There are lots of ingredients that only work once mixed, heated, and otherwise incorporated into tons of other things, and there are those ingredients that you can just spoon out of a jar and fry it with some chicken or kale and it tastes like you’ve slaved in a kitchen all day. That’s doubanjiang.

One of my go-to meals when I need something quick and deeply satisfying is mapo tofu (full disclosure: minus the tofu, just pork please), and the secret to amazing mapo tofu is doubanjiang. Like a great mustard, a great doubanjiang is a thing of beauty: perfectly spicy, seasoned just right so you don’t have to do much more than heat it up, and so incredible tasting you’ll never believe a simple ingredient just changed your life, for the better.

What is doubanjiang?

Doubanjiang is a beloved Chinese fermented spicy bean paste that’s called the soul of Sichuan cooking. It adds a deep layer of umami-filled mala (spicy tongue numbingness) to authentic Sichuan dishes that’s irreplaceable. If you’ve had good, like really good, Sichuan food that you can never seem to replicate at home, this might be one reason why.

How do you pronounce doubanjiang properly?

Dough-ban-jang with the stress on the first syllable.

What does doubanjiang taste like?

Doubanjiang tastes slightly sweet, pretty spicy, pretty salty, and very umami forward. It doesn’t taste much like beans at all. It’s similar to a spicy oyster sauce, or, if you can imagine it, a completely unfishy anchovy paste.

How to cook with doubanjiang?

Doubanjiang often comes as actual beans that you can see, so usually you want to chop it up into a fine paste, and typically fry it too. You can use it as-is as a sauce to flavor stir fries, toss it with vegetables, pasta, or use it as a glaze for meats too. We also like to mix it up with beef or chicken stock to make great, easy stews with it.

How do I pick out the best doubanjiang?

When shopping, you want to look for the Pixian (an area in China) variety if you can. It’s kind of like how, if you can, you want to buy champagne from the Champagne region in France. Doubanjiang has different grades based on how long it’s been fermented for, and the top grade (3 years) can be hard to find outside of China, but if you come across it, buy it for sure!

Is doubanjiang worth it?

Doubanjiang is 100% worth it. Not only just to lend an authentic taste, flavor, and spiciness to Sichuan food you make at home, but it can also be used for plenty of other things that you want to give an oomph to: Taiwanese beef noodle soup, pasta sauces, oven baked chicken thighs, the options are endless.

Where can I buy doubanjiang?

You can usually find doubanjiang near the sauces at your local Asian grocery store, usually in the same aisle you’ll find oyster sauce, fermented greens and pickles, or spices. You’re not likely to find it at your local Krogers, at least in my experience. You can also find a pretty decent brand of doubanjiang on Amazon.

How to subsitute doubanjiang?

You can’t really replicate the taste of doubanjiang with anything else, but there are ways to get around that. Lee Kum Kee also sells a serviceable easier to find Cantonese style doubanjiang that they call Toban Djan or chilli bean sauce. In a pinch, you can also mix up a 50/50 mix of red miso and chili flakes (ideally Chinese chili flakes).

Some people say that sambal oelek (a southeast asian chili paste) or gochujang (a similarly fermented Korean soybean paste) tastes like doubanjiang to them, but I’m skeptical of this one. However, if you really want to make a recipe that calls for doubanjiang and there is none to be had, gochujang is much closer than sambal oelek–and probably easier to find these days too.

mapo tofu waffle recipe

How do I store doubanjiang and how long does doubanjiang last for?

Doubanjiang comes preserved and fermented, so you don’t need to worry much about it going bad, you’ll definitely use it up before the government mandated use by date printed on the package. If it smells sour or grows fur, that’s when to throw it away, but otherwise, it’ll last forever.

Usually, doubanjiang comes in pouches, so we like to transfer it to a nice jar, labelled and dated (optional). Store it in the fridge after opening it.

Best recipes with doubanjiang

doubanjiang substitute |

Doubanjiang Substitute

This isn't close to the real thing, but in a pinch, it works great!
Serves 1
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 2 minutes
Total Time 2 minutes


  • 1 tbsp red miso
  • 1 tbsp chili flakes chinese preferred


  • Optionally chop up your chili flakes, then mix together with red miso until a paste is formed.

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Doubanjiang Substitute
Amount Per Serving
Calories 35 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 0.2g1%
Cholesterol 0.01mg0%
Sodium 642mg28%
Potassium 49mg1%
Carbohydrates 4.8g2%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 1.2g1%
Protein 2.1g4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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