Sweet Bean Sauce Guide: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Sweet bean sauce or sweet soybean sauce is known in China as tianmianjiang — sometimes written in English as tian mian jiang. It is a Chinese sauce made from fermented wheat flour, fermented soybeans, and sugar. The Korean version of sweet bean sauce is called chunjang.

Even though it is called sweet bean sauce in English, it is important to note that wheat flour is the main ingredient. The literal translation of the Chinese name is sweet flour sauce. It is important to recognize its difference from a set of similarly named products. It is different from doubanjiang, which is another kind of sauce made from soybeans but that is also referred to in some places as sweet bean paste.

Sweet bean sauce should also not be confused with the Japanese dessert and confectionery ingredient that is sometimes called anko, red bean paste or sweet bean paste. This sweet bean product is made by boiling adzuki beans and mashing them before adding sugar. It should also not be confused with doubanjiang, which is also sometimes called sweet soybean paste.

Sweet bean sauce has a strong association with Peking duck — also called Beijing duck — a dish that dates back a thousand years to the Ming Dynasty.

Today, sweet bean sauce is produced throughout China. There are different local variations such as the fact that the sweet bean sauce made in southern China is somewhat sweeter than that made in northern China. Mantou flour tends to be the flour of choice in northern China.

Sweet bean sauce flavor profile

Sweet bean sauce has a sweet, salty, and umami flavor profile. Its concentrated sweetness is the product of sugars — glucose and maltose — that are byproducts of the fermentation process.

Health benefits

You won’t get much nutritional value from a serving of sweet bean sauce. It consists mostly of flour with a little soy and is used for flavor rather than to enhance a dish’s healthy properties. Its modest benefits come from the fact that it contains:

  • Protein: Mostly because of its soybean content, sweet bean sauce is a source of protein.

Making dishes with sweet bean sauce may help to prevent health problems like:

  • Obesity: Sweet bean sauce contains relatively few calories per serving so it provides flavor without making food much more likely to put weight on.
  • Sarcopenia: The protein in sweet bean sauce can help you to build muscle and combat sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss.

Health concerns

Sweet bean sauce has high levels of sugar and sodium. Consuming too much sugar can contribute to your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and too much sodium in the diet can cause high blood pressure. The fact that the main ingredient in sweet bean sauce is wheat flour means that it is not a gluten-free product. Because it contains gluten, it is unsuitable for people with celiac disease and similar health issues to consume.

Common uses

Chinese sweet bean sauce is used in Chinese dishes like Peking duck and zhajiangmian, which is a pork and noodle dish. Another classic Chinese dish in which it is used is twice-cooked pork. You will also see it in Japanese dishes that have a Chinese influence such as fried rice and steamed buns.

The Korean chunjang is used to make a noodle dish called jajangmyeon.