There are many savory Chinese sauces and pastes made from fermented soybeans. Instantly adding flavor to stir-fries, stews and other dishes, you can find them stacked side-by-side in any Chinese grocery store. Just look for the aisle with a dizzying array of soy sauces, vinegars, rice wines, hot sauces, and bean pastes!
In this article, we’ll talk about ground bean sauce.
What Is Ground Bean Sauce?
Ground bean sauce is made with fermented yellow soybeans. Not to be confused with regular bean paste AKA sweet soybean paste (豆瓣酱), which is made with little more than soybeans, wheat, and salt, it usually has additional seasonings, including sesame oil, sugar, and spices. In terms of flavor, it is mild and salty, with the umami-laden punch of fermented soybeans.
Here’s a look at the ingredients labeling:
You may also confuse it with sweet bean sauce, AKA “sweet flour sauce.” It is darker in color and generally not made with majority soybeans at all, but from fermented wheat flour.
Also don’t confuse it with Hoisin Sauce or Chee Hou Sauce, which ARE made with soybeans and can look similar! Each has a slightly different flavor profile, but that said, these various pastes and sauces do have shared qualities, with differences that can be hard to describe without tasting them side by side.
How To Use It
The Koon Chun brand of ground bean sauce has been around for some time and in Cantonese, our family called it “meen see jeung.” We used it in stewed dishes and in Chinese BBQ spare rib sauces like our recipe for Takeout Style Chinese Spare Ribs.
Buying & Storing
The most recognizable brand that we gravitate towards is Koon Chun, which we’ve been using for years. It’s very clearly labeled in English, which makes finding it easy! Find it at Chinese grocery stores or online. Lee Kum Kee is the other brand we usually see at our Chinese grocery.
Note that you may also find Koon Chun’s “Bean Sauce.” The jars look remarkably similar, as are the names:
Both sauces contain soybean paste, water, sugar, salt, and sesame oil. The only difference we can see is that ground bean sauce has additional spices, while bean sauce does not (see the ingredients list comparison below. Ground bean sauce is on the left and bean sauce is on the right).
Our verdict? You can use them interchangeably, but if you have to choose between the two at the grocery store, pick up the ground bean sauce. Those extra spices can’t hurt!
Store in the refrigerator, and always use a clean utensil when spooning some out for a recipe. It will keep for up to a year this way.
We know, we just talked about how it’s important to not confuse all of these sauces. But if you need a substitution, they’re reasonable stand-ins for each other!
Our Favorite Recipes That Use This Ingredient
- Beijing Fried Sauce Noodles (Zha Jiang Mian)
- Braised Pork Rib & Taro Stew
- Takeout Style Chinese Spare Ribs
- Crispy Duck Wrap
If you have further questions about this ingredient, let us know in the comments––we try to answer every single one.