Black Bean Sauce: Salty Yet Delicious And Versatile

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

One of the cooking ingredients that should never be absent in your kitchen is the sauce and the Chinese black beans sauce is worthy of being that sauce. If kitchens had a manual, the phrase ‘never run out of regularly used ingredients’ will definitely be there.

Sauces are used very regularly, some persons might even go as far as using it every single day. Well, if you had a good sauce around like Chinese sauces such as the black bean sauce, you would be very tempted to use it everyday and on almost everything.

Yes, it’s that possible. The black bean sauce made from fermented black beans and garlic as its main ingredients is one of the most versatile sauces available in the market, though not so common in non Asian shops, it surely deserves more attention than it is getting. For now, it will just have to make do with the attention it is getting from being constantly used in Chinese takeout.

What’s more is that having this sauce around will help your quest to delve deeper into the awesome Chinese cuisine. Almost every Chinese dish, if not all, make use of at least one of the many Chinese sauces and other times, a mix of these sauces can be used. But the good thing is that they can easily be substituted for one another, depending on the taste and flavor you like.

The black bean sauce is in the class of Chinese salty sauces, however, it can be made a little sweeter by adding sugar and the amount of sugar to be added depends wholly on you. So before we get to our recipe, let’s talk about the sauce for just a little bit.

Black Beans Garlic Sauce

From the name, there’s black beans, there’s garlic and it’s a sauce. The sauce is extremely popular in China, and if there’s one thing we’ve come to know about sauce is that a good sauce never stays in only one place. That is, it travels and that’s exactly what this sauce has done.

It has traveled wide and far, it started with other neighboring Asian countries like Korea, Philippines, Japan and now, it’s all over the world. Though it is not quite as popular as ketchup, it is much more preferred than ketchup.

Trust me, you will love this sauce.

So what’s the first thing you should know about this sauce is that it isn’t sweet. If you are interested in a sweet sauce, then hoisin sauce, another Chinese sauce is right there for you. But with a little sugar in the black beans garlic sauce, the sweetness you desire can be created.

Second thing is that it isn’t spicy. Though the sauce isn’t originally spicy, you can however make yours spicy with some chilli pepper or with Sichuan peppercorns.

The third thing about this sauce is to me, the most amazing thing about it. It has a deep umami flavor. See why this is the most amazing thing about it, right? To be quite honest, the word umami just has a way of drawing hearts close to the dish it is being used to describe. The deep umami flavor comes from the fermented black beans that is used in making the sauce. If you truly want to enjoy this sauce, then it’s your only option is to go for fermented black beans.

What should be the fourth thing? Erm, that should be salty. I earlier mentioned that the sauce is salty and that’s very true, so when using this sauce, it’s advisable you reduce the amount of salt that is required in the recipe for your dish.

You can even take out the salt in the recipe, this salty sauce is really enjoyable but it won’t be anywhere enjoyable, if it makes your dish too salty. So it’s either you reduce the amount of salt significantly or you reduce the amount of sauce significantly too so which would you prefer to reduce.

Ordinary salty flavor or deep umami salty flavor?

Another interesting thing you should know if you are planning on following the black beans sauce recipe that will come very soon is that the black beans being used is not the regular black beans. If the black beans you are thinking about is not black soybeans, then you’ve been thinking about these beans all wrong. And that brings us to…

What Type Of Black Beans Should Be Used

Regular black beans, also known as turtle beans are not the black beans being referred to at all, so just in case you’ve made this sauce with turtle beans and it didn’t taste like the one in your Chinese takeout, well, you know why now.

The type of beans that should be used is black soybeans. Really, there is no alternative or substitute to these beans. White soybeans is so close to making the cut but it wouldn’t give you the same flavor and taste that black soybeans will.

How do you prepare your black soybeans?

The black soybeans are not used directly. They are first fermented and salted to make what is called douchi in Chinese. Thus the chief ingredient for making Chinese black beans sauce (or fermented black beans sauce) is fermented black soybeans that has been salted. Remember, it is the fermentation process that brings about its deep umami flavor. When white soybeans are fermented and salted, it is called mianchi. And mianchi has its own peculiar taste and uses too.

The process of fermenting black beans is quite a tedious and delicate process. Factors such as the temperature, time, type of container and wine used all go a long way on influencing the quality of the douchi. Getting one of these step wrong could ruin the entire thing.

So to be on the very safer side, do not try to make douchi (fermented black beans) at home, shop bought douchi are made well enough so all you have to do is go for a really good brand. Douchi can be easily purchased in Asian shops and if there’s no Asian shop around you, you can always order for it online.

Douchi or fermented black beans is a Chinese condiment and seasoning used in the making of many Chinese dishes. The use of douchi dates far back as 165 BC, it is one of the oldest foods that’s being made from soybeans and it’s got a few nice historical tales spun around it. The douchi is not meant to be consumed alone because of its saltiness.

In Chinese cuisine, douchi is an ingredient for fermented black beans sauce, steamed fish dish, steamed ribs, mapo tofu, it is used to flavor fish and also used to for stir-frying.

Douchi appears in many other cuisines like the Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine but bears very different names. If you live in these places where it goes by a different name, fermented black beans and not douchi should be what you should ask for.

Douchi after being made are stored dried or in brine but after purchasing a pack, you can keep them in a ziplock bag and freeze them to make them last longer.

Black Beans Sauce Recipe

Now that you’re super familiar with this sauce, it’s time for some homemade black beans sauce to get made. Preparation time and cooking time should take no more than 20 minutes.

This recipe is for a spicy black beans sauce, you can increase or reduce the amount of spices, depending on just how much spice your taste buds can handle. Mine can handle quite a lot, all thanks to the many times my sister accidentally added way too much pepper into our meals while we were growing up. It all started as an accident at first but now, everyone in the family except my brother love spicy foods. They are simply divine but for this recipe, the spiciness is just on average level. So keep calm.

Here’s what you’ll need to make this sauce:

  •  3 tablespoons of fermented black beans (douchi).
  •  2 tablespoons of cooking oil.
  •  2 tablespoons of garlic, finely minced.
  •  1 tablespoon of light soy sauce.
  •  2 green onions or white onions, finely chopped.
  •  2 tablespoons of ginger, finely minced (optional).
  •  Half a cup of vegetable or chicken broth.
  •  2 tablespoons of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine or dry Sherry.
  •  1 teaspoon of sugar, preferably brown sugar. You can increase or reduce the amount of the sugar.
  •  Half a teaspoon of rice vinegar.
  •  Dried or fresh red chillies, these should be deseeded and chopped.
  • 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns, hot red pepper sauce or sambal oelek (optional).

Method of preparation:

Rinse the fermented black beans with running water. Drain and then, chop the beans coarsely. For a fine chopping, you can use a food processor to mince the black beans. You can also leave a few beans whole.

Pour the oil into a wok or frying pan, add the Sichuan peppercorns, onions, chillies, and ginger. Cook over medium heat. Once the ginger turns brown, remove the ginger, onions and the Sichuan peppercorns. You can also discard the chillies which should be dark, not black.

Then add the beans. At first, they will absorb the oil but later, will release the oil. Be careful not to over cook the beans, overcooking the beans will make the sauce bitter.

Add every other ingredients into the wok and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Next, remove from heat.

To store your spicy black beans sauce, after cooling, keep in an airtight jar and store in the fridge. While in the fridge, it can last for about 2 weeks. You only need to store it if you are not using right away.


Most black beans sauce ingredients list call for cornstarch dissolved in water to make cornstarch slurry but this recipe doesn’t because black beans sauce made with cornstarch slurry does not freeze well. However, you can always add your cornstarch slurry to your sauce when reheating.

Most recipes also call for chicken or vegetable broth. And if you are wondering why it is absent from this recipe it’s because it reduces the shelf life of the homemade black bean sauce. You want a sauce that you can keep for future use. Not one that’s for the present only. However, you can use about 2 teaspoons of chicken bouillon powder.

You don’t have to discard the onions, but you would have to wait a little longer for it to get tender before removing the sauce from heat. Even the chillies do not have to be discarded, their bright red colors will do your sauce a good aesthetic job. Same with the ginger. They were added for their aroma and flavor, and thus discarded after their aroma and flavor had infused into the oil.

A substitute for the light soy sauce will be tamari, if you want a gluten free option.

Be very careful not to let the sauce burn while being stir-fried. So always stir, don’t stop stirring.

And there’s a quick trick for you.

An easy way to peel your cloves of garlic will be to first press them hard. You can use a ladle for this.

Lastly, some persons soak their fermented black beans for an hour before draining and then chopping them. You could do this too if you’ve got a lot of time on your hand. But really, it’s a step that can be ditched so why not!

That’s all there is to this recipe. Some other optional ingredients are pure sesame oil and rice vinegar. You can add this for more flavor. Now that you have made your vegan black beans sauce, all that’s left is to use it on a dish.

Surely you don’t plan to take a spoon and gulp everything down, do you?

If no, check the next section of this article. Below.

How To Use The Vegan Black Bean Sauce

The sauce is vegan quite alright and yes, it can still be enjoyed as a vegan dish. Oh no, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it in meaty dishes. As a matter of fact, your sauce can even hold a good quantity of minced pork or beef.

If you are adding minced pork or beef, add them in your sauce at step 2 (see methods of preparation) after you’ve discarded the spices. Fry the marinated minced pork or beef -yes, you have to marinate first– till they turn light brown before adding the beans and other ingredients. So let’s get back on track on ways we can use our black beans sauce, vegan or meaty black beans sauce.

  • Stir-frying: With your spicy black beans sauce, stir-frying just became more flavorful and desirably tasty. You can use to stir-fry basically anything.
  • Use on your fried rice: Everyone loves fried rice, the fast and easy to make dish gets tastier with a few tablespoons of this sauce. If your fried rice recipe calls for salt or any salty ingredient, do not forget to adjust the amount of those ingredients considerably.
  • Use on Chinese noodle dishes: Definitely one of the best options for this sauce. Try it now.
  • Use on chicken dishes.
  • Use on veggies like bok choy, stir-fried celery etc for an umami flavor.
  • Tofu: You can enjoy this sauce with tofu. For superb tofu with black beans sauce, use fresh tofu only and don’t you dare blanch the tofu.

You can also use it on braised spare ribs, and just as your sauce can include meat as an ingredient, it can also include shiitake mushrooms as an ingredient.

Those are just a few ways you can use this sauce, let the foodie in you explore more ways you can enjoy it. Making this sauce in your own kitchen is absolutely better than buying from shops because chances are your homemade sauce will taste better than the shop bought sauce. What’s more? You can be guaranteed that there are no additives or preservatives, it’s the healthier alternative.

And if you can’t get douchi to make this sauce, you can go for other Chinese sauces like hoisin sauce, Sichuan sauce, Chinese brown bean sauce, chili bean sauce etc.

Black bean sauce is that sauce that’s never going to lose its importance in your kitchen. It’s an everyday condiment. The lightly sharp and pungent touch of garlic, spicy touch of the chillies, Sichuan peppercorns or cayenne pepper (if you added it) and the salty touch of the douchi all together makes this sauce irresistible. Oh, let’s not forget the hint of sweetness that can be created by adding a little sugar. Enjoy!

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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