Fermented black beans, also called salted black beans, fermented black soybeans, preserved black beans, or just black beans, are used in a variety of Chinese dishes across regional cuisines. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about fermented black beans in this quick article.
What are Fermented Black Beans?
Fermented black beans (dòu chǐ in Mandarin or dau6si6 in Cantonese, 豆豉) are made from black soybeans that have been fermented with salt. The result is not a sauce or paste, like many of the fermented bean pastes we’ve also covered in our glossary (those pastes are also usually made with yellow soybeans, not black), but individual salted beans that are slightly soft in texture, mostly dry, and still in a light coating of salt.
These black beans are salty, savory, and some say slightly bitter. They pre-date soy sauce and have been part of Chinese cuisine for over 2000 years (marked containers were found in an ancient tomb in Hunan province, dated to 165 BC), adding a salty umami flavor to dishes that diners can’t resist!
How Are They Used?
They’re used quite often in Cantonese cuisine in particular, as well Sichuan cuisine (some versions of Mapo Tofu include fermented black beans, for example, as well as some versions of Sichuan Twice Cooked Pork).
Hunan dishes also feature them, like our Hunan Pork & Tofu. They are also a key ingredient in one of our favorite chili sauce condiments, Lao Gan Ma Chili Oil with Black Beans, offering a savory, salty bite to the sauce.
Before use, they can be rinsed a couple times in water to clean them and also remove excess salt, though this is not strictly necessary. If you decide not to rinse them, just take note of their saltiness and adjust the amounts of any other salty ingredients (salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce, etc.) accordingly.
Buying & Storing
Fermented black beans are incredibly affordable, and might offer the biggest flavor punch for the price of any condiment in the Chinese market. A one-pound (450g) package costs around $2. We have been using the brand pictured below for a long time and are quite happy with it.
For those of you stranded in a no-Asian-grocery zone, however, our search on Amazon yielded some decent results, though they can be more expensive than what you’d find in an Asian grocery store.
We have also used this variety below, which has some added ginger flavor.
In addition to cardboard canisters pictured above, they also come in plastic bags.
If you want black beans that have only been salted, without added ginger flavor, make sure to read labels carefully. As you can see, ginger is mentioned in the ingredients list on the bag below:
Store them in an airtight container in your refrigerator and they’ll keep for years. While we do usually clean out our supply before too long, we’ve never had a can of these go bad on us!
Substitutions for Fermented Black Beans
If you can’t find black beans, you can substitute a pre-made black bean sauce, which may be easier to find.
Our Favorite Recipes That Use This Ingredient
- Tofu with Black Bean Sauce
- Clams in Black Bean Sauce
- Chicken with Black Beans
- Dim Sum Steamed Spareribs
- Spicy Black Bean Twice Cooked Potatoes
- Beef with Bitter Melon
- Dim Sum Stuffed Peppers
If you have further questions about fermented black beans, let us know in the comments. We try to answer every single one!