Doubanjiang: History. Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Doubanjiang is a fermented paste consisting of broad beans and chili peppers. While it comes from the Sichuan province, versions of doubanjiang are used all over China, with properties that vary from region to region. Doubanjiang is one of the main seasonings in food from Sichuan, so much so that it is sometimes called the soul of Sichuan cooking.

One legend of doubanjiang’s origin states that travelers in Central China were carrying cooked broad beans (fava beans) and hurriedly placed the beans into a bag with chili peppers when leaving Chengdu. When they got to their destination, they found that the beans and chili peppers had broken down and fermented to become a thick paste. People liked the taste of it, so they began fermenting broad beans with chili peppers deliberately. The combination of chili peppers and beans is fermented in earthenware containers for several months. They used wheat flour to thicken it. Supposedly, the recipe for doubanjiang has remained essentially the same since those ancient times.

Pixian is a district near the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province. The Pixian version of doubanjiang has been made in Chengdu since 1666 and Pixian may well be where doubanjiang originated. Pixian doubanjiang is fermented for two to eight years, with the eight-year version being the premium variety.

Traditional Pixian doubanjiang will only have four ingredients: salt and broad beans, along with chili peppers and wheat flour. Some versions will have potassium sorbate as a preservative.

Pixian doubanjiang is rarely used as a condiment at the table. It is added in small amounts when preparing the dish.

In other parts of China, doubanjiang will not necessarily have chili peppers. When it does have chili peppers, it will be labeled as spicy doubanjiang. In Sichuan where doubanjiang will usually have chili peppers, you won’t see it labeled as spicy.

Doubanjiang flavor profile

One of the main flavors in doubanjiang is salt. It is salty enough to be the main source of salt in many recipes. The other key aspect of its flavor comes from the fermented beans. The fermentation process releases amino acids and enables doubanjiang to be a concentrated source of umami. Lastly, there is the heat that doubanjiang gets from chili peppers. The kind of chili pepper that you will see used in most doubanjiang is the er jin tiao (or erjingtiao) chili pepper, which looks and tastes a lot like cayenne pepper.

Health benefits of doubanjiang

Doubanjiang is considered nutritious because it contains health-giving compounds like:

  • Vitamins: Doubanjiang can provide a small amount of vitamin A per serving.
  • Minerals: Doubanjiang is a good source of important minerals like iron and calcium.
  • Antioxidants: Fermented soy products like doubanjiang are great sources of antioxidants.

If you consume enough doubanjiang regularly, it may help you to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Inflammatory conditions: The antioxidants in doubanjiang may help to fight free radicals and relieve inflammation.
  • Poor bone health: The vitamin A and calcium in doubanjiang may help to strengthen bones and combat the loss of bone mass.

Health concerns

Because of the high salt content, doubanjiang can worsen high blood pressure if consumed in excess.

Common uses

Doubanjiang works best when used to flavor frying oil. It is great in marinades where it is often combined with other flavorful ingredients. You will see it used in a range of classic Sichuan dishes like mapo tofu where it gives the dish its distinctive color and flavor. It is also used in twice-cooked pork and can improve the flavor of noodles and fried rice.