If Sichuan pepper and chili pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang (豆瓣酱, dòubànjiàng) is the soul. The secret weapon in twice-cooked pork, mapo doufu, mala hotpot and scores of other Sichuan dishes, douban is little known outside China—and the authentic version is little known outside Sichuan.

Asian cuisines have various fermented bean pastes/sauces, usually made with yellow or black soybeans. But Sichuan’s version, which comes from the Pixian district of Chengdu (now called Pidu), is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red erjingtiao chili peppers, salt and a bit of wheat flour and fermented from one to eight years. The broad beans have a very different taste than soybeans, making the other Chinese bean pastes a poor substitute. Even products labeled doubanjiang (or “toban djan”) that are made outside Chengdu usually contain many additional, superfluous flavor enhancers, changing the traditional taste entirely.

Doubanjiang—like soy sauce, black vinegar, rice wine and baijiu—is a product of qū fermentation, a method created by the Chinese millennia ago to jumpstart the fermentation of low-sugar grains and beans by using a starter packed with molds and yeast. (The Japanese adopted the method and called it koji.) The vast majority of the time, the starter itself is created from wheat—which is why almost no Chinese fermented sauces are gluten-free.

Pixian Doubanjiang: The Soul of Sichuan Cuisine

In the traditional method of making Pixian doubanjiang, the broad beans are left to ferment for several months in 3-foot-tall earthenware crocks. Then the Sichuan-grown erjingtiao chilies, which have been fermenting separately, are added and the mixture is further fermented for at least a year in total. The crocks are individually hand-stirred every single day, and on good-weather days the lid is removed and the paste is left open to the elements, soaking up the Sichuan sun and dew that contribute to its incomparable flavor.

Pixian doubanjiang is a protected geographic indication (like French champagne and Italian Parmesan Reggiano) and is one of the few food products in China whose craftsmanship qualifies as National Intangible Cultural Heritage; all brands are strictly regulated by the Pixian Food Industry Association.

Sichuan Pixian Douban Co.

Sichuan Pixian Douban Co., which has a founding date of 1688, traces its roots to the original creator of doubanjiang, and more specifically, to his descendent Chen Shouxin, whose douban was branded Yi Feng He Hao in 1853. Still made entirely by hand, Yi Feng He Hao 3-year douban is the premium product of Sichuan Pixian Douban Co., which also makes the popular 1-year Juan Cheng brand. 

The company grows all its own beans and chilies, maintaining complete control over the entire process, and its doubans are certified as Green Food by the agency in China that regulates organic and non-chemical food production. Both brands use no extraneous ingredients, additives or preservatives.

Yi Feng He Hao Handcrafted 3-Year Doubanjiang

Although there are some 70 companies making doubanjiang in Pidu nowadays, Yi Feng He Hao is one of only two that market a douban made entirely by hand in the traditional way.

Unlike the Juan Cheng 1-year douban, which is aged in long, industrial, cement pools, the Yi Feng He Hao 3-year is aged in small batches in earthenware crocks. Each day the lids are removed, the doubanjiang is stirred by hand and then left to bask in the rural Sichuan sun and air, soaking in the microbes of its unique terroir.

This 1,000-plus days of careful, hands-on aging makes for an extremely complex taste: a pure concentration of spicy, salty, natural umami.

Non-GMO, Vegan, Halal, China-certified Green Food

Classic Sichuan Specialties with Doubanjiang

Selecting Hongyou (Red-Oil) vs. Aged Douban

Hongyou douban is the everyday, go-to doubanjiang in Sichuan, both because it is less expensive than pure, aged douban and because, being younger and having added oil, it is redder. Many chefs prefer the red color and bright flavor it brings to dishes, particularly stir-fries. They will use red-oil douban for stir-fries and the deep-brown aged douban for braises and soups. Or they may combine the two, as we often do, using hongyou douban for color and aged douban for depth of flavor. While older douban is funkier and rounder, young douban is brash and sharp.

Juan Cheng 1-Year Hongyou Doubanjiang

Sichuan Pixian Douban Co.’s first-grade Juan Cheng brand, aged one year, is the most popular brand of douban in Sichuan. The addition of hongyou (red oil/chili oil) preserves the bright red color of the young douban and contributes to the brand’s unique flavoring.

Unlike the douban available for purchase from conventional supermarkets, our douban is packaged specifically for The Mala Market, guaranteeing authenticity, safety and freshness.

Non-GMO, Vegan, Halal, China-certified Green Food

Freestyle Doubanjiang Recipes

Cooking and Storage Tips

Refrigeration is not necessary but will help ensure flavor and freshness for longer. Upon opening, transfer douban to an airtight glass or plastic container. If stored correctly, and not cross-contaminated, fermented products do not really expire. Let your eyes and nose be the judge of its shelf life.

Doubanjiang is chunky, with bits of fava bean and chilies that have not entirely broken down in the fermentation process. Some cooks prefer to mince the douban into a smoother paste before using.

It can be quite salty, so it pays to add a bit at a time and taste as you go. As a general rule:

  • Use one tablespoon of doubanjiang in a stir-fry for a hint of umami-spice
  • Use two tablespoons in dishes that are meant to taste of douban, such as mapo doufu and twice-cooked pork
  • Use three tablespoons or more for the high-octane Sichuan dishes like shuizhu (water-boiled) fish or beef and mala hotpot

Starting Your Sichuan Cooking Journey? Get the Complete Sichuan Pantry Collection

Complete Sichuan pantry collection

Stock your shelves with a premium version of every specialty ingredient needed to cook classic Sichuan food, plus nine recipe cards for the most-loved dishes of Chengdu and Chongqing. The core of the collection is the ingredients for creating ma and la, the defining tastes of Sichuan food. ‘Ma’ refers to the tingly, citrusy taste of Sichuan peppercorn. ‘La’ refers to the heat of chili pepper.

This kit further includes the highest quality Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste) on the market, handcrafted and aged for three years, plus Sichuan’s other two umami powerhouses: douchi (fermented black soybeans) and tianmianjiang (fermented sweet wheat paste). Other must-haves are Sichuan’s oldest and most esteemed brands of soy sauce and vinegar: Zhongba light soy sauce is naturally brewed for 360 days, and handcrafted Baoning vinegar is aged for 3 years. Like Pixian douban, they are China Time-Honored Brands, in business for centuries, and we are their exclusive U.S. representatives. 

We round out this collection with our own organic, stone-ground sesame paste and Yibin suimiyacai, a fermented mustard pickle used in many classic dishes.

All How to Cook With Doubanjiang (Pixian Bean Paste)