Doubanjiang and doenjang are Asian bean pastes that have a few things in common, but not as much as you might think. You can use them to bring many of the same kinds of flavors to dishes (umami and salt) but they are usually used very differently. If you want to know which one to get or whether you can replace one with the other, read the SPICEography Showdown below for more information on these two versatile seasonings.
How does doubanjiang differ from doenjang?
Doubanjiang and doenjang come from different parts of Asia. Doubanjiang comes from China while doenjang is from Korea. Pixian near Chengdu in Sichuan is known for producing the best doubanjiang and may be the place where it originated. Sichuan cooking is known for its heat, which explains the presence of chili peppers. Doenjang is produced all over Korea and does not appear to be connected to a particular region in the country.
Doubanjiang and doenjang are made with different ingredients. Doubanjiang is made with broad beans (AKA fava beans) and chili peppers as the main ingredients. Traditional doenjang consists of salt and fermented soybeans in the form of a brick called meju. Grains like rice and barley may also be used to make the meju, which is the key raw material for doenjang.
Doubanjiang and doenjang have noticeably different flavors, with doubanjiang being saltier and spicier. Doenjang’s flavor consists of salt and the complex umami of the fermented soybeans. It is not spicy.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Doubanjiang and doenjang can be used as substitutes for each other, in the sense that neither will necessarily ruin a recipe by replacing the other. When used properly, both can provide a similar kind of umami flavor, even if they may not always be interchangeable. While doubanjiang can make a good substitute for the milder doenjang, it might not be ideal if you are not a fan of spicy flavors.
On the other hand, doubanjiang might be seen as an upgrade if you do want to add a peppery spark to a dish. Because of its intensity and strong saltiness, doubanjiang will work best as a doenjang substitute if you use a small amount as a marinade or sauce component. It absolutely will not work if you use it as a 1:1 substitute.
Doenjang can work as a doubanjiang substitute if you want to tone down the heat in a dish that already has chili peppers in another form. If you are trying to avoid the spicy heat of doubanjiang, doenjang can be an excellent substitute. If you do want the spiciness of doubanjiang but only have access to doenjang, just add a little chili oil to it or to the dish to get a closer approximation of doubanjiang.
When should you use doubanjiang, and when should you use doenjang?
Because of its concentrated flavor, doubanjiang is used sparingly as a seasoning that gets mixed in among other strongly flavored ingredients. It is not usually used on its own as a condiment. You can add it to marinades, and it can even replace the soy sauce in fried rice. Doubanjiang is well-known for its association with classic Sichuan dishes like mapo tofu.
Doenjang is sometimes used for dipping vegetables on its own, but it is also an essential ingredient in ssamjang. Other common applications include doenjang jjigae, a kind of stew.