Black bean sauce is a famous sauce in Asian cuisine and is often used to enhance the flavor of spicy foods.
Also known as tochi and douchi, is made from fermented black soybeans and is considered the oldest food made from soybeans, dating back to 165 B.C.
It is commonly mixed with chiles to enhance the heat and flavor profile and is often used on pork, chicken, and other proteins.
Whatever dish you're making, we have the top 5 black bean sauce substitutes if you don't have it on hand.
Understanding Black Bean Sauce
Black bean sauce is a bean paste that is as common in Asian cooking as ketchup is to Americans. It has a sharp, salty, umami flavor that pairs nicely with savory dishes.
The flavor of natural fermented bean paste is earthy and rich.
Black bean sauce is a healthy dish and low in saturated fats and cholesterol, so long as it's not over-seasoned.
This healthy spread is a great base for many dishes including stir fries, white meat dishes, vegetables, and various noodle entrees.
In order to cut the earthy flavor, black bean paste is often fried and sugar is added before it is used. The sugar does not sweeten the paste; it cuts through the natural bitterness of the black soy beans.
Black bean paste is extremely versatile and can be used in an array of culinary dishes from Latin American, American, and, of course, Asian.
The paste is a cheap commodity that adds aroma and depth to any dish that it's used for.
Korean vs Chinese Black Bean Sauce
Black bean paste has its origins in China, but was quickly introduced to other countries, primarily for its availability and ease of use.
Although Korean black bean paste was introduced by a Chinese merchant, the flavor profile evolved to mesh with Korean culinary traditions.
The primary difference between the two is the salt content.
Korean black bean sauce is much saltier than its counterpart, while the Chinese version is more fermented for additional flavor.
Korean black bean paste has a different flavor profile because of the ingredients that make up the paste.
While Chinese and Korean black bean paste are both made from fermented black soy beans, the Korean paste includes fermented wheat flour and caramel sauce.
Even so, both pastes have a strong salty flavor with earthy undertones. The differences are subtle but are noticeable in the final product in which they are used.
Top 5 Black Bean Substitutes
1. Hoisin sauce
Hoisin sauce base is fermented black bean paste, which makes it the #1 substitute.
However, there is also Chinese 5 spice powder, spices, and soy sauce whisked in, which gives hoisin sauce a thick and rich color and flavor.
Hoisin sauce and black bean paste are culinary cousins. As such, if hoisin sauce is being substituted for black bean paste, a 1:1 ratio is a okay to use.
Hoisin sauce is made from fermented soybeans, garlic, sesame oil, red chili peppers, vinegar, and sweetener.
The difference in taste is too subtle to clearly tell the difference, which makes hoisin sauce the best substitute for black bean paste.
2. Miso Paste
Miso paste has a salty, earth, and umami flavor, which makes it a good substitute for black bean paste.
Miso is fermented with soybeans, salt, garlic, rice, and a grain such as barley, wheat, or rye.
The fermentation process can take years. The longer the paste ferments, the darker the paste becomes and more complex the flavors end up.
There are three different miso pastes: red, which is fermented longer and is saltier, white which is sweeter, or a combination of red and white.
Which one is chosen as a substitute for black bean paste is a matter of taste preference.
3. Tianmian sauce
Tianmian sauce is made from a 19:1 mixture of wheat flour to soybeans. The mixture is fermented until the paste becomes sweet.
Although it has a mild, salty flavor, it's slightly sweeter than black bean sauce.
If it is to be substituted for black bean sauce, soy sauce can be added for salt content.
4. Oyster sauce
Traditionally, oyster sauce is made by slow cooking oysters until the sauce becomes dark and caramelizes.
This is a strong sauce and should be used by adding small portions at a time, or else the flavor can take over the dish.
Oyster sauce is similar to black bean paste in viscosity and texture, although the flavors are slightly different.
The benefit of oyster sauce as a substitute is that it's gluten free; a little sugar will help the sauce mimic more clearly the flavor profile of the bean paste.
5. Teriyaki sauce
Teriyaki sauce is made from boiling soy sauce, sugar and sake.
Pineapple, sesame, garlic, and other ingredients can be added for extra flavor and depth.
When teriyaki sauce is reduced, it gains a thicker viscosity and lends a similar flavor to black bean paste. This substitution works well in stir frys, vegetables, and on proteins.
To substitute black bean sauce with teriyaki, reduce the teriyaki until it reaches a similar consistence.
Salt, chilis, and other seasonings can be added to closer mimic the flavor and consistency of black bean paste.
Other Substitutions that will Work
Oyster sauce and hoisin sauce are the closest substitutes to black bean sauce due to their flavor profiles and texture.
However, there are many other substitutes that will work in a pinch, although a little adjusting may be necessary to alter flavors and consistency.
Soy sauce can be used as a substitute because of its saltiness. However, it's not nearly as thick as black bean paste, so the overall viscosity of the dish will be thinner.
Soy sauce can be thickened with a starch product, though this will take time. It's best to use soy as an alternative if you are going for a salty flavor, not a thick product.
An alternative to soy sauce is Tamari sauce, a Japanese soy sauce that is not as salty as soy sauce.
The key difference is that it is thicker, so if you are looking for a similar consistency, this would be a better alternative. Add salt to the dish if it is not salty enough.
Kecap manis is an Indonesian soy sauce that's sweeter than the other soy sauces mentioned.
Although it can be used as a substitute for black bean paste, salt and a starch thickener should be added so that it better mimics the thickness and flavor of black bean paste.
What Does Black Bean Sauce Taste Like?
Black bean sauce is salty, pungent, with a hint of sweetness with earthy undertones. The sharpness of the paste, caused by the fermentation process, is reduced by frying the paste before it's served.
The fermentation gives the paste an umami flavor similar to soy sauce, but much richer.
This paste is distinctly Asian and gives incredible flavor depth to many savory dishes including meats, noodles, and vegetables.
Is Black Bean Sauce Healthy?
Black bean sauce is incredibly healthy, if it's not seasoned too much.
Regular fermented black bean paste is low in cholesterol and saturated fats and contains one gram of protein per serving.
So long as the paste is served on its own, it is considered healthy. Additional salt, seasonings and flavorings can add extra sodium, fat, and cholesterol to the paste, making it more of an unhealthy option.
How to Make Your Own Black Bean Sauce
Black bean sauce is a straightforward recipe that is a healthier alternative to the bottled kind, and more aromatic.
Bottled black bean sauce contains added starches to thicken it, but these can be eliminated when making your own at home.
The first ingredient to purchase is fermented black beans. These are readily available at markets and can also be purchased online.
Rinse and drain the beans so they won’t be excessively salty. Rinsing the fermented beans also makes them easier to cut.
Rough chop the beans on a cutting board with a knife or fork; for a coarser texture, do large chunks. This step can be done in a food processor as well for a finer produce.
Next, mince the garlic, ginger, and green onions while heating a small amount of cooking oil in a pan.
Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until the mixture becomes fragrant, then add the green onions and cook for an additional minute.
Add the fermented black beans and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the paste is reduced by half. If necessary, add a corn starch thickener.
Allow the paste to cool and then refrigerate if not using immediately.
The paste will stay fresh for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
For a simple and delicious recipe, check out Black Bean Sauce.
Black bean sauce is a Chinese culinary staple that is extremely versatile and used in an array of savory dishes.
The paste makes a great base or additive because of its salty and pungent flavor and aroma.
Not only is the paste versatile, there are many substitutes that closely mimic the flavor and texture. The best substitute for black bean paste is to make this dish at home.
This paste is easy to make and easy to store. It's as versatile as garlic or rice, which makes it a great ingredient to have readily at hand.