Fermented beans (豆豉, dou chi), are also called fermented black beans and Chinese fermented beans. It is a common salty ingredient made from cooked black beans or soybeans. It has a savory flavor similar to that of soy sauce, but is even saltier and has a stronger fermented fragrance. It is the main ingredient in fermented bean sauce (豆豉酱, dou chi jiang).
Fermented beans are very popular in various Chinese cuisines, including stir-fried, steamed, and braised dishes. For example, mapo tofu and twice-cooked pork from Szechuan cuisine, and steamed pork ribs and steamed seafood from Cantonese cuisine, all use them.
One of the most common ways to use fermented beans is to add other spices, like garlic and chili pepper, and cook them into a thick and pungent paste. For example, a very popular sauce – Lao Gan Ma Spicy Fermented Bean Sauce (老干妈辣豆豉酱) and Black Bean Garlic Sauce are both made from fermented beans.
Fermented bean sauce is more flavorful and can be used as dipping sauce or dressing for cooked food.
Be aware that the meaning of “fermented bean” varies depending on the cultural context. For example, it means natto in Japan, which is an edible ingredient. You can also find similar ingredients in Vietnamese, Filipino, and Cambodian cuisines, with slightly different flavors. Take note of the Chinese spelling before shopping to avoid confusion.
Once opened, the fermented beans or sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months.