Douchi is possibly the oldest soybean food product known to man and is a great way to add saltiness and umami to dishes. Its distinctive flavor is essential to creating authentic-tasting versions of many Chinese dishes. Try one of the douchi substitutes below if you are out of this versatile seasoning.
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Your best bet: Miso
The Japanese equivalent of douchi, miso is a paste made of fermented soybeans. As with many Japanese preparations, the flavor is relatively mild and restrained, however, it will give you some of the fermented flavor and umami that you would get from douchi. It is salty enough to play the same role that douchi plays in some dishes. You can use it in marinades and stir-fry sauces, just like douchi.
Because miso is more of a paste, it is moister than douchi, but this won’t make a difference in most recipes. If you are in the West, miso has the benefit of being relatively easy to find in places where Japanese food has a strong following.
A decent second choice: Prepared fermented black bean sauce
Prepared fermented black bean sauce has many of the same flavor notes as douchi because douchi is its main ingredient. The sauce includes other flavorful ingredients that typically accompany the douchi in stir-fried dishes such as garlic and ginger. If these ingredients also show up in your recipe, prepared black bean sauce might be the ideal douchi substitute since it should cut down on your prep time.
Culturally speaking, black bean sauce has crossed over to a large extent and can be found in the Asian sections of many grocery stores outside of China. Prepared black bean sauce does not have the aggressive fermented aroma of douchi, so it might be friendlier to Western sensibilities.
Black bean sauce will not be an ideal substitute for use on fish or for marinating grilled pork. It won’t provide the traditional flavor that you want for those applications.
In a pinch: Doubanjiang
Doubanjiang is a fermented bean paste, which puts it in the same category as douchi. In addition to providing a fermented flavor, it offers saltiness and umami. Like douchi, doubanjiang is a staple ingredient in Sichuan cooking. While the two seasonings often show up in the same dishes, doubanjiang on its own will still provide much of what you need. Doubanjiang is not quite as popular as douchi in some places, but it is relatively easy to find outside of China.
One big difference between them is that doubanjiang is made with broad beans (fava beans) and douchi is made with soybeans. Another important difference is the use of chili oil to give the seasoning paste some heat. Doubanjiang is also a paste, which makes it moister than the relatively dry douchi.
Sweet bean sauce is made mainly with flour and a little soybean, so it doesn’t have the concentrated soybean flavor and nutrition of douchi, but it can provide some of the umami notes. Use it in the same kinds of dishes.
Natto is another kind of Japanese fermented soybeans, this time the soybeans are specifically the yellow variety. Natto is not as salty as douchi and is typically used as a dish rather than as a seasoning, but it does have a similar strong umami flavor profile. If you use natto as a douchi substitute, you may need to increase the amount of salt in the recipe.