Toban djan and doubanjiang are two broad bean seasoning pastes made with chili peppers. They are two versions of the same paste, but they are not identical. They are made with the same or similar ingredients but can have different flavors and applications. In this SPICEography Showdown, we will compare these two Chinese bean pastes.
How does toban djan differ from doubanjiang?
Toban djan and doubanjiang are broad bean pastes used in different parts of China. Toban djan is a fermented broad bean paste that is technically the same thing as doubanjiang, but the name is most often seen on a particular brand of bottled doubanjiang. Lee Kum Kee’s Chili Bean Sauce is the product that is most likely to also have the name toban djan on the label. This version is the Cantonese version of the broad bean paste.
True doubanjiang comes from the Sichuan province, which is where the bean paste originated. The best variety is said to come from the Pixian district near Chengdu. There are multiple other regional variations on the Sichuan paste including a Taiwanese version and an American one.
Toban djan and doubanjiang have different flavors. As the Cantonese version of a Sichuan ingredient, toban djan is relatively mild. Cantonese cooking is not known for its use of spicy flavors. The texture of toban djan is relatively smooth.
Doubanjiang is more intense both in terms of its heat from the chile peppers and because of its rich umami flavor profile. The flavor that it will give to food will be more complex than the flavor from toban djan. Sichuan doubanjiang typically has a coarse texture.
Outside of China, toban djan and doubanjiang may not be equally available. The toban djan with the Lee Kum Kee label is likely to be easier for most people to find compared to true doubanjiang and especially Pixian doubanjiang.
Can you use toban djan as a substitute for doubanjiang and vice versa?
Because it is a version of the same kind of seasoning paste, toban djan can work as a doubanjiang substitute in some dishes. For example, you can use it in place of doubanjiang if you are making marinades for meats that you plan to grill or stir-fry.
One common way that you can use either toban djan in place of doubanjiang is for flavoring oil before stir-frying. Toban djan will provide the same red color as doubanjiang along with some saltiness and umami. Where it may not be adequate is as a substitute in true Sichuan dishes where you will want the authentic flavor of doubanjiang. You should only use it in these dishes if you have no other options.
In comparison, doubanjiang can work in place of toban djan in pretty much every application unless you specifically want the lower level of heat. In most cases, a real Sichuan doubanjiang such as Pixian doubanjiang will improve the meal noticeably.
When should you use toban djan, and when should you use doubanjiang?
Toban djan can be used to add color and flavor to a variety of Chinese dishes including fried rice and noodles. You can use it to make mild versions of Sichuan dishes like twice-cooked pork and shuizhu beef.
Doubanjiang is as widely used in authentic Sichuan cooking as soy sauce is in Cantonese cooking. It is a key ingredient for authentic versions of twice-cooked pork and shuizhu beef. It is one of the main seasonings for mapo tofu, one of the quintessential Sichuan dishes.