient, soybeans, and hot chilies that give it that distinctive kick of heat. While there are different varieties of doubanjiang, it is normally quite spicy.
Since it has a very vibrant, dominant red color, doubanjiang is often added to dishes to add some color. However, it is mainly added for its complexity of flavor, which is a perfect blend of umami, savory, tangy, and spicy.
However, if you’re not a fan of spicy sauces, there is a doubanjiang variety that is toned down and not as hot. Non-spicy varieties of this sauce will mostly be salty, with a subtle dose of tanginess and umami, as well as earthiness due to fermented ingredients.
Spicy doubanjiang, on the other hand, can be quite a challenge. It can have as many as 12 thousand units on the Scoville Heat Scale. However, this doesn’t mean that other flavors we’ve mentioned will be entirely suppressed.
Surprisingly enough, spiciness isn’t the first flavor that you will notice in a spicy doubanjiang. At first, it comes across as salty, savory, and umami, while the spiciness kicks in later. It is safe to say this chili bean paste is a perfect blend of these delicious flavors and aromas.
This spicy bean paste can be used in all kinds of dips and sauces if you’re looking to deepen the flavors or add a touch of spiciness. Keep in mind that you should always add the paste first, and then check if additional seasoning is necessary.
This is important because doubanjiang is quite dominant, very salty, and often pretty spicy, so you usually won’t have to add any additional salt. Also, since it is packed with flavors, a little bit of this bean paste goes a long way.
What could be a good doubanjiang substitute if you need a similar flavor profile? Here are the best options to replace this flavorful bean paste in your dishes.
1. Homemade Doubanjiang
While this is certainly not an easier alternative, it can be a great way of making doubanjiang that meets your personal requirements. If you haven’t been able to find a variety to your taste, it is possible to make doubanjiang from scratch – but it will take some time:
- The first thing you need to do is soak some broad beans and let them sit overnight, which is basically the common practice when using beans in cooking.
- The next day, drain the beans and put them over steam to partially cook them for about an hour.
- The steaming process will allow for the beans to cook just enough so they don’t lose their structure entirely.
- Now you want to allow them to cool completely before adding koji mold spores and some flour to create the base mixture.
- The next step would be to add the starter which is the key factor in the fermentation process.
- Once you’ve mixed in the starter, place the bowl with the mixture in a damp, dark place.
- Check on the mixture frequently to notice when the white layer on top of the beans becomes yellow. This should be the end of the fermentation process and the time for you to place the beans in direct sunlight to stop them completely.
- Let the mixture sit in the sun for one day, after which it will be dry.
- After one day, wash the beans and allow them to ferment for another 30-40 hours. In the meantime, prepare all the other ingredients, including hot peppers and desired spices.
- Cut up the peppers and mix them in with some salt.
- Combine this mixture, as well as the other spices and a little bit of oil to get an even, coherent mixture.
- Add the beans and mix well.
The hardest part about making homemade doubanjiang is having to wait for this mixture to ferment for another 3 months.
However, the process is worth it since the product will be free of any chemicals and artificial ingredients that you could find in store-bought varieties.
A good broad bean paste substitute would be gochujang, a popular Korean ingredient, and condiment, which also has that rich, thick, pasty consistency. Another important similarity between the two is their vibrant crimson red color that can transform any dish.
Gochujang is usually a mixture of fermented soybeans, salt, sticky rice, and red chilies. Therefore, it has a very similar structure and flavor profile to doubanjiang. It is usually spicy, quite salty, and often a bit sweet, which comes from the rice.
While gochujang isn’t a finishing sauce, it is a delicious addition to vegetable stir-fries, noodle dishes, marinades, sauces, and soups.
3. Sambal Oelek
If you don’t mind the spiciness and you’re in fact looking for something that could be even hotter than doubanjiang, this substitute for hot bean paste could be the answer. Sambal oelek is a chile paste that comes from Indonesia, and it is based on red chilies.
It is essentially a mixture of fresh red chilies, salt, spices, and vinegar, so it is quite simple to make. Sambal oelek is a perfect addition to any dish lacking spice, but you can use it as a sauce or condiment as well.
4. Toban Djan
Toban djan is yet another chili bean sauce, and it is basically considered to be a less spicy variety of doubanjiang. It is a great option if you’re not a fan of spicy foods. Still, toban djan offers all the other flavors of a typical doubanjiang.
This substitute for doubanjiang comes from the Canton province, and it has a characteristic salty, savory, umami flavor. A touch of sweetness and earthiness makes it the perfect ingredient in any dull meal that lacks complexity and depth.
Doenjang is yet another versatile paste that packs different kinds of flavors. Ingredients such as doenjang are a life-saver when it comes to developing flavors in your dishes, as they can replace dozens of spices and seasoning mixes.
This Korean paste includes fermented soybeans and salt, so it may seem quite simple at first. However, the blend of flavors and aromas in this paste is anything but simple. It is rather pungent, aromatic, and definitely an ingredient that will dominate the dish.
Some varieties of this paste ferment for six weeks, while other, more pungent, and complex kinds ferment for years.
6. Korean Soy Sauce
If you’re a fan of doenjang, you will definitely enjoy Korean soy sauce, as well, since they come from the same mixture. When soybeans ferment, the solid part of this mixture turns into doenjang, while the remaining liquid is Korean soy sauce.
Just like any other soy sauce, Korean soy sauce has countless culinary uses, but its main quality is that unique umami flavor. You can use it to improve the flavor profile of dishes and add more depth, but you can also serve it as a dipping sauce.
The main difference between the doubanjiang spicy bean paste and Korean soy sauce, besides the texture, is the lack of spiciness. However, it is a spot-on replacement when it comes to that umami, savory, mildly sweet taste.
7. Miso Paste
Miso paste, just like doenjang, comes from fermented soybeans, with the addition of koji – mold commonly used in sake. This paste also requires salt, spices, and a kind of grain that provides that thick, pasty consistency similar to doubanjiang.
If you prefer a more complex, earthy, pungent flavor, you should look for miso paste that has been fermented for years. The longer the fermentation process – the more complex and deep the flavors of the miso paste.
8. Sriracha & Miso Paste
When it comes to replacing certain ingredients in your kitchen, the best solution in many situations is combining ingredients to achieve the desired result. If you don’t have any of the above-mentioned options, you could simply combine some sriracha and miso paste.
The sriracha component will provide that peppery spiciness and freshness that doubanjiang offers. Miso paste, on the other hand, is a perfect solution when it comes to achieving that umami, earthy, deep flavor that makes doubanjiang so popular.
9. Miso Paste & Cayenne Pepper Powder & Soy Sauce
If you don’t mind mixing more than two ingredients to get the perfect texture and taste, this combination of flavors could be the closest alternative to doubanjiang.
Miso will provide the structure and that tangy, earthy flavor, soy sauce will add the umami, and with the addition of cayenne pepper powder, you will get the desired level of spiciness.
The optimal ratio of these ingredients to get the closest doubanjiang dupe would be 1 tablespoon of miso paste, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder, and ½ teaspoon of soy sauce.
How to choose a doubanjiang substitute
When it comes to culinary uses of doubanjiang, the possibilities are pretty much endless. It is a delicious condiment that you can pair with all kinds of meat, fish, and seafood. In Chinese cuisine, it is a common ingredient in different kinds of stir-fries.
If you want a spot-on doubanjiang substitute that combines both its savory, umami flavors on one hand and characteristic spiciness on the other, you should go with homemade doubanjiang (if you have the time and the patience).
Other mention-worthy, delicious alternatives are gochujang, or combinations of miso paste and sriracha; or miso paste, cayenne pepper powder, and soy sauce.
Sambal oelek is mainly spicy and peppery, so it isn’t recommended if you don’t do well with hot ingredients.
Toban djan, doenjang, Korean soy sauce, and miso paste can replace doubanjiang when it comes to savory, salty, umami flavors, although they mostly lack spice. Luckily, this is something that can easily be fixed if you want to add the spicy component.