Fermented black beans (also known as douchi, fermented black soybeans, Chinese fermented black beans, and salted black beans) are a popular Chinese ingredient. The fermented and salted beans are most commonly used for making black bean sauce for savory dishes like stir-fries, fish, meat, and mapo tofu.
- Place of origin: China
- Also known as: douchi, salted black beans
- Flavor: salty, funky, umami
- Common dishes: mapo tofu, spareribs, stir-fries
- Shelf life: up to a year
What Are Fermented Black Beans?
Fermented black beans are made by salting and fermenting black soybeans, resulting in a very salty and lightly bitter and sweet dry bean. They are used as a seasoning in a variety of Chinese dishes and can be turned into black bean paste and black bean sauce (Tochidjan).
Fermented Black Beans vs. Black Beans
While fermented black beans sound like a preserved black bean product, they're actually two different beans. The Chinese ingredient is made using black soybeans, while regular black beans are popular in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking. Much of the confusion comes from black bean sauce, a sauce made from fermented black beans and used in a variety of Asian dishes. Black beans and fermented black beans cannot be used interchangeably in recipes and will yield vastly different results.
How to Cook With Fermented Black Beans
Fermented black beans are normally rinsed before being used in cooking. Otherwise, they will impart too much of a salty flavor to the dish. For best results, rehydrate them in water or another liquid called for in the recipe, such as rice wine, vinegar, or soy sauce. Soaking for just a few minutes will plump them up enough for cooking. The beans can then be used whole, chopped, minced, or pureed. Added at the beginning of cooking, they will impart a more subtle umami flavor; added later they will retain more of their funky flavor and texture.
Because of their strong flavor, fermented black beans are frequently paired with other strong seasonings, such as garlic, ginger, and chiles. Black bean sauces tend to contain these other ingredients and can be store-bought or made at home. The beans can be added whole, chopped, or in sauce form to stir-fries, stews, soups, meats, fish, and more.
What Do They Taste Like?
Fermented black beans are very salty, funky, and have a lightly sweet and bitter flavor. The dried beans are hard and chewy but are rinsed and soaked before using. They are not meant to be consumed on their own but rather used as a seasoning in dishes and sauces. Depending on when they are added to a dish and how long they are soaked, the beans are chewy or soft. Black bean paste and sauce combine pureed fermented black beans with seasonings like garlic and ginger and form a smooth, complex sauce.
Fermented black beans have a funky smell, similar to other fermented foods, which mellows upon cooking. The ingredient adds a strong umami component to savory dishes.
Fermented Black Bean Recipes
Fermented black beans are typically added to Chinese-style stir-fries and sauces, either whole with ingredients like bitter melon or as a sauce for dishes such as spareribs.
Where to Buy Fermented Black Beans
Fermented black beans are sold in small plastic bags and jars in Asian and Chinese markets. If you don’t live near an Asian market or Chinese supermarket, premade black bean paste or sauce is often available in the international section of many supermarkets in bottles or jars. You can also purchase both fermented black beans and premade black bean sauce at online stores specializing in Asian ingredients.
Look for fermented black beans that are dry and whole in a properly sealed container. Black bean sauce should have a short ingredient list of spices and flavorings.
At home, remove whole fermented black beans from their packaging and transfer to an airtight container. Store in a cool, dark place with other spices and seasonings. The beans will last for up to a year under these conditions. Unopened black bean sauce will keep for up to two years on the shelf, and for several months once opened. Store opened jars and bottles of sauce (tightly closed) in the fridge.